This is St Dunstan's church, Stepney, one of of only a handful of medieval buildings remaining in the East End of London. Looks gorgeous doesn't it, and it is. An ancient church set on a village green at the heart of its community - this photo could have been taken in deepest Suffolk. Except what you can't see in the picture are the faceless council estates all around, and you can't smell the pigs grunting on the city farm over the road. Somehow this church has survived a millennium of change, while the surrounding neighbourhood has risen and fallen. Especially fallen, lately.
There can't be many churches in the UK named after the saint who built them, but St Dunstan built this one in 952, just before he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. Stepney was the seat of the Bishop of London during medieval times, being the richest village to the east of the City at the time. By the 16th century this was a popular rural retreat for London's wealthy, but also increasingly attractive to ordinary people seeking work at the local docks. Stepney trebled in population in just 40 years as London expanded to the East. Some fine 17th century houses still exist on Stepney Green, an unfeasibly quiet thoroughfare close to the church, but prosperity in the area was soon replaced by poverty. The Blitz helped clear away the worst of the slums, but nothing very inspiring was built in their place. Stepney today is a mere shadow of its formerself - poor, bland and forgotten. Only the church hints that it was ever otherwise.