The history of the name of this church is a little sketchy. Clement of Rome was Pope until 100 AD when the Emperor Trajan tied him to an anchor stone and threw him into the sea, thus becoming the Patron Saint of Sailors. During the reign of King Alfred (871 – 899), England was incessantly ravaged by Danish seafarers, though some came to adopt the English way of life. Some believe that it was these Danes who built the church and adopted St Clement as patron due to their ties to the sea.
The church was first rebuilt by William the Conqueror, and then again in the Middle Ages. However, it was in such a bad state by the end of the 17th century that it was demolished and again rebuilt by Christopher Wren. The church is sometimes claimed to be the one featured in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons and the bells do actually play that tune. However, the city church of St Clement Eastcheap, also claims to be the church from the rhyme.
Following major bombing on 10 May 1941, the church was completely restored and was re-consecrated on 19 October 1958 to become the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. Services are regularly held to commemorate prominent occasions of the RAF and its associated organisations. There are also features throughout and outside the building commemorating people and units of the RAF. As part of the rebuilding, a Latin inscription was added over the main door of the church, translating as: “Built by Christopher Wren 1682. Destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941. Restored by the Royal Air Force 1958”.
In front of the church are three statues facing west onto the Strand. The largest of the three is the statue of the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone (1809 – 1898), who is surrounded by four statues representing courage, aspiration, brotherhood and education. Behind Gladstone are two smaller statues; Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of the Fighter Command of the RAF, and the controversial Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command from 1942 to 1945.
Those known to have been baptised here:
Emma Lavinia Smith, baptism date: 3 February 1829
Those known to have been married here:
Catherine Reffell and William South, marriage date: 11 June 1805
Robert Prikler and Maria Dowding, marriage date: 27 January 1821