Most of us are familiar with the old nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons sing the bells of St. Clements, but scholars dispute whether it refers to St. Clement Danes at Aldwych or St. Clements in Eastcheap (also designed by Wren) where citrus fruit used to be unloaded. Nevertheless, inside St. Clement Danes a plaque bearing the nursery rhyme has pride of place (see bottom of page) and the children of St Clement Danes Primary School are given an orange and a lemon after the annual service each year.
St. Clement Danes Church in London
St. Clement Danes church founded in the 9th century, is also the church of the Royal Air Force and sometimes called Bomber Harris's church as his statue stands before it.
Things to do in the Vicinity of St. Clement Danes
A short walk from the church into old London
A visit to this fairly simple little church founded by the descendants of Danish invaders in the 9th Century to whom Alfred the Great had granted permission to remain in London, can be very rewarding. It sits on a traffic island in the heart of London’s sightseeing area, almost outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the Aldwych/Strand area of the capital.
A walk down this street will take you through a fascinating part of London often missed: Fleet Street – once the home of the national newspaper trade - past alleys with fascinating names that seem to jump straight from the pages of a Dickens' novel, to St. Paul's Cathedral and on to the Tower of London. Or wander over to the other side of the River Thames on any of the bridges that cross it for a stroll along the South Bank or for a drink or a meal in one of the interesting pubs there. Sir Christopher Wren's house where he lived while St. Paul's was being built, lies almost opposite his famous church: the famous architect rowed across the Thames daily to supervise as work on the Cathedral proceeded. Just a few steps from this is the famous Globe Theatre where you can see a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays in the manner in which 16th century Londoners would have seen it, i.e. standing in the pit.
History of St. Clement Danes
Originally built 17th century, rebuilt 1955
St. Clement Danes had been rebuilt in 1680-82 by Sir Christopher Wren, architect of nearby St. Paul’s cathedral, but the west tower which was added in 1669 was created by Joshua Marshall and the spire by James Gibbs in 1719. Sadly however, during the Second World War on the night of May 10th 1941, the church took a direct hit from an incendiary bomb which left nothing but the outer walls and the tower. With so much of London having to be rebuilt and homes for the people being needed urgently, the church was more or less abandoned for over a decade. Then in 1955 the restoration began, the work being carried out by Anthony Lloyd to give us the church you see today.
Church dedicated to the RAF
Memorial Books to USA and Polish Squadrons
St. Clement Danes is the church of the Royal Air Force and has been since 1958. It is not surprising therefore, that the statues of two of the men most associated with the RAF, Lord Dowding, victor of the Battle of Britain and Sir Arthur Harris, more commonly known as ‘Bomber’ Harris from his association with the fire-bombing raids over Dresden in Germany, stand outside the church.
Inside can be found the crests of hundreds of RAF squadrons, the wide aisle of the church has over 700 squadron badges in slate set into the floor, and below the aisle windows are the RAF rolls of honour. There is a Memorial Book containing 1600 names of United States Air Force personnel who were based in the UK and died during World War 2 and a Memorial to the Polish squadrons who flew with the RAF during that same war. At the west end is an enormous RAF badge, surrounded by the badges of the UK’s overseas allies during the second world war.
The interior of the church is attractive, with galleries of dark stained wood, and the reredos, built in the Wren style, has two large panels representing the Annunciation painted by Ruskin Spear, enhanced by stained glass windows above depicting Christ in Glory created by Carl Edwards.
Oranges & Lemons Sing the Bells of St. Clements
Old Nursery Rhyme displayed inside the church
If you’re strolling along the Strand, theatre-going at one of the many theatres in the area, dining in Covent Garden or shopping in the boutiques in the area, take time to check out St. Clement Danes, a living memorial to those who died whilst serving in the Air Forces of the Allied Nations during the Second World War.