Clement Danes

 

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RAF ST. CLEMENT DANES

Clement of Rome, a close associate of St. Peter, was Bishop of Rome (Pope) during perhaps 88 - 97 AD. In 100 AD the emperor Trajan had him weighted with an anchor stone and thrown into the sea. Thus he became patron saint of sailors.

King Alfred spent his reign (871 - 899) fighting to stop the ravaging by Danish seafarers. He had forts built and organised a more permanent army and navy. Some pacified Danish settlers congregated between the ruling City of Westminster and the trading City of London. There they built themselves a church, probably in Alfred's time, and having strong ties with the sea adopted St. Clement as their patron saint. Thus they became the St. Clement Danes.

After the year 1022, a stone building replaced the original timber-framed one. Then at various times the church passed through the hands of Westminster Abbey, the Knights Templar, the Austin Friars, and the Bishop of Exeter.

In 1660 Samuel Pepys noted "Up early and my appointment to St. Clement Danes to Church." The structure was not reached by the Great Fire of 1666, but by 1680 had decayed to a state where it needed rebuilding. Now Sir Christopher Wren dropped by, perhaps saying "I'm doing a big cathedral job down the road, and could let you have some materials cheap!" So he designed and supervised the new building which was completed in 1682. A steeple was added by Gibbs in 1719.

St.Clement Danes' steeple

"Oranges and lemons" say the bells of St. Clement's,
"You owe me five farthings" say the bells of St. Martin's,
"When will you pay me?" ask the bells of Old Bailey,
"When I grow rich," say the bells of Shoreditch,
"When will that be?" ask the bells of Stepney ("Step-knee")
"I do not know," say the great bells of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head,
Chip chop chip chop,
The last man's head.

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
Destroyed by aerial lightning war AD 1941
Restored by the Royal Aeronautical Fleet AD 1958

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 inception.

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 .

Polish Badges & Commemorative Stones

Apps and BEs

Apps and BEs

Polish Squadrons

Polish Squadrons

Gang Shows

Gang Shows


Sunday services generally start at 11 am.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This page was last updated on 26th October, 2006