St Clement Danes

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St Clement Danes

St Clement Danes tower and steeple

St Clement Danes is the cen­tral church of the Roy­al Air Force, sit­u­at­ed on an island site in the Strand, just east of the Ald­wych.

Accord­ing to tra­di­tion, the first church of St Clement’s was built by Danes expelled from the City of Lon­don by King Alfred in the 9th cen­tu­ry. It is said to be the bur­ial place of the half-Dan­ish Harold I (Hare­foot), who ruled Eng­land from 1035 to 1040, first as regent for his half-broth­er and then as king.

The church escaped dam­age in the Great Fire of Lon­don but was rebuilt in 1681 by Christo­pher Wren and a steeple was added to the tow­er by James Gibbs in 1719.

The eccen­tric and wealthy William Pen­ning­ton-Bick­ford, who was rec­tor here from 1910 to 1941, intro­duced an annu­al Oranges and Lemons ser­vice and had St Clement Danes’ bell peal altered to include the tune of the famous nurs­ery rhyme – despite the fact that St Clement Eastcheap has a stronger claim to be the church to which the rhyme refers. (Bick­ford also bought the ‘Roman’ bath around the cor­ner but noth­ing ever came of his extrav­a­gant plans for its restora­tion.)

Incen­di­ary bombs gut­ted St Clement Danes in May 1941 and it was rebuilt in the mid-1950s. The church was re-con­se­crat­ed in 1958 as a shrine of remem­brance to those killed on active ser­vice and those of the Allied Air Forces who gave their lives dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.