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The church of St Dunstan-in-the-West is in Fleet Streetmarker in Londonmarker, Englandmarker. An octagonal structure, it is dedicated to a former bishop of London and archbishop of Canterburymarker.


First founded between 988 and 1070 A.D., there is a possibility that a church on this site was one of the Lundenwic strand settlement churches, like St Martin's in the Fieldsmarker, the first St Mary le Strandmarker, St Clement Danesmarker and St Bridesmarker. These may well pre-date any of the churches within the City walled area. It is not known exactly when the original church was built, but it was possibly erected by Saint Dunstan himself, or priests who knew him well. It was first mentioned in written records in 1185. King Henry III gained possession of it and its endowments from Westminster Abbeymarker by 1237 and then granted these and the advowson to the 'House of Converts' i.e. of the converted Jews, which led to its neglect of its parochial responsibilities. This institution was eventually transformed into the court of the Master of the Rolls.

The church has been associated with the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (old English for shoemakers) since the fifteenth century. Once a year the company holds a service here to commemorate the benefactors John Fisher and Richard Minge, after which children used to be given a penny for each time they ran around the church.

Samuel Pepys mentions the church in his diary. The church narrowly escaped the Great Fire of Londonmarker in 1666. The Dean of Westminster roused forty scholars from Westminster School in the middle of the night, who formed a fire brigade which extinguished the flames with buckets of water only three doors away.

However, Pepys only knew the old medieval building, which was taken down in the early 19th century. The present building was built on its predecessor's churchyard to allow the widening of Fleet Streetmarker.

A fragment of the old churchyard remains near Bream's Buildings.

The new building was designed by John Shaw the Elder (1776–1832) who died before the church was completed so it was left in the hands of his son John Shaw the Younger (1803–1870) in 1833. It is based on the design of St Helen's Pavement in Yorkmarker. The Shaws were prominent architects of Fleet Street who designed two other buildings (now offices) close to the church. 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).

Apart from losing its stained glass, the church survived the London Blitz largely intact, however, bombs from German bombers did damage the open-work lantern tower. The building was restored in 1950.

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


The church's facade holds an extraordinary chiming clock, with mannequins which strike the bells with their clubs. They perhaps represent Gog and Magog, the whole clock is mounted in a separate pavilion and dates from 1671 and adorned the previous church, perhaps commissioned to celebrate its escape from destruction in the Great Fire of 1666. This 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 HughesTom Brown's Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s the Vicar of Wakefield and a poem by William Cowper. In 1828, when the medieval church was demolished, the clock was removed by Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford to his mansion in Regent's Parkmarker, which later became the St Dunstan's College for the Blind. It was returned by the generosity of Lord Rothermere, the press baron, in 1935 to ostensibly mark the Jubilee of King George V.
Interior of St Dunstan-in-the-West
There is also a statue of Queen Elizabeth I, placed above the entrance to the old parochial school in 1766, which was taken from the front of the old Ludgatemarker which had been demolished at that time. This statue dates from 1586 and hence contemporary with her, it is thought to be the oldest outdoor statue in London. Within the porch below are three statues of ancient Britons also from the gate which were probably meant to represent King Lud and his two sons.

Adjacent to the Virgin Queen is a bust of Lord Northcliffe, the newspaper proprietor; co-founder (together with Lord Rothermere) of the Daily Mail, first popular daily newspaper, and the Daily Mirror in 1903. Northcliffe acquired The Times in 1914, and is regarded as one of the founders of modern mass circulation journalism. Next to Lord Northcliffe is a memorial tablet to James Louis Garvin, another pioneering British journalist.

Romanian Orthodox chapel

St Dunstan-in-the-West is the only church in England to share its building with the Romanian Orthodox community. The chapel to the left of the main altar is closed off by an iconostasis formerly from Antim monastery in Bucharestmarker, dedicated in 1966.

Noted associations

St Dunstan-in-the-West in 1842
The church has associations with many famous people:
  • Izaak Walton was a sidesman here.
  • The poet John Donne held the benefice here from 1624–1631, while he was Dean of St. Paul’s.
  • William Tyndale, who pioneered the translation of the Bible into English, was a lecturer.
  • Lord Baltimore, who founded Marylandmarker, was buried here in 1632; as was his son.
  • The diarist Samuel Pepys worshipped here a number of times.
  • John Calvert, Master of the Worshipful Company of Turners, the pre-eminent ivory carver of the early nineteenth century.


  1. "The City of London Churches" Betjeman,J Andover, Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0853721122
  2. "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0955394503
  3. "London:the City Churches” Pevsner,N/Bradley,S New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0300096550
  4. Pevsner(Ibid)
  5. "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London, Batsford, 1942
  6. accessed 23 January 2009
  7. Mentioned in Pepys Diary "Samuel Pepys-The Shorter Pepys" Latham,R(Ed) p484: Harmondsworth,1985 ISBN 0140094180
  8. "The Churches of the City of London" Reynolds,H: London, Bodley Head, 1922

See also

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