If you sing the nursery rhyme correctly, you are probably reproducing the
tunes played by church bells over old London, because the street urchins would
make up words to fit what they heard. A legend about fruit traders having
permission to carry their merchandise through church grounds to the market is
probably a later fabrication. Even so, each child of St. Clement Danes Primary
School still gets an orange and lemon after an annual service.
Dr. Samuel Johnson
(1709 - 1784) was a regular member of the congregation, sitting in a gallery
seat. He was credited by Boswell with saying "When a man is tired of London
he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." His
statue now stands outside at the east end of the church where he can gaze down
The Strand towards Fleet Street.
The Rector of St. Clement's during 1843 - 1855 was William Webb-Ellis, who
as a schoolboy, is said to have picked up the football and originated the game
of Rugby. However, it is also claimed that this story is a Victorian invention
to reclaim the game for the middle classes.
In 1855, road redevelopment meant that most of the church ground was taken,
and the church building became marooned on an island in the middle of The
Strand, as ever increasing traffic flowed past, first carts & coaches, later
cars & buses.
On the night of 10th May 1941 enemy incendiary bombs burnt the church to a
charred ruin. This was unfortunate, as with the Blitz coming to an end it was
one of the last raids.
In the 1950's the idea was mooted that perhaps the church could be restored
as a memorial to the fighter pilots who had fought to defend Britain from enemy
raids. The scheme expanded to include all allied airmen who had fought from the
UK itself, and the date was taken back to 1911 to include the 1914 - 1918 war.
The building has been basically restored to its previous form, with the
gallery at the sides and rear. The square support columns do obstruct the view
for some seats. The new pews are shorter than the previous ones, leaving a wider
centre aisle. The ceiling decor is similar, but below the Stuart arms has been
added, anachronistically in Latin,
Built by Christopher Wren AD 1682
aerial lightning war AD 1941
Restored by the Royal Aeronautical Fleet AD
The upper gallery walls and columns appear to have been given a lighter
colour finish, but the lower woodwork is still mahogany brown. Above the balcony
hang a number of laid-up unit colour standards. Below each lower window is a
case surmounted by an eagle and containing a book of remembrance. The 8th and
9th US Air Forces stationed in the UK are included in a shrine. The whole ground
floor is in a light colour, mostly patterned by around 800 insets of Welsh slate
in the shape of RAF unit badges. Many of these are carved with the detail of
actual squadron badges. A special inset at the entrance has the badge of the RAF
surrounded by eight badges of Commonwealth air forces, while another in the left
aisle has the Polish eagle surrounded by sixteen Polish squadron badges.
Gifts include: the altar from the Netherlands, the lectern from the Royal
Australian Air Force, a chair from Douglas Bader to the memory of his first wife
— Thelma (1907-1971), a chair to Sir Archibald McIndoe and The Guinea Pig
Club, and a processional cross from the Air Training Corps. The organ on the
balcony at the rear was a gift from the US Air Force. The crypt has been made
into a simple chapel, with an altar from the Netherlands Air Force, a font from
the Norwegians, and a candelabrum from the Belgian Air Force.
The present bells were hung in 1957, the bass bell being named "Boom"
in commemoration of "Boom" Trenchard who organised the RAF from its
At the Christmas Day service the small choir sang from the gallery at the
rear. The service sheet invited all Christians to partake of the bread &
wine, or just go up to the sanctuary step for a blessing. However people seemed
to follow their home customs.
St. Clement Danes, The Central Church of The Royal Air Force, stands
where the eastern end of The Aldwych joins The Strand, midway between Trafalgar
Square and St. Paul's Cathedral. Outside the main entrance are the statues of "Stuffy"
Dowding and "Bomber" Harris.
Along by the outside south wall engraved stones have been laid to
commemorate — Members of the RAF who died whilst POW's in Sandakan-Ranau,
North Borneo — The RAF Regiment — RAF Gang Shows Association —
RAF Apprentices and Boy Entrants .