Site Unseen: The city's own secret garden

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Indy Lifestyle Online
One Wren church in the City no longer contains pews, pulpit or an altar. Instead their place has been taken by benches, grass and a fountain. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, which began just around the corner in Pudding Lane, St Dunstan's in the East was one of Wren's Gothic creations.

Its magnificent spire - now sadly hemmed in by some thoroughly undistinguished modern office blocks - stands as a tribute to an architect who seemingly could build in any style he wanted.

Not that he had much choice in the matter. Even the great Sir Christopher had to build in the way specified by each parish's churchwardens.

His headache was our gain. A walk around the City offers a dazzling variety of ecclesiastical size and shape.

The spire of St Dunstan's has several claims to fame. Legend has it that Wren always placed the final stone in the steeple of each of his churches.

By the time he had finished St Dunstan's, however, the great architect was getting on a bit and instead he sent up his daughter Jane to do the honours. Clearly she did a good job. When London was hit by a massive storm in 1703, even more devastating than that of 1987, Wren was told that some of his church spires had been damaged and would need to be repaired.

'Not St Dunstan's, I am sure,' he replied.

If the spire could withstand that storm then it could certainly see off German bombers in 1941, even if the rest of the church was wrecked.

The church authorities decided to leave the remains standing as a permanent memorial to the bravery of Londoners during the Blitz.

A pleasant garden was created inside the shell of Wren's church.

This offers a fine example of what William Morris, himself a fierce campaigner against the thoughtless Victorian demolition of Wren's churches, meant when he said that 'Tradition is of its nature continual change'.

In our own time, the recent Templeman Report has called for the closure of no less than 24 of the City's 36 churches which, the report suggested, should be put to 'other uses'.

Would that these 'uses' were as the fate of St Dunstan's in the East. There is no finer place in London to sit and watch time go by than in the shadow of Wren's unconquerable spire.

St Dunstan's is in St Dunstan's Hill, sandwiched between Tower Street and Lower Thames Street EC3.

(Photograph omitted)

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