And not a bad little walk between them, either.
Where ever I go, I’m happiest outdoors. It’s just the way I’m made. So when I recently found myself with a few hours to kill in London, I decided to stay outdoors and explore two tiny but historic London parks.
Trinity Square Gardens
A pleasant little park made up of formal gardens and several memorials. This part of the city spreads out around the river and the Tower of London, so history is thick on the ground here. It wasn’t gruesome London history that brought me here though, much as I love a bit of that. I came to see the memorials to the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets, who lost their lives in both world wars.
The WW1 memorial is an imposing walk through structure of stone columns and brass panels. The names of the lost are listed under the ships they sailed on, with the ships names listed in alphabetical order. A nice touch- keep each sailor with his final ship.
The home port of each ship engraved along with the losses. Each port city of the UK is represented, including my home town of Newcastle. As a visitor to modern tourist-y London, it’s easy to forget what a great port this city once was. The number of London listed ships is a stark reminder.
A small plaque advises visitors that they should, ” Respect this sanctuary which bears the names of true men lost at sea. Keep it clean and shipshape.” I like the wording of this. I think keeping it shipshape for the 12,000 plus sailors listed is the least we can do.
The memorial dates to the late 1920’s and was unveiled by Queen Mary. Apparently, that was her first solo engagement of the sort. I’m sure she didn’t have a thought in her head then that this memorial would one day neighbour another. Sadly, more conflict followed. Below the WW1 memorial, is another tribute. One to those lost in the Merchant and Fishing fleets of WW2.
The WW2 memorial, unveiled in 1955 by Queen Elizabeth, was designed by Sir Edward Maufe who also designed the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial.
The WW2 memorial is one to wander. Sailors are again listed by their ship. At the heart of it all, a sunken garden. A space for visitors to reflect. Two carved figures representing an officer and a seaman. The meandering style hammers home the scale of the losses. Each time you descend some steps or round a corner, there is more. More names, more ships, more losses.
Find Trinity Square Gardens at Tower Hill, EC3 . Open daily. Nearest Underground, Tower Hill.
St Dunstan-in -the- East
From those lost in war, to a place that has survived it. Twice. The little church of St Dunstan-in-the-East. I say church; it’s actually what remains of one. Left to go a little wild and now a small and ethereal London garden.
A quick history bit: A church was originally sited here in about 1100, and as was the way of things, bits were added and tweaked. The place of worship might have changed form over the centuries, but it endured. Until 1666, when the Great Fire of London did it some serious damage. It was patched up and left as was, until the late 1600’s, when Sir Christopher Wren banged out a new design including a big old tower. A complete redesign, faithful to the plans of Wren followed in the 1800s.
In the 1940’s the church was bomb damaged in the Blitz. Wren’s tower and sections of wall remained, but little else. Deemed beyond repair, the church site was turned into a city garden. Planting was added, seating and a small fountain. A tiny managed wilderness in the city.
Windows and arches remain, framed by ivy and trees that are outgrowing the walls. There are palm trees and flowering shrubs, some of which bore colour even in December. It feels like a place that is cared for. Bird feeders have been installed and kept well stocked, although they are enclosed in a cage. And for good reason.
St Dunstan-in-the-East isn’t just home to history, architecture and plants. It’s also home to some bold grey squirrels. Check out this little guy. Started out thinking it was cute he was curious about us, walked away wondering if we’d just been mugged by a London Grey.
I’ve read about St Dunstan’s as the ‘secret church’, but I guess the secret is out. It’s firmly on the radar of tour guides and curious folk like me, so it does get quite busy. But it’s a little bit different and it’s beautiful. Well worth a look.
Find the church at St Dunstan’s Hill, EC3R 5DD. Open daily. Nearest Underground, Monument and Tower Hill.