St Clement Danes
Many churches in London are affiliated to particular groups of people or associations, like St Paul's in Covent Garden (the actor's church), or St Bride's on Fleet Street (the journalist's church). The church of St Clement Danes which stands alone on a little island close to where the Strand and Fleet Street collide is known as the RAF church. It is the Central Church to the Royal Air Force.
You'll often find that churches occupy sites that have had religious significance for centuries and in this respect, St Clement Danes is no different. There's been a church on the plot since the 10th century. It is often muted that Danish settlers first commandeered the area as an explanation for the 'Dane' in the name. However, although there have been a number of differing suggestions for the title, I'm not sure any have been proved definitive. It seems most are speculation.
Although the church survived the Fire of London (1666), Christopher Wren (as if he didn't have enough to do) built a new one because it was a bit dilapidated, with James Gibb adding the tower in 1719.
On the 10th May 1941, St Clement Danes suffered a direct from an incendiary bomb during WWII. All that remained was a shell, and the outer walls stood abandoned for over a decade. It was finally restored and rebuilt in 1958 courtesy of the Royal Air Force and donations from sister air forces throughout the world, and now, not only is it a regular place of worship, but a memorial to all who died whilst serving in the Royal Air Force.
It's a beautiful church, crammed with interesting pieces of air force memorabilia, poignant memorials, books of remembrance, Coats of Arms and gifts from around the world. Here's just a few things to look out for.
Oranges and Lemons
It's difficult to write about this particular church without mentioning the children's nursery rhyme/song ... 'Oranges and Lemons', which begins with the verse, "Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clements" and name checks numerous London churches and the message their bells are ringing. If you happen to pass by the church of St Clement Danes at the right time, you'll hear the bells ringing out the well known tune. You can be forgiven then, for assuming that the church that stands before you is the very same, so famously immortalised in the aforementioned song. Well ... according to Steve Roud in his book 'London Lore - The legends and traditions of the world's most vibrant city', this particular church basically hijacked the whole thing in the 1920s. The nursery rhyme is incredibly unspecific as to which St Clements church it is referring to, so spare a thought for the church of St Clement's Eastcheap, who theoretically have as much right to the title as their Westminster counterpart. After installing the bells and inaugurating a special 'orange and lemon' service and handing out citrus fruits to the congregation, the church of St Clement Danes have effectively claimed the prize for themselves.
Talking of bells, as I was, the oldest bell in the church tower was cast in 1588 by Robert Mot, the founder of the Whitechapel Foundry, the same company that cast Big Ben ... many years later. Either way, if you happen to be in the area ... why not pop in.
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