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London
St Clement Danes
Strand
TfL Fare Zone 1
 

 

St Clement Danes is a lovely baroque church located in the City of London. St Clement’s is a fine example of Sir Christopher Wren’s work and is the Central Church of the Royal Air Force (RAF). It is situated in the Strand in the centre of the road creating and island causing the traffic to flow on either side of the church and its forecourt of trees.

St Clement’s is generally open every day for the public to enjoy but because it is the official RAF church, it can sometimes be closed for special services so it is a good idea to check on their website to avoid disappointment.

The Nursery Rhyme
Oranges and Lemons Say the bells of St Clements...

Sadly, the rhyme probably does not refer to St Clement Danes in the Strand but to St Clement Eastcheap which stands by the wharves and is where citrus fruit from the Meditteranean was unloaded.

Despite this fact, St Clement Danes’ carillon occasionally plays the tune of the nursery rhyme and an orange and a lemon is also given every year to each child of St Clement Danes primary school after the annual service.

Trivia
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St Clement’s Lane, WC2 is a short street between Portugal Street and Grange Court. Originally, it was a long country lane leading to the parish church of St Clement Danes from which it takes its name. Standing outside St Clements today, with the traffic grinding past each side, it is hard to imagine this part of London was once quiet countryside.
 
Ancient History
It is known that a church has stood on this spot for over 1,000 years but how it got its name is shrouded in mystery. The church’s proximity to the River Thames accounts for it being dedicated to Saint Clement, the patron saint of mariners.
 
The original church was built of wood in the 9th century but how it became associated with the Danes is obscure; according to historian John Snow (c. 1525–1605) “...it is so-called because Harold (Harefoot) a Danish king and other Danes were buried here.” However, William Fleetwood, Recorder of London in 1581, contended that when Alfred the Great drove most of the Danes out of the kingdom, those residing in London who had married English women were allowed to live between Westminster and Ludgate and “...they builded a synagogue the which being afterwards consecrated, was called Ecclesia Clementis Danorum”.
 
I must admit that this author finds this latter theory quite acceptable.
 
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11th - 12th Century Rebuilding
We know that sometime towards the end of the 10th or at the beginning of the 11th century, the wooden church was replaced by one of stone – the remains of whose tower are incorporated into the present building. The church is recorded in William the Conqueror’s Doomsday Book of 1086.
 
In 1189 it was transferred by Henry II to the Order of the Knights Templar. After their expropriation it was held by the Austin Friars and in the 14th century the living was secularised and presented to Walter de Stapleton, Bishop of Exeter whose London house was in the vicinity.
 
17th Century Remodelling by Wren
Although the church escaped damage in the Great Fire of London (1666), it gradually deteriorated and was rebuilt between '1680–1682', this time by Sir Christopher Wren. It is the only one of Wren’s churches apart from St Paul's Cathedral that has an apse. The tower was faced with Portland stone and the interior embellished with fine wooden pews, galleries and ornate plasterwork.
 
The steeple was added to the 115 foot (35 metre) tower in 1719-1720 by James Gibbs.
 
North Gallery & Dr Samuel Johnson
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St Clement’s 18th century eclectic congregation were the movers and shakers of their day, and included the writer and lexicographer, Dr Samuel Johnson. His seat was No. 18 in the north gallery close to the pulpit. A brass plate on a nearby pillar records this fact.

The Crypt & Body Snatchers
Another artefact to look out for is the chains inside the door of the crypt. These are a relic of the days when coffins had to be secured from body snatchers.
 
Rugby Union Football
St Clements also has a strong link with the game of Rugby Union football. William Webb Ellis, often credited with the invention of Rugby football in 1823 was once Rector of the church, and is commemorated by a memorial tablet.
 
Modern History
Tragedy struck on 10 May 1941 when St Clements was bombed during the Second World War London Blitz. Incendiary bombs set fire to the church and it was gutted. Miraculously the exterior walls, tower and steeple remained standing and in 1953 the ruin was taken over by the Air Council. An RAF Appeal for funds raised over £250,000 (4 million pounds in modern-day currency) and rebuilding of the church started in 1956.
 
As part of the rebuilding a Latin inscription was added under the restored Royal coat of Arms: It translates as “Built by Christopher Wren 1682. Destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941. Restored by the Royal Air Force 1958."
 
Interior Fittings & Memorials
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The floor of the church is of Welsh slate inscribed with the badges of over 800 RAF commands, groups, stations, squadrons and other formations. Near the entrance door is a ring of the badges of Commonwealth air forces, surrounding the badge of the RAF.
 
A memorial to the Polish airmen and squadrons who fought in the defense of the United Kingdom and the liberation of Europe in World War II is positioned on the floor of the north aisle.
 
Near the altar are plaques listing the names of RAF, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service personnel awarded the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.
 
Donations and Artefacts
In the gallery hang Queen's Colours and Standards which have been replaced, along with standards of several disbanded squadrons although most standards of disbanded squadrons hang in the rotunda of the RAF College Cranwell.
 
Pulpits, pews and chairs in the body of the church have been presented by various people, including past chiefs of the Air Staff, Sir Douglas Bader and the Guinea Pig Club. The armorial achievement of Lord Trenchard is displayed above the main entrance at the west end of the church.
 
The lectern was a gift from the Royal Australian Air Force, the Cross from the Air Training Corps and the altar from the Dutch embassy. Also from the Netherlands is the font in the crypt, donated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The Paschal Candle was given by the Royal Belgian Air Force.
 
Organ
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The original 17th century organ was destroyed in the Blitz. A new organ installed in the gallery facing the altar in 1958, is a gift from the United States Air Force. The case was made as a replica of the original 17th century organ.
 
Consecration as a War Memorial
In 1958 the magnificently restored church was re-consecrated as a perpetual shrine of remembrance to those killed on active service and those of the Allied Air Forces who gave their lives during the Second World War.
 
St Clements is now a living war memorial housing books of remembrance dedicated to the allied airmen killed on active service from the First World War (1914-1918) to the present day, as well as many RAF Queen’s Colours and standards, numerous tributes and memorials.
 
The Books of Remembrance
Over 125,000 names are recorded in the Books including those of American airmen based in the United Kingdom who died during World War Two. The pages are turned daily,  and twice a year Book XI is brought up to date. Copies of the entries in the books can be obtained on request.
 
Those who die in service are remembered shortly after their death during a celebration of the Holy Communion and family members are often present. Once a year in November a memorial service is held for all those who have died during the past year and families are invited to attend.
 
- Book I
On the left nearest to the altar, Book 1 pre-dates the RAF and has names of balloonists who served with the Royal Engineers, members of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps and RAF personnel up to the outbreak of the Second World War.
 
- Books II to IX
Contain the names of all those who died on service during the Second World War.
 
- Book X
On the right nearest to the altar, is from VJ day 1945 to 31st March 2013.
 
- Book XI
Opposite Book X is from 1st April 2013.
 
Statues
Outside the church stand statues dedicated to the RAF’s most senior officers during the Second World War: Air Chief Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding (RAF Fighter Command) and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris (RAF Bomber Command).
 
Plan Your Visit
Opening Times
Each Day:  09:00 – 16:00 (except Bank Holidays) Also subject to Special Services & Events. Please ring in advance on Tel: 020 7242 8282
 
Disabled Access
Yes
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)2072 428 282 or +44 (0)2072 422 380
Mail    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Getting Therey
Use the TfL Journey Planner on this page
 
- By Underground
Temple Station     Circle & District Lines
 
Google Maps - St Clement Danes