St Dunstan-in-the-East

After psyching myself up and dusting off my walking boots and camera, I'd been waiting for a dry day to venture out on my first Jessless lunchtime trip. FYI Jess, I have failed miserably in coming to terms with lunchtime Jesslessness! However, my ongoing distress aside, not wanting to let the side down, I am attempting to get back on track with lunchtime London reports, while Jess reports from the land of clotted cream, picture postcard thatched cottages and cider, where she is now living happily ever after. She's ahead of me, as the Devon adventures are well underway (check out her new most marvellous sister blog, Secret Devon Excursions). So I must press on!

I examined the panorama from my birdseye view of the City at the office. A dynamic sky stretched out over the skyline, filled with dark and forboding clouds, heavy with a potential and likely imminent downpour (despite the weather forecast) but lit up with light poking through from the west - very dramatic. But as there were no umbrellas on the street below and dry pavements, I was encouraged and thought the light may make for some interesting pictures, and the threat of rain on a cold November afternoon would mean my chosen location would be peopleless. NB: Peopleless, good (for photographic purposes). Jesslessness (for general madcap mayhem and good times), not good.

Down on the street, map in hand, I felt cheered by my success at having summoned the necessary enthusiasum to ressurrect the London side of things, despite said Jesslessness, and to be off on another (albeit solo on this occasion) adventure. Well something certainly more adventurous than running errands around Moorgate.

Whilst out and about in the general vicinity, I am often reminded of previous trips with Jess, and following a wistful sigh, proceed to ponder how things constantly change. Look at this half-dressed monster, on the way to today's destination, looming over the little plaster mice we visited on Philpot Lane earlier on in the year. It had been a building site just a few short months ago. There are lots of wonderful historic buildings on this stretch of Eastcheap, and this just looks a little out of place to say the least.

Eastcheap, with Philpot Lane (home of the little plaster mice, London's smallest sculpture), just behind the taxi

 And a reminder of those little mice and the building they live on (bottom centre of pic), minus the big, scary thing - just a crane
At no. 2A Eastcheap, I spotted some nice architectural detail on King William House, a Grade II listed building (1910-11 by Frank Sherrin).
One of two crouching Atlantes on Ionic pilasters supporting a semi-circular pediment
Following a dozen or so snaps, trying to concentrate on the matter in hand, I hurried along to today's location spot of choice...

Half way between London Bridge and the Tower of London, St Dunstan-in-the-East is a garden built on the site of a Saxon church. The church was restored by St Dunstan in 950 AD and then rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire in 1667. Only the tower of the Wren church survives. The rest is a rather magnificent ruin, which was Grade I listed in 1950.  The garden was laid out amongst the ruined church, following severe damage during the blitz, and opened as a public space in 1967.

Click here for a bit more on St Dunstan, apparently the most popular saint in England for nearly two centuries, having gained fame for the many stories of his greatness, not least among which were those concerning his famed cunning in defeating the devil.


One of several entrances to the garden
Upon entering this quiet space, I felt like I'd stepped into the Secret Garden.  It was a vision of gothic arches, creeping ivy, ornamental vines, mossy stone steps, cobbled paths and exotic planting and, apart from a couple of garden workers, I had it all to myself.  It had paid off venturing out in the drizzle, which had now started to blur my camera lens!


The garden was small but maze-like, filled with a series of little "rooms", with plenty of nooks and crannies and places to wander through or sit and contemplate.  In the main area, where the nave used to be, was a circle of benches facing a bubbling water feature.  Today, it felt undiscovered but this is a popular lunchtime spot for city workers in better weather.

Next to a fig tree planted in 1937, there is a modern blue/grey rectangular sundial, mounted on the wall between two arched windows, with the inscription, "In memory of Hugh Gyle-Thompson Citiizen and gardener 1913-1972". 

Although I missed this on my visit, there is also an insect hotel (designed by Arup Associates to celebrate International Year of Biodiversity in 2010), catering for the specific requirements of stag beetles, solitary bees, butterflies and moths, spiders, lacewings and ladybirds.  The fa├žade of the hotel consists of a series of compartments based on a Voronoi pattern found in the natural world, which generates a series of voids varying in size at a depth of 50cm.  A variety of recycled waste materials are loosely inserted into these voids, whilst the sides of the hotel are accessible for butterflies and moths, and the top is suitable for absorbing rain water through planting.
Insect Hotel with the inscription, "Two legs good – six legs better"
In this tranquil, intimate and romantic hideaway, you quickly forget you are in the middle of a busy metropolis...and that you are on your lunchbreak and have to go back to work.  Taxi!
“Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden


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