Essential Architecture-  London

St. Clement Danes


Sir Christopher Wren


The Strand, London


1680. Spire added by Gibbs, 1719 to 1720. 


late English Renaissance  




St Clement Danes

St Clement Danes is a church in the City of Westminster, London. It is situated outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. The current building was completed in 1682 by Sir Christopher Wren.

The church is sometimes claimed to be the one featured in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons and the bells do indeed play that tune. However, St Clement Eastcheap, in the City of London, also claims to be the church from the rhyme.

The first church on the site is supposed to have been built by Danes living nearby in the 9th century. The location, on the river between the City of London and the future site of Westminster, was home to many Danes at a time when half of England was Danish; being a seafaring race, the Danes named the church they built after St Clement, patron saint of mariners. King Harold I "Harefoot" was buried here in March 1040 but his body was disinterred by his briefly usurped brother Hartha-Canute, and thrown into the marshes bordering the Thames.

The church was first rebuilt by William the Conqueror, and then again in the Middle Ages. It was in such a bad state by the end of the 17th century that it was demolished and again rebuilt, this time by Wren. The steeple was added to the tower in the 18th century by James Gibbs.

German bombs almost destroyed the church on 10 May 1941. The outer walls, the tower and Gibbs's steeple, survived the bombing.

In 1844 St Clement Danes School was constructed on land on Houghton Road, Holborn which the churchwardens had purchased in 1552. It opened in 1862 and remained there until 1928, then moved to Shepherd's Bush until 1975, when it was finally re-established as a comprehensive school in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire.

Central Church of the Royal Air Force
Following an appeal for funds by the Royal Air Force, the church was completely restored and was re-consecrated on 19 October 1958 to become the Central Church of the Royal Air Force.

Services are regularly held to commemorate prominent occasions of the RAF and its associated organisations. There are also features throughout and outside the building commemorating people and units of the RAF.

As part of the rebuilding, a Latin inscription was added over the main door of the church, translating as: "Built by Christopher Wren 1682. Destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941. Restored by the Royal Air Force 1958"

Outside the church stand statues of two of the RAF's wartime leaders, Arthur Harris and Hugh Dowding.

The floor of the church, of Welsh slate, is 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 defence of the UK and the liberation of Europe in World War II is positioned on the floor of the north aisle.

Books of Remembrance listing the names of all the RAF personnel who have died in service, as well as those American airman based in the UK who died during World War Two.

Near the altar are plaques listing the names of RAF and RFC personnel awarded the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.

Donations and Artifacts
In the gallery hang Queen's Colours and Standards which have been replaced, along with standards of several disbanded squadrons (most standards of disbanded squadrons hang in the rotunda of the RAF College Cranwell).

The church's organ, situated facing the altar in the gallery, was a gift from the United States Air Force. 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, the Guinea Pig Club. The lectern was a gift from the Royal Australian Air Force, the Cross from the Air Training Corps, the altar from the Netherlands embassy. Also from the Netherlands is the font in the crypt, donated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force.