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St Clement Danes
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St Clement Danes

St Clement Danes has served as the central church of the Royal Air Force since 1958, following a distinguished restoration by Anthony Lloyd in 1955-8 to repair the ravages of bombing in 1941. The body of the church had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680-2, but the tower had been the work of Joshua Marshall in 1669-70, and to that tower James Gibbs had added the familiar steeple in 1719-1720.

The church has the advantage of a spacious island site, where Aldwych and the Strand meet. Statues of Lord Dowding, the victor of the Battle of Britain, and Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris introduce the RAF connection. The tall west tower and steeple present a curious mixture of styles. The dorrway is an early Classical work. Then there are two Y-traceried windows above, separated by a Wren-style porthole. Finally, above the clock-faces, there are belfry windows with “Gibbs surroundings” and a steeple of three receding, open-arched octagonal stages, the middle one with a concave architrave, and all liberally adorned with urns.

St Clement Danes

An aisle view shows the glass-fronted cases that contain RAF rolls of honour.


The spacious, galleried interior immediately present to the eye a mass of darkly stained woodwork, which is notably more faithful to a Wren interior than the light-coloured woodwork introduced into many restorations of Wren’s churches. Square, paneled piers support the galleries, above which Corinthian columns rise to carry block entablatures, coffered arches and the tunnel-vault of the nave. The galleries are groin-vaulted. The east end consists of a quadrant bay on each side and an apse. The capitals are gilded, as are the cherubim and the surroundings of heraldic shields above the arcades. Dominating all these features are the Stuart royal arms, placed over the east arch.

St Clement Danes

St Clement’s became the central church of RAF after a distinguished restoration in 1955-8. The unusually wide central aisle shows some of the hundreds of RAF squadron badges in slate set into the floor.


The Wren-style reredos has two large arched panels painted by Ruskin Spear to represent the Annunciation. The east window depicts Christ in glory, by Carl Edwards. Also by him are the Virgin and Child to the north, and the pietà to the south. On each side of the sanctuary there is a canopied bishop’s chair. The pulpit is the highly carved 17th century original, but the lectern is a remarkably ornate work of postwar date, by Anthony Lloyd. The west gallery houses the organ by Ralph Downes, which has a distinguished case featuring four towers surmounted by urns and embellished with much gilding. Over 700 RAF squadron badges in slate are set into the floor, with a larger one for the whole RAF at the west end, and this principal badge is surrounded by overseas allies’ badges. Below the aisle windows there are glass-fronted cases that contain RAF rolls of honour. Carved stalls are provided at the west end for the commanders of the RAF.


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