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St Dunstan-in-the-West
St Dunstan-in-the-West in 1842
LocationFarringdon Without, City of London
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
Romanian Orthodox
Heritage designationGrade I listed building
Architect(s)John Shaw Sr.
Bishop(s)Sarah Mullally
Vicar(s)James Wilkinson
Priest(s)Silviu Petre Pufulete (Romanian Orthodox)
ArchdeaconLuke Miller

The Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West is in Fleet Street in the City of London. It is dedicated to Dunstan, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. The church is of medieval origin, although the present building, with an octagonal nave, was constructed in the 1830s to the designs of John Shaw.


Medieval church

Old St Dunstan's Church in 1814, with the exterior clock prominent on the left

It is first mentioned in written records in 1185.[1] But there is no evidence of the date of its original foundation. There is speculation that it might have been erected by Dunstan himself, or by priests who knew him well. Others suggest a foundation date of between AD 988 (death of St Dunston) and 1070. Another speculation is that a church on this site was one of the Lundenwic strand settlement churches, like St Martin in the Fields, the first St Mary le Strand, St Clement Danes and St Bride's, which may pre-date any within the walls of the City of London.

King Henry III gained possession of it and its endowments from Westminster Abbey by 1237, and then granted these and the advowson to the Domus Conversorum ('House of the Converts,' i.e., of converted Jews), which led to neglect of its parochial responsibilities.

William Tyndale, the celebrated translator of the Bible, was a lecturer at the church; the poet John Donne was at one time vicar, and delivered sermons. Samuel Pepys mentions the church in his diary.[2] The church narrowly escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666.[3] The Dean of Westminster roused 40 scholars from Westminster School in the middle of the night, who formed a fire brigade that extinguished the flames with buckets of water; the flames reached a point three doors away.

The medieval church underwent many alterations before its demolition in the early 19th century. Small shops were built against its walls, St Dunstan's Churchyard becoming a centre for bookselling and publishing.[4] Later repairs were carried out in an Italianate style: rusticated stonework was used, and some of the Gothic windows were replaced with round-headed ones, resulting in what George Godwin called "a most heterogeneous appearance".[4] The church's old vaulted roof was replaced in 1701 with a flat ceiling, ornamented with recessed panels.[4]

The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers has been associated with the church since the 15th century. The company holds an annual service of commemoration to honour two of its benefactors, John Fisher and Richard Minge; by tradition, following the service, children were given a penny for each time they ran around the church.


Southwest view of St Dunstan-in-the-West (2022)

In the early 19th century the medieval church of St Dunstan was removed to allow the widening of Fleet Street, and a new church was built on its burial ground. An Act of Parliament was obtained in July 1829 which authorised the demolition of the church, and trustees were appointed to carry it into effect.[5] Auctions of some of the materials of the old church took place in December 1829 and September 1830. The first stone of the new building, to the design of John Shaw Sr.[6] (1776–1832), was laid in July 1831 and construction proceeded rapidly. In August 1832 the last part of the old church, which had been left as a screen between Fleet Street and the new work, was removed.[4]

Shaw dealt with the restricted site by designing a church with an octagonal central space. Seven of the eight sides open into arched recesses, the northern one containing the altar. The eighth side opens into a short corridor, leading beneath the organ to the lowest stage of the tower, which serves as an entrance porch. Above the recesses Shaw designed a clerestory, and above that a groined ceiling. The tower is square in plan, with an octagonal lantern, resembling those of St Botolph's Church, Boston, and St Helen's, York. George Godwin suggested that the form of the lantern might have been immediately inspired by that of St George's church in Ramsgate (where Shaw was architect to the docks), built in 1825 to the designs of H. E. Kendall.[4] John Shaw Sr. died in 1833, before the church was completed, leaving it in the hands of his son John Shaw Jr. (1803–1870).

Interior of St Dunstan-in-the-West

The communion rail is a survivor of the old church, having been carved by Grinling Gibbons during the period when John Donne served as vicar (1624–1631). Some of the monuments from the medieval building were reinstituted in the new church, and a fragment of the old churchyard remains between Clifford's Inn and Bream's Buildings.[7]

Twentieth century

Apart from losing its stained glass, the church survived the London Blitz largely intact, though bombs did damage the open-work lantern tower.[8] The church was damaged again on 24/25 March 1944, during Operation Steinbock, a lower-intensity attack on London late in the war.[9] The building was largely restored in 1950. An appeal to raise money to install a new ring of bells in the tower, replacing those removed in 1969, was successfully completed in 2012 with the dedication and hanging of 10 new bells.[10]

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[11]


The clock, dating from 1671

On the façade is a chiming clock, with figures of giants, perhaps representing Gog and Magog, who strike the bells with their clubs. It was installed on the previous church in 1671, perhaps commissioned to celebrate its escape from destruction by the Great Fire of 1666. It was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. The figures of the two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. There are numerous literary references to the clock, including in Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield; Nicholas Nickleby, Master Humphrey's Clock and Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, The Warden by Anthony Trollope, the penny dreadful serial The String of Pearls (in which the character Sweeney Todd first appears), David Lyddal's "The Prompter" (1810),[12] and a poem by William Cowper.

In 1828, when the medieval church was demolished, the clock was removed by art collector Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford, to Winfield House, his mansion in Regent's Park, which became known as St Dunstan's. During the First World War, Winfield House was lent as a hostel for blinded soldiers, and the new charity took the name St Dunstan's (now Blind Veterans UK).[13]

The clock was returned by Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere (the brother of Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe) in 1935 to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

Statues and monuments

Statue of Elizabeth I
Monument to the press baron Lord Northcliffe

Above the entrance to the old parochial school is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I, taken from the old Ludgate, which was demolished in 1760. This statue, by William Kerwin and dating from 1586, is contemporaneous with its subject and thought to be the oldest outdoor statue in London. The playwright Gwen John and her sister Winifred Jones worked alongside the suffragettes Millicent and Agnes Fawcett to pay for it to be repaired. In the porch below are three statues of ancient Britons also from the gate, probably meant to represent King Lud and his two sons.

Adjacent to Queen Elizabeth is a memorial to Lord Northcliffe, the newspaper proprietor, co-founder of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. (Fleet Street was known as the street of newspapers.) Unveiled in 1930, the obelisk was designed by Edwin Lutyens and the bronze bust is by Kathleen Scott. Next to Lord Northcliffe is a memorial tablet to James Louis Garvin, another pioneering British journalist.

Close to the font, there is a bronze memorial plaque for Thomas Mudge (1715/16–1794), inventor of the lever escapement and watchmaker to George III. The tablet was made and engraved by noted sundial maker, hand-engraver and sculptor Joanna Midgal. It was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, and installed in March 2019.

Behind the iconostasis (wall of icons) to the left side of the church, high on a wall, there is a marble memorial tablet to the highly regarded seventeenth-century clockmaker Henry Jones (1634–1695), who worked in the Inner Temple, and his wife Hannah, who continued their business after his death. Jones was an apprentice of Edward East.

Romanian Orthodox chapel

St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street

St Dunstan-in-the-West is one of the churches in England to share its building with the Romanian Orthodox community (St. George church). The chapel to the left of the main altar is closed off by an iconostasis, formerly from Antim Monastery in Bucharest, dedicated in 1966.[14]

Noted associations

The church has associations with many notable people:

The church has often been associated with the legend of Sweeney Todd, the 'demon-barber' of Fleet Street. This is most likely due to it being mentioned in the original penny dreadful The String of Pearls as the church bearing a crypt into which the remnants of Sweeney Todd's victims were unceremoniously dumped after they had been murdered and turned into meat pies.

In popular culture

St Dunstan-in-the-West appeared as the "journalists' church" in the 2018 TV series Press.[16] The real journalists' church is St Bride's.

See also


  1. ^ Hibbert, C., Weinreb, D., Keay, J., The London Encyclopaedia. London: Pan Macmillan, 1983 (rev. 1993, 2008) ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5
  2. ^ Betjeman, J., The City of London Churches. Andover: Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0-85372-112-2
  3. ^ "The Survey of Building Sites in London after the Great Fire of 1666" Mills, P/ Oliver, J Vol I p2: Guildhall Library MS. 84 reproduced in facsimile, London, London Topographical Society, 1946
  4. ^ a b c d e Godwin, George; John Britton (1829). The Churches of London. London.
  5. ^ Tabor, M., The City Churches, p. 123. London; The Swarthmore Press Ltd; 1917
  6. ^ "The City of London Churches: monuments of another age" Quantrill, E; Quantrill, M p104: London; Quartet; 1975
  7. ^ London: the City Churches, N. Pevsner, S. Bradley: New Haven, Yale, 1998, ISBN 0-300-09655-0
  8. ^ Cobb, G., The Old Churches of London. London: Batsford, 1942
  9. ^ Conen, John, The Little Blitz: The Luftwaffe's Last Attack on London, p. 105.
  10. ^ "Latest news".
  11. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1064663)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  12. ^ Lyddal, David. "The Prompter, or Cursory Hints to Young Actors: A Didactic Poem. 1810" in Acting Theory and the English Stage, 1700–1830. Ed. Lisa Zunshine. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009. 5 vols. 4: 179–215. 206.
  13. ^ Archived 2009-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Romanian Orthodox Church", church website.
  15. ^ The Churches of the City of London, H. Reynolds: Bodley Head, 1922
  16. ^ "Resonance" – via

External links

51°30′51.3″N 00°06′36.8″W / 51.514250°N 0.110222°W / 51.514250; -0.110222

3 Annotations

First Reading

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

St Dunstan-in-the-West is the westernmost church in the City. The Great Fire stopped a few doors east and the church was not burned. However, it was entirely rebuilt about 1833

in the Gothic style. In the old church the poet John Donne was once vicar, and Isaac Walton, author of The Compleat Angler was a vestryman. Walton described how Donne would preach "in earnest, weeping sometime for his Auditory, sometime with them; always preaching to himself, like an Angel from a cloud...". On the exterior of the new church is a survivor from the old one - a famous oddity of a clock from 1670, described by Strype: "two savages or Hercules, with clubs erect, which quarterly strike the two bells hanging there.." The clubs still strike at the quarter hour. The church is used by the Russian Orthodox Church, and contains impressive iconic imagery.
Fleet Street EC4
Open 9am-3pm Tues and Fri
10am-4pm Sun
lifted from
see the map of places of sermons.
modern pic version today :
more info here:…

Pedro  •  Link

St. Dunstan-in-the-West some entries from the Book of Days…

The frame of the hour-glass of St. Dunstan's, Fleet Street, was of solid silver, and contained enough of the precious metal to be melted down, and converted into staff-heads for the parish beadles.

Strange Marriages…

but a stranger scene took place at St. Dunstan's church on one occasion, during the performance of the marriage ceremony. The bridegroom was a carpenter, and he followed the service devoutly enough until the words occurred, 'With this ring I thee wed.' He repeated these, and then shaking his fist at the bride added, 'And with this fist I'll break thy head.' The clergyman refused to proceed, but, says the account, 'the fellow declared he meant no harm,' and the confiding bride 'believed he did but jest,' whereupon the service was completed.

Curious Advertisements…

'The much approved necklaces of Joynts, of the great traveller J. C., which absolutely eases children in breeding teeth, by cutting them, and thereby preventing feavers, convulsions, &c., are sold by P. Barrel, at the "Golden Ball," under St. Dunstan's Church, in Fleet Street.'—1679.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

The churchyard (facing Fleet Street) was built in with stationers' shops; and Smethwick (one of the most celebrated) always described his shop as "in St . Dunstan's Churchyard in Fleet Street, under the Diall." Such is his address on the 1609 edition of Romeo and Juliet, and the 1611 edition of Hamlet. Here, in St. Dunstan's churchyard, Marriot published the first edition of Walton's Angler.

There is newly extant a book of 18d. price, called "The Compleat Angler; or, the Contemplative Man's Recreation, being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing, not unworthy the perusal of most Anglers. Printed for Richard Marriot, in St. Dunstan's Churchyard, Fleet Street."—Mercurius Politicus, for May, 1653.

Dr. Donne, the poet, and Dr. Thomas White (founder of Sion College), were vicars of this church. A monument with medallion bust of White has been lately erected.

Eminent Persons buried in.—Simon Fish, author of the Supplication of Beggers (d. A.d. 1531). Davies, of Hereford, the poet and writing-master (d. 1617). Thomas Campion, Doctor of Physic, also a poet (d. 1619). Dr. White (d. March 1, 1623/1624). Simon Wadlow, landlord of the Devil Tavern, Ben Jonson's "King of Skinkers" (buried March 30, 1627). George, first Lord Baltimore, Secretary of State, and one of the early colonisers of North America (d. April 15, 1632). John Graunt, one of the founders of Political Economy (d. 1674). Pinchbeck, who gave his name to a metallic compound (d. 1783). Thomas Mudge, the celebrated chronometer maker (d. 1794).
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.