Saturday, 18 June 2011

London's Heart

I count myself really lucky to work in London and have on my doorstep a global, world-in-a-city that also happens to be two millennia old - a city where a little walkabout can have you tripping over history at every turn.

These pictures were taken in what is technically the only part of London that can be called the City, the square mile that today is the financial centre of London but also its historic heart -  in medieval times it was the full extent of London.

Old meets new wherever you look ...

The spire of St Margaret Pattens church (above), dating from 1067, holds its own amidst buildings reflecting layers of history all the way up to a 21st century skyscraper and passenger jet on take-off from City Airport.

Below, the bullet-shaped 'Gherkin' (Swiss Re building) rears up on the site of the medieval parish of St Mary Axe.

What I was searching for here earlier this week was not that easy to find ... a little hidden gem I'd heard about but never been to. 

But looking up I found my clue ...

I love how the steeple from this angle looks like it's growing out of the modern building below it. 

This is the church of St Dunstan in the East - or rather, what remains of it ...

Built originally in 1100, St Dunstan was partly destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, taken down and rebuilt again in the 1800s after some structural problems emerged, only to be severely bombed during the Blitz a century later. At this point, enough was enough, evidently, and rather than rebuild it yet again, the ruins were turned into a garden ...

Climbers were planted to weave through the arched windows ... 

... and a lawn and a fountain were laid out exactly in the place where the nave had been.

At lunch hour on this sunny day the benches were taken up by office workers who'd come to eat their sandwiches in this little oasis of peace. Rather like in a church, there were no loud voices. People chatted quietly or just sat and meditated.

If you click on the photo below to enlarge, you'll see a pin-striped suited man taking advantage of a private cloister to do some texting on his mobile phone ...

It's hard to believe when you're here that this is not a country church but in the heart of the City ..

St Dunstans is in a pocket of London, near the river and the Tower, that has seen some turbulent events in its long history. Some of these were recorded by diarist Samuel Pepys, who lived through some interesting times.

Pepys lived in Seething Lane, and during the Great Fire of London in 1666 he struggled for five days to save his house, the nearby church and the Navy Offices where he worked. He mobilized the building of fire-breaks, had his possessions carried away and dug a hole in his garden to "put our wine in ... and my parmazan cheese". (There was a man who had his priorities straight!)

Below is the entrance to the pretty graveyard of Pepys's 'own church' of St Olave's, off Seething Lane. St Olave's has survived nine centuries, the Great Fire and bombing during World War II. The inscription below the three skulls reads Christus vivere, mors mihi lucrum, 11th April 1658 ("to live is Christ/Christ is life, death my reward" - more or less). 

It's a reminder of the horrors of the Great Plague. Pepys wrote, shortly after the plague had subsided, "It frighted me indeed to go through [St Olave's] church ... to see so many graves lie so high upon the churchyard, where many people have been buried of the plague."

For light relief, apparently, Pepys also attended the odd public execution ...

hmm ... how cheerful could that possibly be, do you think?

Before heading back to work I ventured a little way along London Bridge to get a view of Tower Bridge where Pepys walked on the night of September 2nd 1666 "and there got up upon one of the high places [and did see] ... an infinite great fire ... most horrid malicious flame [that] made me weep to see churches, houses ... all on fire and flaming at once". 

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