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 space 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.