Above: Looking west in Fleet Street.
London is a very large metropolis – as we all know – but when the light is right there are just one or two really lovely streets to walk a long. On a sunny morning, when the sun is beaming down on the western end of Fleet Street and the Strand, walking west up the slight incline of Fleet Street reveals a really grand view. Fleet Street does not have particularly grand buildings beside it. They are mainly 19th century with a few early 20th century ones mixed in. Until the 1970s most of them were offices for the national newspapers and Fleet Street was often referred to as the ‘River of Ink’.
Now that all the newspaper offices have been relocated to other parts of London, most of the buildings, being listed, are still there but are now in use as offices for many different types of companies. As you walk up Fleet Street, with your back to St Paul’s Cathedral, ahead of you is the splendid sight of the delicate octagonal tower of St Dunstan in the West. According to where you stand, it is also possible to see the high tower on the Law Courts which are just further west, standing on the north side of the Strand.
There are two ‘St Dunstan’ churches in the City of London, both dedicated to a pre-Norman Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. In addition, there is the church of St Dunstan, Stepney, in the East End, whose parish was once part of the Bishop of London’s land and therefore would have been known to Dunstan in the 10th century.
The church in Fleet Street is of medieval origin, although the present building, with an octagonal nave and an octagonal lantern tower, was constructed in the 1830s to the designs of John Shaw. Very few churches in London have an octagonal ground plan. It was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950.
There is a possibility that a church on this site was one of the Lundenwic settlement churches which also included St Martin in the Fields, the first St Mary le Strand, St Clement Danes and St Bride, Fleet Street. Lundenwic is the name for the Saxon ‘London’ which was established on land around Strand and Aldwych. Instead of continuing to live on the land of the original Roman settlement – within the Roman Wall – Lundenwic was set up by the Saxons around the 7th century and remained as a separate settlement until the 9th century. In AD 886 the land within the Roman Wall was re-established by Alfred the Great and continued as the City from that day to this.
Further west from St Dunstan in Fleet Street are the Royal Courts of Justice or ‘Law Courts’ for short. In medieval times the Courts were held in the Great Hall, Westminster. By Victorian times the hall was considered to be too small and also inconvenient and a very large piece of land was acquired on the north side of the Strand on which were erected the large buildings we see today.
A stroll along Fleet Street on a sunny morning makes you feel good to be alive and in a busy place like London you can forget the hassle of the busy streets and the noise of the traffic and just enjoy one of the finest views in London.