St Clement Danes

The first in a series on historic churches in the City of Westminster …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. There were a further five in the City and Liberties of Westminster.

St Clement Danes on the Strand was originally built in wood in the Saxon period, according to legend by Alfred the Great in the late ninth century, and subsequently rebuilt in stone in the Viking period, by Cnut in the early tenth. It was rebuilt again in the – later – Medieval period, at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow noted that the church was “So called because Harold (surnamed Harefoot) King of England of the Danish line and other Danes were here buried”.  He added, “This Harold was the base [i.e., bastard] son of King Canut … and was first buried at Westminster; but afterwards Hardicanut, the lawful sunne of Canut, … commanded this body to be digged out of the earth, and to be throwne into the Thames, where it was by a Fisherman taken up and buried in the Churchyard”.

Despite having survived the Great Fire of 1666 undamaged, lying beyond its western extent, the church was rebuilt yet again by Wren in 1677-86.  It was later  damaged during the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War, and restored in 1955-58. 

The crypt was used for burials until 1853. During the restoration of the late 1950s, the 1956, the remains there were cremated, and the ashes were interred under the south stair. Two surviving coffin plaques shows the spot.

Parish boundary markers feature an anchor, Clement having been martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown overboard from a boat to drown.

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