London is a beautiful city with so much to offer. It is a city that welcomes you and makes you one of its own. As a student, it is one of the best cities to live in. If you don’t want to take our word for it, you could check out QS Best Student Cities Rankings 2022. But being a student in a city like London, with its fast-paced lifestyle can also be overwhelming and intimidating. One needs to escape every now and then to some peace and quiet. Nestled in the heart of London, St Dunstan-in-the-east is the perfect spot to forget about your deadlines for some time. It is situated in between London Bridge and the Tower of London and despite its location, it is not frequented by a lot of visitors. In fact, it is one of the hidden gems of London that does not make it to most tourist lists or even that of locals. St Dunstan used to be a church, of which remains only the ruins that have been converted into a beautiful garden.
The church ruins have had its days of glory and its days of despair and repair. It was built in the early years of the 12th century and was named after St Dunstan, a monk who lived in about the 10th century. The first time the church building got severely damaged was the great London fire of 1666. The church never went back to looking how it originally was, ever again. For some decades after the fire, reparation at the church continued, but it wasn’t fully repaired. It was built up in patches. The patchwork was not a strong form of reparation did not do much for the church.
In the early 19th century, the church was demolished, because its roof and foundation had become too weak to carry the weight of the building. It was subsequently rebuilt and was reopened for worship in 1821. However, it wasn’t long before the church building faced another round of destruction. In World War II, the church along with many of the buildings and houses in London were bombed. The church was left severely damaged. Only this time, the authorities decided not to rebuild the church and let it remain in form of ruins. The ruins of the building were also meant to serve as a reminder to all that was lost during the Blitz, and how the city of London handled the catastrophe. In 1967, the decision was taken to convert St Dunstan into a public garden that was eventually opened to the public in 1971.
The gardens of St Dunstan-in-the-east are wonderfully serene and tranquil. One can hear the birds chirping and the faint noise of traffic in the background. One can be extremely close to nature yet see the Shard in the distance and know that the modern glass and concrete city of London is right outside the periphery of the complex. A person can completely immerse themselves in nature
and feel as if they have travelled back in time. However, the modern sky-rise buildings will always bring you back to reality.
It is very easy to reach St Dunstan as well. The nearest tube stations are either Monument station on the Circle line or Bank station on the Northern line. While you are here, you can also make a quick trip to the sky garden which is roughly a 5-minute walk from there and catch the beautiful London skyline. I would like to add that if you do plan to go to the sky garden, plan it in a way you can watch the London skyline during the golden hour. So next time you plan a trip to Tower Bridge or London Bridge, do plan a stop at these medieval-era church ruins. Don’t forget to carry your water bottle and click as many pictures as you can.
Surabhi Sanghi is a SOAS Digital Ambassador, pursuing a master’s degree in South Asian Studies and Intensive Language (which also means she gets to be in London for one whole extra year). She has a background in history and is interested in the religions of South Asia. She is a dog person and her only wish is to be able to pet all the dogs in London.