St-Dunstan-in-the-East

The ruins of this medieval church can still be found in the eastern end of the City of London and now play host to a rather delightful little park.

Originally built around 1,100 in the Gothic style, the church – which stands between St Dunstan’s Hill and Idol Lane (off Great Tower Street) was enlarged and repaired in ensuing centuries before suffering severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not enough to destroy the church, however, and it was repaired in the late 1660s with a new steeple and tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren to fit with the existing structure, was added in the late 1690s. Inside were carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

St-Dunstan-in-the-East-smallBut by the early 19th century, however, the weight of the roof had pushed the walls dramatically out of line and, after an unsuccessful attempt to repair the church, it was decided to demolish it (with the exception of Wren’s tower) and rebuild.

Built in the Perpendicular style to the designs of David Laing, the new church reopened in 1821.

The church lasted for more than 100 years before it was again severely damaged, this time during the Blitz of 1941. Wren’s spire and tower thankfully remained but other than that it was a shell with only the north and south walls remaining.

The Anglican Church decided not to rebuild – the parish was incorporated into that of All Hallows by the Tower – and the City of London Corporation opted to turn the (now) Grade I-Iisted remains into a public park. It was opened in 1971 by the then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Studd.

It remains there today, with beautiful climbing foliage – including many exotic plants – and a fountain in the nave. The tower, meanwhile, is used by a complementary medical centre.

A great place to pass a lunch hour!

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The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich opened the doors of its new £36.5 million Sammy Ofer Wing today. The new, architecturally slick extension – which is being touted as bringing with it a change of direction in the way the museum operates – features a new permanent gallery known as Voyages as well as a temporary exhibition space, library and archive. There’s also a lounge, cafe and brasserie – the latter boasting views out over Greenwich Park. The Voyages gallery has been designed as an introduction to the museum and features a 30 metre long thematic ‘object wall’ hosting more than 200 objects – everything from a letter written by Horatio Nelson to his mistress Emma Hamilton while he was on board the Victory in 1803 through to a watch belonging to Robert Douglas Norman – among those who perished on the Titanic, and a somewhat battered Punch puppet. The special exhibition space initially hosts High Arctic which uses technology to create an “immersive environment” exploring the Arctic world from the perspective of the future. The museum is also introducing the Compass Card scheme, a new initiative which will eventually be rolled out across the museum. Visitors are presented with a unique card with which, by inserting it into special units placed in galleries, they can flag their interest in receiving further information on a specified subject. The card can then be used to call up related archival information in the museum’s Compass Lounge or using the visitor’s home computer. For more information, see www.nmm.ac.uk.

The British Museum has announced funding has been secured for two new gallery spaces. These will include a new gallery looking at the history of world money from 2000 BC to present day. Known as the Citi Money Gallery, it will be opened in 2012. A donation from Paul and Jill Ruddock, meanwhile, means the museum will also be working on a major redisplay of Room 41 which covers the Mediterranean and Europe from 300 to 1,100 AD. The artefacts in the room include treasures taken from Sutton Hoo and the Vale of York Viking Hoard. The gallery will open in 2013/14. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Now On: Festival of British Archaeology. Coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the 21st festival (formerly known as National Archaeology Week) kicks off this weekend and runs until the end of July. It boasts more than 800 events across Britain including in London where they include guided tours of the Rose Theatre, a range of Roman themed events and activities – including a gladiator show – at the Museum of London, gallery talks at the Bank of England Museum and British Museum, the chance to visit the Billingsgate Roman House and Baths, and a guided walk of Londinium (Roman London) organised by All Hallows by the Tower. For a complete events listing, see http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/.

Now OnThe London Street Photography Festival is running until the end of the month with a series of exhibitions, talks, walks and workshops, the majority of which are taking place in and around King’s Cross. Key events include Street Markets of London in the 1940s – Walter Joseph featuring never before seen images at the British Library, Vivien Maier: A Life Uncovered at the German Gymnasium, and Seen/Unseen – George Georgiou and Mimi Mollica at the Collective Gallery. For more information, see www.londonstreetphotographyfestival.org.

A London tradition which has its origins in the fourteenth century, the Knollys Rose Ceremony surrounds the presentation of a single red rose to the Lord Mayor of London at Mansion House.

The ceremony, which was held in the City yesterday, relates to a judgement of 1381 in which the fine was the annual payment of a single red rose.

The fine was levied after Lady Constance Knollys, the wife of prominent citizen Sir Robert Knollys, bought a property opposite her own in Seething Lane and then added a footbridge linking the two without first gaining planning permission (it’s suggested that she bought the property which had previously been used as a threshing ground because she was annoyed with the constant chaff in the air).

Following discovery of her breach, it was agreed that she would pay the annual ‘peppercorn rent’ of a single red rose from the new property’s garden to the Lord Mayor.

Lady Constance’s footbridge is long gone but the tradition of paying the annual rent was revived last century and is now presided over by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames.

The ceremony starts at the church of All Hallows by the Tower and then involves a procession to Seething Lane Gardens (a modern garden close to where the original may have been; the gardens were once the site of the Navy Office) where the Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen snips off a rose before heading on to Mansion House where it is presented to the Lord Mayor on a velvet altar cushion from All Hallows.

The ceremony usually takes place on the second Monday in June.

Thursday is Ascension Day and, at All Hallows by the Tower in the City, that means conducting the ancient ceremony of Beating the Bounds.

The origins of the custom go back to medieval times when parishes annually reaffirmed their boundaries by undertaking a procession during which each parish boundary marker was beaten with wands while praying for protection and blessings.

At All Hallows, the beating party consists of students from Dunstan College in Catford (these students have an association with the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East which is now part of the parish of All Hallows) along with parish clergy and the masters of livery companies associated with the parish and Thames waterboatmen. (Pictured right is last year’s procession).

Highlights of the procession at All Hallows include the beating of the parish’s southern marker – this is located in the middle of the Thames and must be reached by boat – and the mock ‘confrontation’ which occurs between the beating party and the Governor and Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.

The ‘confrontation’ relates to the fact that the parish and the tower share a boundary – this was apparently a common cause of dispute in the Middle Ages and led, in 1698, to a ‘battle’ between the people of the parish and those of the tower. The ceremony is followed by attendance at a festal evensong at the church.

For more, see www.ahbtt.org.uk/history/beating-the-bounds/

PICTURE: Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.

A navy administrator and an MP who lived in London for much for the 17th century, it is for his remarkable diary – filled with reflections on great events and the intimate goings on of daily life – that Samuel Pepys is renowned around the world.

Born the son of a tailor in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street (the site is now marked with a plaque), on 23rd February, 1633, Pepys (pronounced ‘peeps’) attended St Paul’s School before moving on to Cambridge University. After graduation, he entered the household of one of his father’s cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, as a secretary around 1655 – the same year he married Elisabeth de St Michel.

Under the patronage of Sir Edward – after he became the Earl of Sandwich – Pepys was appointed Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board – a task which saw him playing a key role in shaping the English fleet which fought (unsuccessfully) in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667).

In 1673, he became Secretary to the Admiralty and the same year was elected an MP for Castle Rising in Norfolk (he later became an MP for Harwich). Pepys also served as president of the Royal Society from 1684-1686, and even visited Tangier where he was involved in the evacuation of the short-lived English colony there. He was imprisoned twice in later years – at least once on suspicion of supporting the Jacobites – but the charges were dropped and he retired at the age of 57 in 1690.

In 1701 he moved out to a house in Clapham and lived there until his death on 26th May, 1703 (his wife Elisabeth had died many years earlier in 1669 and they’d had no children). His extensive library – including his six volume diary – were bequeathed to Magdalene College at Cambridge.

Despite an illustrious public career, it is his diary for which Pepys is most celebrated. Covering the years from 1660 to 1669 (he only stopped writing for fear he would go blind), it records his reactions to such monumental events as Charles II’s coronation (he was present as a youth at the beheading of Charles I), the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London the following year as well as intimate details from his personal life including how he spent his leisure time, his various illnesses and his sexual liaisons. Written originally in a form of shorthand, it was first published in 1825 – and only fully published in 1976 – and has since gone on to enthral and entertain millions around the world.

Among places in London which still hold a Pepys connection are St Bride’s Church (he was baptised there), All Hallows by the Tower (it was in the tower from which Pepys watched the Great Fire), St Olave’s on Seething Lane (pictured above) where Pepys and his wife are buried (he was living in Seething Lane when he started the diary and St Olave’s served as his parish church between 1660 and 1674). Further down Seething Lane, there is a bust of Pepys in the gardens which now cover the Navy Office where Pepys once lived and worked.

There is also an exhibition on Pepy’s in Prince Henry’s Room at 17 Fleet Street (the building dates from around 1610 and was a pub when Pepys was alive), although it is currently closed.  An online version of Pepys’ diary can be found at the website Pepys’ Diary. For more on Pepys’ life, we do recommend Claire Tomalin’s best-selling biography Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.