St Dunstan in the West - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Dunstan in the West

• The Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West is in Fleet Street. An octagonal-shaped building, it is dedicated to a former Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. First founded between AD 988 and 1070, there is a possibility 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 Brides.

• These churches may pre-date any within the walls of the city. It is not known exactly when the original church was built, but it was possibly erected by St 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 Abbey by 1237 and then granted these and the patronage to the "House of Converts" i.e. of the converted Jews, which led to its neglect of its parochial responsibilities.

• 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, after which children were traditionally given a penny for each time they ran around the church.

• Willian Tyndale, the celebrated translator of the Bible, was a lecturer at the church and sermons were given by the poet John Donne. Samuel Pepys mentions the church in his diary.

• The church narrowly escaped the Great Fire in 1666. The Dean of Westminster roused 40 scholars from Westminster School in the middle of the night and they used a chain of buckets to extinguish the flames, the fire came to within three doors of the church! • In the 19th century the medieval church of St Dunstan was demolished to allow the widening of Fleet Street and a new church was built on its burial ground. The first stone of the new building, to the design of John Shaw (1776–1832) was laid in July 1831 and construction proceeded rapidly. 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. 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.

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

• 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 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. In 1828, when the medieval church was demolished, the clock was removed by the 3rd Marquess of Hertford an art collector to his mansion in Regent’s Park during WWI. A new charity for blinded soldiers was lent the house, and took the name St Dunstan’s from the clock. It was returned by Lord Rotheremere in 1935 to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

• Above the entrance to the old parochial school in 1766, is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I, taken from the old Ludgate, which was demolished at that time. This statue dates from 1586 and is thought to be the oldest outdoor statue in London. In the porch below are three statues of ancient Britons also from the gate, probably meant to represent King Lud and his two sons.

• An appeal to raise money to install a new ring of bells in the tower was successfully completed in 2012 with the dedication and hanging of 10 new bells.

• 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 the Antim monastery in Bucharest, dedicated in 1966.


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