My favourite London places: St Dunstan in the East

One of my favourite places in London is somewhere that I discovered years before I moved to London. A few years ago my old job required me to take a day trip down to London in order to examine some original documents at the HMRC office. It was a bit of a nightmare of a day, I’d had to get up stupidly early in order to get a train down to London for about 10am, when I got there I wasn’t offered a drink at all and I was dying for a cup of tea. I then spent the morning with one of their employees sat staring at me all day, presumably in case I decided to start ripping up and eating original documents.

At lunch he clearly wanted to get rid of me for a while so I was told to go and get some lunch for an hour. After buying a sandwich I had a bit of a wander around and stumbled across St Dunstan in the East.

Now a public garden, a church has stood on the site of St Dunstan in the East since ancient times. After the Great Fire of 1666, the church was patched up and a steeple designed by Sir Christopher Wren was added. The church was mostly destroyed in the Second World War and now only the steeple and the North and South walls of the church remain in tact.

In 1970 the remains of the church opened as a public garden for everyone to enjoy. At every turn you catch glimpses of greenery through doors or windows, their stained glass long gone.

In the centre of the church there is a little circle of benches, arranged around a small bubbling fountain in the area that used to be the nave of the church.

Overshadowed by office buildings and London’s towers of glass like the Walkie Talkie, sitting within the walls of the old church is a little way to take a breather. Hidden away from the city and surrounded by trees and foliage, it’s the perfect quiet spot for local workers to come and eat their lunch in a peaceful green little oasis of calm.

Over forty years after the spaceΒ opened as a garden, the trees, bushes and plants have taken root and manage to give the ruins of the church a slight end of the world feeling, like the creepers have taken over the walls, albeit in a very manicured and organised fashion.

I’m not the only one that likes St Dunstan in the East. It’s won numerous awards in the London Garden Squares Competition, as evidenced by a number of plaques attached to the wall there.

It’s only a stone’s throw from the major tourist attractions of Tower Bridge and particularly the Tower of London but as the dappled light falls through the leaves onto the cobbled stones, it feels very much like a London secret.

What’s your favourite secret place? Share it with me, I promise I won’t tell anyone.

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  • Divine, isn’t it!

  • Oh wow, that’s so beautiful. I definitely need to make a trip.

    Despite living here for five years next month I don’t think I’ve found my favourite place yet. I need to go for more of a wander.

    Sorcha x Bright Field Notes

  • Oh Lisa, this is the prettiest place. I can’t wait to drag my boyfriend here for lunch this summer! Is it usually quiet? I think most of my favourite places are unfortunately quite public, but I always feel like I’ve happened on a secret when I’m strolling around somewhere quiet and mainly deserted like Highgate Cemetery or the ‘woods’ area of my local park. x

  • Jess

    Lovely photos Lisa. Never realised there was such pretty places like this in London that are hidden! I will definitely try a morning out there sometime πŸ™‚

  • Meghan

    This is totally a different side of London that I would love to see, these images are gorgeous. Have to see that church.

    Meg | Meghan Silva’s Blog

  • Your pictures are lovely! This looks so peaceful a perfect little get away, I would have never guessed it was in London!

    Bee Happy and Healthy

  • Becky Preston

    Wow that’s amazing and so beautiful! I’ve lived in London over 10 years and never knew this existed! Thank you!

  • So pretty and peaceful.

  • I have so many favourite places in London, most are pretty touristy, but some are more hidden away gems like this.

  • Oddly enough it’s one of those strange places in London where it’s actually quieter on weekends than in the week because in the week people from the surrounding offices head there to eat lunch on nice days, whereas I’ve been on a weekend and it’s been quieter.

    I really want to visit Highgate Cemetery, it’s on my list of things I need to do, I visited Tower Hamlets Cemetery (one of the great seven London cemeteries) the other year but Highgate obviously has a real draw to it.

  • I love places like this because they feel hidden in plain sight in that they’re right in the middle of London but still very much a local thing.

  • It is great to see the non-touristy bits of London that it keeps hidden. I’m sort of obsessed by places that are left as part-ruins and this is done so well.

  • Thank you. I love unexpected little places like this.

  • I think it’s definitely one of those places you only know is there if you pass it.

  • I’ve seen pictures of this and really want to visit! It looks amazing πŸ™‚

    Jasmin Charlotte

  • Liesa V

    Wow, that looks so beautiful! Would love to visit it myself one day! πŸ™‚ xx

  • That place looks pretty mint.
    But hey, come on now, you can’t hide it from me. I know that your favourite place in the whole of London is Western Road Multi-Storey Carpark in Romford, east London. True, during the day it’s busy & noisy. But at night you can lay down in your sleeping bag whilst watching a police helicopter hover nearby, to the back-drop of wailing sirens & the engines of night buses.
    That’s it, I’m getting off this Carribean beach & getting myself to Romford!

  • stunning pictures! Uncanny in fact – apparently someone from my family is buried here but I’ve never made it out there to check!

  • Paul and I have had a few picnics in there! Last time we went there was a fashion shoot going on

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

  • This looks beautiful! I love that London has so many little spaces like this. Sounds like a bad day at HMRC but a very nice silver lining that you found this place! Thanks for linking up!