London Drum

St. Dunstan-in-the-West – Sweeney Todd’s Church

St Dunstan-in-the-West
Where? St. Dunstan-in-the-West, 186A Fleet Street, The City · Web: Opening times? 11 AM to 3 PM (Mon-Fri) Visiting hours may change Price? Free Time required? A typical visit is 15 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 4, 11, 15, 23, 26, 76, 172, 341 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Temple Circle District Other nearby stations: Chancery Lane Train fares

Craig’s review… Hopefully you’ve got 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 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 church. 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 where you started now. (Stop complaining – it’s good exercise!)

Elizabeth I statue from Lud Gate

Lud Gate was no ordinary gateway and 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 in the church. You can see Elizabeth I outside the front and King Lud in the side porch.

The statues are actually the oldest part of the church because the building that we see today only dates from 1830. Saint Dunstan was supposed to have ordered the original one built in 988 AD and it stood for 850 years 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 famous clock

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.

Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

The church is associated with Sweeney Todd and the traditional site of his barber shop is underneath that ‘People’s Journal’ building next-door.

Lord knows that 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 – your head included. Then 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 into the church’s crypt, where Mrs Lovett 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. Unfortunately you can’t crawl through Sweeney’s tunnel anymore because it’s almost certainly fictitious, and the original church is long gone – Sweeney was committing his murders eighty years before the new one was even built.

Do you want to see where Mrs Lovett’s 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, and it’s worth having a quick walk round there just to see the entrance to Clifford’s Inn along the way. The little piece of land that’s sandwiched between it and the Bream’s Building next-door is supposed to be all that remains of the original churchyard.

Worth a visit? Value for money? freeGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try St. Bartholomew-the-Great (walk it in 12 mins or catch a tube from Temple to Barbican); St. Bride’s (you can walk it in 6 mins) and Temple Church (you can walk there in less than 1 min). If you’re interested in Sweeney Todd then how about actually meeting him at the London Dungeon? You might enjoy the Jack The Ripper Tour as well

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Anthony Williams A brilliant visit. The church has a wonderful aura that pervades the building which is exceptional. The various decorations are amazing. The history is unbelievably interesting and some events beggar belief. This was my first visit but will be sure to make time for another when I'm next in London.

ella This is a beautiful little church and sometimes I just come and sit inside for a while

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