For over 1,000 years a church has stood on this part of The Strand in central London. Tradition holds that it was originally built by Danes expelled from the City of London by King Alfred in the ninth century. It’s mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book (1086) and for nearly 150 years was in the care of the Knights Templar (1170-1312). In more recent centuries it, and its ring of ten bells, has found fame in the first line of the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and lemons’.
The church escaped damage in the Great Fire of London, but was rebuilt in 1682 by Sir Christopher Wren, and a steeple was added to the tower by James Gibbs in 1719. Famous people who attended the church included John Donne and Samuel Johnson (and later, the Revd William Webb Ellis was Rector here during the 1840s – he who famously, whilst playing football at Rugby School one day, picked up the ball and ran with it).
Then, on 10 May 1941, virtually the last night of the blitz, incendiary bombs gutted the building leaving only the walls and tower standing.
In 1953 the church was handed into the keeping of the Air Council, and a world-wide appeal was launched to rebuild St Clement Danes. Bequests and donations from organisations and individuals poured in, so that within two years restoration work could begin. Re-consecrated in 1958 as a perpetual shrine of remembrance, it is today a living church, prayed in daily and visited throughout the year by thousands of people seeking solace and reflection. In addition, it is now the central church of the UK Royal Air Force.
The Books of Remembrance contain the names of all those personnel who have died in service, for whatever reason, since the foundation of the Royal Air Force in 1918. The books are updated three times a year.
Above the sanctuary is an inscription, in Latin, beneath the restored Stuart Crest. In translation it reads:
“Built by Christopher Wren 1682; destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941; rebuilt by the Royal Air Force 1958”.
Welcome, St Clement Danes, to the Community of the Cross of Nails!