There is a very distinctive church frontage almost next to the Royal Court of Justice on Fleet Street that I have wanted to peer inside for years, but every time I walked past, the doors have been firmly closed.

St Dunstan-in-the-West

So it was quite a surprise to see them open on a Saturday afternoon, and after checking with the priest in attendance, was able to take some photos of this quite remarkable building.

There has been a church on this site since at least 1070, and it was one of the few to survive the Great Fire of London. However, the church was torn down in 1830 due to a need to widen Fleet Street. Although many of the memorials were saved and reinstalled, the core of the building was totally rebuilt.

The old church also had a very famous clock — said to be the first public clock in London to come with a minute hand — and had two automaton giants striking bells. The clock and its “giants” were removed during the rebuilding work and sold, but later brought back and reinstalled in 1935.

St Dunstan-in-the-West

It is however the rebuilt interior that is notably unusual for an Anglican church, as it is Octagonal rather than the usual cross shaped.

St Dunstan-in-the-West

It also contains a dramatic altar for the use of the Romanian Orthodox community who share the building. The Orthodox altar was installed next to the Anglican one in 1966 after being removed from a church in Bucharest.

St Dunstan-in-the-West

An organ sits above the door frame, which seems to be a popular location to put these massive instruments in a lot of churches. The organ itself dates back to 1675, but has been rebuilt several times, an now looks very different to the original, even though it contains original pipes.

St Dunstan-in-the-West

Standing in a niche outside is also a worn statue of Queen Elizabeth I, and is thought to be the only statue in London with its own income. Dame Fawcet left £700 for its upkeep in her will of 1928. However, the income is not sufficient to pay for restoration. Not yet anyway.

According to a leaflet of the church’s history I bought, the church is open to visitors on Tuesdays between 11am to 3pm. Which is probably why I have never found the doors open before as I never go down Fleet Street on Tuesday lunchtimes (map link). Quite pleased therefore to find it so unexpectedly open on the Saturday.

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12 Comments

  1. Mark

    Is the crypt ever open? St Dunstan’s crypt is allegedly where Sweeney Todd stashed his victims from next door. Yes, I know he’s fictional, but still…

    • IanVisits

      As it took me years just to get past the front door – I am hardly the expert to ask on getting into the rest of the building ;)

  2. Sandra Lawson

    This is very interesting Ian as I’ve passed by quite often and would have liked to have had a look around. I find all the city churches and their histories fascinating. There are two free Wednesday lunchtime concerts at St Dunstan-in-the-West next month.

  3. Frank Bath

    Thanks Ian. I once saw a crowd of wedding folk there in a traditional East European costume. They must have been Romanians.

  4. JohnHB

    Mark

    if you go to the church website (click on the link Ian has embedded into “church frontage” in line 1 of his article) you will find a section on “Crypt Development”, which (via another link) includes a floor plan – maybe you can find a niche that matches the Sweeney Todd tale !

    Ian

    many thanks for this – I had often wondered what what was behind this door when passing the Law Courts

  5. Olivia Hewitt

    This church is open, I believe, on Tuesdays from 11-3 with volunteer churchwatcherrs from The Friends of City Churches.
    http://www.london-city-churches.org.uk/

  6. This is one of my favourite churches and when I worked nearby I regularly went to their Wednesday lunchtime recitals. Although I went regularly I never did get the hang of how to open the doors onto the pews and usually some kind person rescued me!

  7. Edgemaster

    The church also houses London’s second newest ring of bells, installed in March for the jubilee. http://london.lovesguide.com/dunstan-in-the-west.htm

  8. Nicholas Elder

    The Crypt is indeed an amazing space, or indeed collection of vaulted spaces – I visited there a couple of years ago with a group who are looking at ways of re-imagining and re-using such spaces under churches. No barber’s victims to be seen, however! (May I also add what good stuff you post ‘IanVisits’ – had a good look at the ‘hidden’ Peckham Rye waiting room on Saturday.)

  9. Just around the corner from the front door, is this rather creepy set of statues.

    Apparently, they’re of King Lud after whom London may be named.

    You can see the statues at any time – there’s usually a Lebanese food stall in the church grounds – walk past that, and into the little alcove and you’ll see them.

    • IanVisits

      Correct – they were placed there following the demolition of Lud-gate.

  10. PaulW

    I think the Roumanian Orthodox Church have use of St Dunstans for services on Sundays.

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