St. Dunstan-in-the-West review
Hopefully you have twenty minutes to spare before visiting the church because I just want to show you where the old Roman wall once stood. Have a walk up Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to St. Martin's church (it's just before St. Paul's Cathedral). If you stand on the doorstep then you're standing on the site of Lud Gate, one of the seven ancient gates into the city. Sadly there's no trace of it above ground anymore because it got torn down around 1760, but some of its statuary still survives on the front of St. Dunstan's. So that's why I made you walk all the way up here in the wet and freezing cold -- just so I could tell you that little snippet of information. You can walk back to St. Dunstan's now. (Stop complaining -- it's good exercise!)
Lud Gate was no ordinary gateway -- during its 1,500-year history it was put up, knocked down, rebuilt with a prison in it, and ended up towering three stories over the road. In 1586 they added some statues to the western wall showing Elizabeth I, King Lud and his two sons (the mythical figures that founded the city), and it's these weather-ravaged statues that survive at the church. You can see Elizabeth I outside the front and King Lud inside the porch.
The statues are actually the oldest part of the building because the one that we see today only dates from 1830. Saint Dunstan was supposed to have ordered the original church built in 988 AD and it stood for eight centuries until the traffic planners demolished it. The traders kept complaining that their carts were getting held up in the medieval street so they decided to widen it, flattening all those beautiful buildings that stood in their way.
The big clock eventually found its way back home (via some rich guy's mansion in Regent's Park) and if you hang around for the next quarter hour then you can watch it come to life -- the two giants will turn their heads and smash their tree trunk clubs against the bell. This is the same clock that Dickens mentions in Barnaby Rudge, and the bells upstairs are the same ones rung in A Christmas Carol.
The inside of the church is rather beautiful considering that it's practically new (1830 is considered new in our city). Check out that altar screen that came all the way from Budapest.
The church is probably best-known today for its association with Sweeney Todd. The traditional site of his barber shop is underneath that People's Journal building next door, and it was in the crypt that he was supposed to have sliced and diced up his victims. Unfortunately you won't find any dug tunnels between the two because a) it's almost certainly fictitious, and b) the original church is long gone -- Sweeney was committing his murders fifty years before the new one was built.
Lord knows I've had some terrible haircuts in my time (I've probably got one now), but Sweeney's snips really took the biscuit. If you asked him to "take a bit off the top" then he'd chop the whole lot off in one go -- head included. And if your small talk wasn't up to much he'd pull a lever on the seat and send you plummeting down his cellar chute where he'd smack you over the head a few times to finish you off, wipe his bloodied fingers on his stained apron, and drag your bag of broken bones through his shovelled tunnel to Mrs Lovett, who would be waiting patiently with a meat cleaver. The lovely lady would then butcher your limbs for fillings in her pie shop round the corner.
Do you want to see where her pie shop was? Obviously there's nothing there now (because it was never there in the first place) but it's only two streets away in Bell Yard. It's worth having a quick walk round there if only to see the entrance to Clifford's Inn along the way. There's a little piece of land sandwiched between it and the Bream's Building that's supposed to be all that remains of the original churchyard. And there's a Pret A Manger down the road if fancy having a real meat pie -- and I promise you there are no people inside their ones (only animals).
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