This “island church”, located in the middle of the Strand just outside the Royal Courts of Justice, is believed to have been the eventual burial site of King Harold I “Harefoot” who died in 1040.
The son of King Cnut, Harold’s rule was brief. Following the death of his father, he initially ruled as regent on behalf of his father’s heir and younger half-brother Harthacnut (Harthacnut was in Denmark and threats to the kingdom meant he couldn’t leave).
While Harold had apparently sought to be crowned king from the start of his rule (without success thanks to the opposition of Aethelnoth, the Archbishop of Canterbury), it was only in 1037 that, with the support of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, and other nobles, he was crowned king.
But Harold (who was known by the name Harefoot apparently due to his speed and skill at hunting) died in 1040 and his brother subsequently returned from Denmark to claim the throne peacefully.
The story goes that King Harold had originally been buried in Westminster but that Harthacnut (clearly not a fan) had his body exhumed and flung into marshlands by the River Thames. The body was said to have been found by a fisherman who then had him buried at the church.
It had been established in the ninth century to serve the Danish community which was established after King Alfred the Great had granted them land.
Of course, the current church was not one King Harold would have recognised, having last been completely rebuilt in the 1680s to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren (and then having had its interior completely restored after it was gutted when bombed during World War II).
St Clement Danes, also known as one of the contenders for the church mentioned in the song Oranges and Lemons, is now the central church of the Royal Air Force. It’s one of two “island churches” in the Strand, the other being St Mary le Strand.
WHERE: St Clement Danes, Strand (nearest Tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden and Holborn); WHEN: 10am to 3:30pm weekdays; 10am to 3pm weekends; COST: Free (donations appreciated); WEBSITE: https://stclementdanesraf.org
• The Museum of London has launched a six-month programme of events celebrating its 45 year history ahead of its doors closing on 4th December in preparation for its move to West Smithfield. The programme includes a range of family activities – from Roman picnics to large LEGO builds – as well as behind the scenes access at the museum during Open House London and two festivals on the closing weekend celebrating the past 50 years of London’s history. For the full programme of events, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk. Following its closure at the London Wall site, the new site at West Smithfield, to be named The London Museum, will open in 2026.
• An outdoor exhibition on the essential role of London’s parks and open spaces – which have served as everything from playgrounds and picnics to concerts and Sunday football kickabouts – opens in Guildhall Yard on Monday. Green City: A Visual History of London’s Parks and Open Spaces, which is curated by the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives, celebrates the role open places have played in the capital since the 16th century and brings together 100 photographs and prints from the archives’ collections. The exhibition can be seen in Guildhall Yard until 1st August when it moves to Aldgate Square. On 15th August it will open at Hampstead Heath and then, from 1st September, spend two weeks at The View in Epping Forest’s Visitor Centre.
• Kenley Airfield – an integral part of London’s defence during World War II – has reopened following a £1.2 million restoration. The airfield, which sits in the Borough of Croydon, was a station for the Royal Flying Corps during World War I and the Royal Air Force during World War II. The restoration work has brought back to life eight deteriorating fighter blast pens, which protected RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes from attack. The site also includes The Kenley Tribute, a memorial to all who served there between 1917 and 1959, both on the ground and in the air. For more, including information on visiting the airfield and self-guided walks, see www.kenleyrevival.org.
• The work of 20th century American artist Milton Avery is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy of Arts on Friday. Milton Avery: American Colourist – which can be seen in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries in Piccadilly – features some 70 works including portraits and landscapes dating from 1910 until the 1960s. The exhibition is divided into four sections – ‘Early Work’, ‘Portraits’, ‘Innovation in Colour and Form’ and ‘Late Work’ – and highlights include Blossoming (1918), a portrait of Avery’s friends known as The Dessert (1939), two portraits of his daughter March – Seated Girl with Dog (1944) and March in Brown (1954), and, Black Sea (1959). Runs until 16th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
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• A free display featuring the first coin bearing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has opened at the British Museum. Part of the celebrations marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, The Asahi Shimbun Display Mary Gillick: modelling The Queen’s portrait showcases the production and reception of the coin which was designed in 1952 and released the following year. Gillick’s portrait – which remained in circulation on coins in the UK until the 1990s and was also adapted for use on commemorative stamps – combined modern design with Italian Renaissance influences. Can be seen until 31st July. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• The UK’s first Stolperstein or “stumbling stone” has been installed in Soho as part of an initiative to remember the victims of the Nazis. The small brass plaque commemorates former resident Ada van Dantzig, a Dutch-Jewish paintings conservator for the National Gallery who came to London in the 1930s and worked and resided in Golden Square in Soho (where the plaque has been installed). She later re-joined her family in the Netherlands and was arrested in France in early 1943 along with her mother, father, sister and brother. Deported to Auschwitz, Ada, along with her parents, was murdered there on 14th February, 1943. Artist Gunter Demnig created the project almost 25 years ago to commemorate victims of Nazi Persecution during the Holocaust. More than 100,000 of stones have now been laid in 26 countries throughout Europe with the location of the stones the last address of those being remembered.
• A pioneering female landscape gardener has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Shaftesbury Avenue. Fanny Wilkinson, who is believed to be Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener, was also a campaigner for the protection of open space in London. She lived and worked at the flat, which overlooks an open space she laid out herself, between 1885 and 1896. Wilkinson began her career as an honorary landscape gardener to the Metropolitan Public Boulevards, Gardens and Playgrounds Association – an organisation whose mission was the formation of gardens and public parks that would create playgrounds and green ‘lungs’, especially in poor districts of the capital. In June, 1885, it was agreed that she could charge five per cent on all her MPGA payments, leading her to drop the ‘honorary’ title and become Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• A painting by Pablo Picasso – Woman with a Book (1932) from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California – and a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – Madame Moitessier (1856) – are being shown together for the first time at The National Gallery. Picasso admired Ingres and referred to him throughout his career and this connection can be seen not only in his paintings but in drawings and studies he made during his ‘neoclassical’ phase in the 1920s. He encountered Madame Moitessie at an exhibition in Paris in 1921 and 11 years later painted Woman with a Book. The paintings, which are being show under a collaborative initiative between the two institutions, can be seen in Room 1 until 9th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
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• A new exhibition exploring the Queen’s role during wartime opens at IWM London in Lambeth tomorrow. Part of a suite of events at IWM venues celebrating the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, Crown and Conflict: Portraits of a Queen in Wartime features 18 images drawn from the museum’s image archive which chart the Queen’s experience of war – from growing up during World War II when she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service to her role in carrying out important public duties involving the armed forces, including at the annual Service of Remembrance. Among newly digitised photographs included in the display are an image of the Queen dressed in overalls and cap while working on a vehicle during her time in the ATS, and another showing her with her father, King George VI, and mother, Queen Elizabeth, during a visit to airborne forces in 1944. IWM London is also launching a dedicated trail of historic objects spread across five gallery spaces which explores the Royal Family’s long-standing association with the British armed forces. Objects include a Princess Mary Gift Fund box which was sent to those serving at Christmas in 1914. Runs until 8th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/events/queens-platinum-jubilee-iwm-london.
• Dippy the dinosaur is back for a limited time at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington from tomorrow. A free, temporary exhibition – Dippy Returns: the nation’s favourite dinosaur – gives visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the 26 metre-long dinosaur which first went on display at the museum in 1905. The display comes at the end of a record-breaking tour of the UK in which Dippy was seen by more than two million people. Can be seen until 2nd January. To book tickets, head to www.nhm.ac.uk.
• The first major exhibition to explore the history and future of cancer treatment and research opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week. Cancer Revolution: Science, innovation and hope features more than 100 objects including some never-before seen as well as information on cutting edge treatment and research, new artist commissions and installations, interactive exhibits and a breadth of personal stories. Runs until January, 2023. Admission is free but bookings required. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/cancer-revolution-science-innovation-and-hope.
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Another ‘oldest’ question that’s not as simple as it might seem.
Austria has occupied a building at 18 Belgrave Square in Belgravia since it moved there from Chandos House in Queen Anne Street in 1866.
But the embassy was vacated with the outbreak of World War I and the building entrusted, firstly to the protection of the ambassador of the United States, and following the severing of their relations in 1917, to the Royal Swedish Legation.
The Austrians returned in 1920 but following Hitler’s incorporation of Austria into the German Reich in 1938, it was used as a department of the German Embassy.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the Swiss legation room over protection of the building and following the end of the war the damaged building fell under the care of Britain’s Ministry of Works.
The Austrians returned in September, 1948, with the new ambassador arriving in 1952. It continues today to serve as the residence of the Austrian Ambassador.
Not to be confused with the Austrians, the Australian High Commission resides in ‘Australia House’ which claims to be “the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London”.
In 1912, the Australian Government bought the freehold of a site on the corner bounded by Strand, Aldwych and Melbourne Place. Following a design competition, Scottish architects A Marshal Mackenzie and Son were selected as the designers of the new Australia House with Commonwealth of Australia’s chief architect, Mr JS Murdoch, arriving in London to assist them.
Work began in 1913 – King George V laid the foundation stone – but was interrupted by World War I and in 1916, former Australian PM and now High Commissioner Andrew Fisher moved into temporary offices on the site even as the work continued around him. King George V officially opened Australia House on 3rd August, 1918, with then Australian Prime Minister, WM “Billy” Hughes, in attendance.
Amid controversy over plans for a new Holocaust memorial in London and the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day this week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the oldest public memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in London, which actually isn’t that old, is located.
Unveiled in 1983 in Hyde Park at site just to the east of the Serpentine, it consists of a grouping of boulders surrounded by white-trunked birch trees. Designed by Richard Seifert and Derek Lovejoy and Partners, the largest of the boulders is inscribed with a text, in Hebrew and English, from the Biblical Book of Lamentations. It reads: “For these I weep. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because of the destruction of my people.”
The Holocaust Memorial Garden, which was actually the first such memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Britain, was erected by the Board of British Jews.
Plans for a new memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – to be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, just to the south of the Houses of Parliament – were approved by the government in the middle of last year following a controversial public inquiry. But a High Court judge subsequently granted the London Historic Parks And Gardens Trust permission to appeal that decision.
• The largest collection of Spitfires gathered under one roof can be seen at the Imperial War Museum Duxford’s AirSpace hall. Twelve of the iconic planes have been gathered at the airfield, often referred to as the “home of the Spitfire”. Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon, which is being accompanied by a programme of tours, talks, events and family activities, shows how the plane evolved throughout World War II in order to keep pace with German aircraft development. As well as the IWM’s iconic Mk Ia Spitfire, the display also features Mk V, Mk IX and Mk XIV models. The Spitfires be seen until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more including details of events, head to www.iwm.org.uk/events/spitfire-evolution-of-an-icon.
• A new exhibition focused on photographs of iconic 70s and early 80s band The Jam opens at the City of London Corporation’s Barbican Music Library tomorrow. True is the Dream features the photography of Derek D’Souza who has captured the band and frontman Paul Weller, who went on to found The Style Council, on film over several decades. D’Souza’s work include a career-defining shoot of the band at Chiswick House. The display is free to see until 16th May. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2022/event/true-is-the-dream.
• The Waterloo & City line has reopened following a brief closure over Christmas. The London Underground line, which connects Waterloo to Bank, was temporarily closed by Transport for London in late December following increasing COVID cases in the capital and the impact on staff absence. Meanwhile, the Bank branch of the Northern line (between Moorgate and Kennington) for 17 weeks from 15th January to allow for upgrade works.
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It’s Christmas in London and for such a festive occasion, one pub immediately springs to mind – The Churchill Arms.
The name is certainly not a mystery and doesn’t really have anything to do with the Christmas theme. It stems from, of course, wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill – or rather, his grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, John and Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, who were patrons here and which, in honour of Churchill and them, saw the pub so-named after World War II.
Churchill remains a theme in the interior where a good deal of related memorabilia can be found – including wartime posters, pictures of the man himself and a (fake) plaque commemorating Churchill’s use of the pub for his wartime broadcasts (there’s even a celebratory night held each year around Churchill’s birthday).
The pub, which is located at 119 Kensington Church Street, dates from 1750.
But in recent times, it’s become famous for its stunning Christmas light displays which this year reportedly feature some 80 Christmas trees and 22,000 lights. The pub is also known for its extraordinarily profuse flower displays which cost thousands of pounds each year and which have even won at none other than the Chelsea Flower Show.
It also holds the claim to fame of being the first London pub to serve Thai food when it did so as far back as 1988.
A Fullers pub, for more head to www.churchillarmskensington.co.uk.
Standing with Giants, a thought-provoking art installation at Hampton Court Palace, commemorates the lives lost in World War I and II and, in particular, the Indian soldiers who resided on the palace’s estate prior to the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, and again for the World War I Victory Parade in London. The work of Oxfordshire artist Dan Barton and a dedicated group of volunteers, the work – located in the East Front gardens – features 100 almost life-sized silhouettes of soldiers and 75 screen-printed poppy wreaths along with an additional 25 specially commissioned silhouettes which represent the Indian soldiers. Almost 1,800 Indian Army officers, soldiers, and civilian workers sailed from India for the World War I Victory Parade and a camp was specially created to house them in the palace grounds in what was at the time one of the largest gatherings of people from India and South-East Asia ever assembled the UK. During their stay in London, the soldiers were treated to excursions in London and across the country which included trips to the Tower of London and a Chelsea football match. Alongside the display, a special trail map has been created to allow visitors to explore other aspects of the palace’s World War I history and former residents who took on roles ranging from frontline nurses to campaigners for improved care for injured veterans. One of the most poignant contributions the palace made to the war effort was the use of wood, supplied from an oak tree felled in Hampton Court’s Home Park, for the making of the coffin for the Unknown Soldier. Can be seen until 28th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.
This statue in Portland Place in Marylebone commemorates wartime Polish Prime Minister and military leader (and British ally) Władysław Sikorski (1881-1943).
Larger than lifesize, the bronze statue depicts Sikorski in military uniform standing on a white stone plinth. It is the work of late British artist Faith Winter (also the sculptor of a controversial statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris outside the RAF church on the Strand).
Funded by public subscription, this statue of Sikorski was erected on 24th September, 2000, and unveiled by the Duke of Kent. It stands near the Polish Embassy on a traffic island near the intersection with Weymouth Street.
There’s inscriptions on each face of the plinth which commemorate Sikorski as well as the “Soldiers, Seamen and Airmen of the Polish Armed Forces and the Resistance Movement” between 1939 – 1945. The east face inscription commemorates Polish involvement in World War II through a listing of battles.
Sikorski is also commemorated with a plaque adorning the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road which served as his headquarters between 1940 until his death in an air crash in Gibraltar in 1943 (where there is another memorial to him).
This month marks the 80th anniversary of the last person to be executed at the Tower of London for treason.
Injured when he was shot in the chest while serving as a conscript in the German army during World War I, Josef Jakobs worked as a dentist after the war (and was briefly imprisoned in Switzerland for selling counterfeit gold). Following the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany during the 1930s, he was arrested in 1938 by the Gestapo for selling black market passports to Jewish people fleeing the country and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
After two years, Jakobs was released after he agreed to work as a spy in England for the German military intelligence.
Having flown from Holland, Jakobs parachuted into England at a located near Ramsey in what was then Huntingdonshire, in late January, 1941. Breaking his ankle during the landing and in pain, he fired his pistol into the air early on February 1st and was subsequently apprehended by members of the Home Guard.
Among the items he was found with were a wireless transmitter, a small torch with a flashing device, a map marking positions of nearby RAF airfields and a German sausage.
Jakobs was taken to a local police station before being transferred to London where he was subsequently interrogated by MI5 during which he claimed he had escaped to England with the intent of securing passage to America. He was later taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries.
His court martial before a military tribunal was held at the Duke of York’s headquarters in Chelsea on 4th and 5th August. After hearing from eight witnesses in a closed court (due to intelligence sensitivities), he was convicted of spying and sentenced to death.
Jakobs’ execution was carried out at the miniature rifle range at the Tower of London – the same place where death sentences had been carried out on 11 spies executed during World War I – on 15th August.
Jakobs was blindfolded and tied to a chair (which can still be viewed in the White Tower) with a white target pinned over his heart. A firing squad of eight – all members of the Scots Guards – carried out the sentence at 7.12am (five of those in the squad had live rounds). He is said to have died instantly.
Jakobs was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.
Jakobs was the only spy executed at the Tower in World War II and the last person to suffer such a sentence there.
Unveiled in the early 1990s, this statue of the French leader Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) is located in St James’s, close to the headquarters where de Gaulle headed the government-in-exile following the fall of France in 1940.
The life-sized statue is the work of sculptor Angela Conner and architect Bernard Wiehahn and was erected in Carlton Gardens following a campaign by Lady Soames, daughter of Winston Churchill. De Gaulle is depicted standing in the uniform of a General de Brigade.
The was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in June 1993. Nearby are an English Heritage Blue Plaque as well as another plaque, both commemorating the location of the headquarters.
A commemorative ceremony takes place each year at the statue organised by the French Embassy.
De Gaulle flew to England in June, 1940, and was subsequently recognised by Britain as the leader of the Free French. He established his headquarter at 4 Carlton Gardens on 22nd July that year, initially living at the Connaught Hotel and, from 1942 to 1944, in Hampstead. He returned to France following the D-Day invasion in 1944.
These posters are among almost 2,000 original works created by artists working for the Ministry of Information during World War II now in the collection of The National Archives based in Kew.
The posters tackle a range of issues – from saving on fuel at home to warnings about spies, posters to inspire effort on the homefront and those to recruit new men and women to the service.
Under a partnership with Wikimedia UK, in 2013 The National Archives digitised and released more than 350 images of the posters into the public domain. Here are some those released.
The originals are held at The National Archives.
The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)
The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.
The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.
The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.
One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.
The station is now Grade II-listed.
One of the lost churches of the City of London, All Hallows Lombard Street once stood on the corner of this famous City street and Ball Alley.
Dating from medieval times, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London and, while the parishioners initially tried their own repairs, it was subsequently rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren and completed by 1679.
The result was apparently a rather plan building but it did feature a three storey tower (in fact, so hemmed in by other buildings did it become that some called it the “invisible church”). The church also featured a porch which had come from the dissolved Priory of St John in Clerkenwell and had, from what we can gather, been part of the previous building.
Among those who preached in the rebuilt church was John Wesley in 1789 (he apparently forgot his notes and, after some heckling from the congregation, it’s said he never used notes again).
The parish of St Dionis Backchurch was merged with All Hallows when the latter was demolished in 1878 (All Hallows has already been merged with St Benet Gracechurch when that church was demolished in 1868 and St Leonard Eastcheap in 1876). Bells from St Dionis Backchurch were brought to All Hallows following the merger.
The declining residential population in the City saw the consolidation of churches and following World War I, All Hallows Lombard Street was listed for demolition. There was considerable opposition to the decision but structural defects were found in the building’s fabric and demolition eventually took place in 1937.
But there was to be a second life of sorts for the church. The square, stone tower, including the porch and fittings from the church such as the pulpit, pews, organ and stunning carved altarpiece, were all used in the construction of a new church, All Hallows Twickenham in Chertsey Road.
Designed by architect Robert Atkinson, it was one of a couple of new churches built with proceeds from the sale of the land on which All Hallows Lombard Street had stood.
Replacing an earlier chapel, the new Twickenham church was consecrated on 9th November, 1940 by the Bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher (apparently with the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background).
The 32 metre high tower houses a peal of 10 bells, including some of those from St Dionis Backchurch, as well as an oak framed gate decorated with memento mori carvings – including skulls and crossbones – which came from All Hallows Lombard Street.
This church – not to be confused with the similarly named but still existing St Mary Aldermary – once stood at the corner of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City of London.
Founded in the 11th or early 12th century, the church – the name of which apparently relates to an endowment it received from an Alderman Bury, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in a simple form with no spire.
It was gutted during the Blitz – one of 13 Wren churches hit on the night of 13th December, 1940 – and the ruins were not rebuilt. Instead, in the 1960s (and this is where we get to the relocation part) a plan was put into action to relocate the church so it could form part of a memorial to Winston Churchill in the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
It was only after four years of planning and fundraising (the project apparently cost some $US1.5 million with the money raised from donors including actor Richard Burton) that the relocation process finally began in 1965.
It started with workers in London cleaning, removing and labelling each of the church’s 7,000 stones so they could be reconstructed correctly on the other side of the Atlantic.
They were shipped free-of-charge – the US Shipping Board moved them as ship’s ballast – and then taken by rail to Fulton.
By the time the stones reached Fulton they had been jumbled. And so began the painstaking process of reassembling what was described as the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture” (with the stones spread over an acre, it apparently took a day just to find the first two stones).
While the first shovel on the project had been turned by former US President Harry S Truman on 19th April, 1964 (his connection to the project will become clear), the foundation stone was laid in October, 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London.
The shell of the church was completed by May, 1967. Two more years of work saw the church’s interior recreated with English woodcarvers, working from pre-war photographs, to make the pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony (new glass was also manufactured and five new bronze bells cast for the tower). The finished church, which was rededicated in May, 1969, was almost an exact replica of the original but apparently for a new organ gallery and a tower window.
Why Fulton for a tribute to Churchill? The connection between Churchill and Westminster College went back to the post war period – it was in the college’s historic gymnasium building that, thanks to a connection the institution had with President Truman, Churchill was to give one of his most famous speeches – the 1946 speech known as ‘Sinews of Peace’ in which he first put forward the concept of an “Iron Curtain” descending between Eastern and Western Europe.
The church is now one part of the National Churchill Museum, which also includes a museum building and the ‘Breakthrough’ sculpture made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall. It was selected for the memorial – planned to mark the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s speech – thanks to its destruction in the Blitz, commemorating in particular the inspiring role Churchill had played in ensuring the British people remained stalwart despite the air raids.
Meanwhile, back in London the site of the church has been turned into a garden. It contains a memorial to John Heminges and Henry Condell, two Shakespearean actors who published the first folio of the Bard’s works and were buried in the former church. The footings upon which the church once stood can still be seen in the garden and have been Grade II-listed since 1972.
Dignitaries including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston, were among those attending a service commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in Westminster Abbey on Sunday. The service, which was witnessed by fewer people than would normally have been the case due to the coronavirus pandemic, included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour – containing the names of the 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded during the 112 days of fighting – was carried through the church and placed beside the High Altar. After the service three Spitfires and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight took part in a flypast over the Abbey. Pictured above are the standard bearers formed up on the altar at the service (all pictures via MOD © Crown copyright 2020)
Above: The Queen’s Colour Squadron lining the entrance to Westminster Abbey.
Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson carrying out a reading during the service.
Above: FO Buckingham saluting the Battle of Britain memorial stained glass window at Westminster Abbey.
Above: The four planes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fly above the Abbey.
It was on 7th September, 1940, that the German bombers raided London in what was to be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombings and the start of the air attacks on the city known as the Blitz (short for ‘Blitzkrieg’ meaning ‘lightning war’ in German).
Almost 350 German bombers, escorted by more than 600 Messerschmitt fighters, were involved in the raid on what became known as “Black Saturday”.
This first wave of bombing, which ended just after 6pm on what had been a hot day, largely targeted London’s docks in attempt to destroy the city’s infrastructure and industrial sites including the munitions factories of the Woolwich Arsenal, gasworks at Beckton, West Ham power station and oil storage tanks at Thameshaven.
A second wave, which lasted eight hours and involved another 400 bombers, arrived from 8pm striking Millwall, commercial docks at Tilbury and Thameshaven, and the heavily populated slums of the East End in localities including Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping, and Whitechapel.
Hundreds of tons of bombs were dropped in the raids during which some 448 of London’s civilians were killed and 1,600 injured. Some of the fires started in the bombing burned for five days with the flames visible for miles.
While the attack was the first day of the Blitz, it was actually the 60th day of the Battle of Britain in which the German Luftwaffe had targeted air fields, oil installations and other war-related infrastructure.
While Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had gone on radio on the day of the raid, describing it as an “historic hour, in which for the first time the German Luftwaffe has struck at the heart of the enemy”, the strategy shift – to target London instead of the air defence-related installations – proved to be what Hugh Dowding, chief of Fighter Command described as a “mistake”, giving the defences time to rebuild.
But at the time, the attack on London was believed at the time to herald the start of a full invasion. It’s known that as the Luftwaffe attacked the East End, the military chiefs of staff were meeting in Whitehall – at 8pm that night, just as the second wave of planes was starting to bomb the city, they issued the code word ‘Cromwell’ which indicated that invasion was imminent and defending troops need to prepare.
The planned invasion – Operation Sea Lion – never eventuated but the Blitz was to continue until May the following year.
PICTURE: The London docks ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September, 1940. Palls of smoke rise in the docks beyond the Tower of London with the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. PICTURE: © Port of London Authority Collection / Museum of London. For more on the ‘Docklands at War’, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/permanent-galleries/docklands-war.
Among the buildings destroyed in the Blitz, St Stephen Coleman Street was one of the more than 50 City of London churches designed by the office of Sir Christopher Wren in the wake of the Great Fire of London of 1666.
The church was located on the corner of Coleman and Gresham Streets and replaced an earlier medieval building, the origins of which date back to at least the 13th century (the earliest mention occurs during the reign of King John) and which had also been known as St Stephen in the Jewry due to the number of Jewish people living in the vicinity.
St Stephen’s had apparently become a Puritan stronghold by the early 17th century when the vicars included John Davenport, who later went on to found a colony in Connecticut.
Five members of Parliament whom King Charles I attempted to arrest on 4th January, 1642, hid here as his troops searched for them. During the Commonwealth, the church instituted rules under which only those who were approved by a committee including the vicar and 13 parishioners – two of whom had apparently signed King Charles I’s death warrant, could receive Communion.
Following its destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt its former foundations – the new building incorporating some of the ruins of the former and featuring a bell lantern with a gilded weathervane on top – and was largely completed by 1677. In the early 1690s, additional funds gained through a coal tax provided for the construction of a burial vault and a gallery.
Notable vicars after the rebuild included Rev Josiah Pratt (1768-1844) who served for 21 years as secretary of the Church Missionary Society.
While the church suffered some minor damage during an air-raid in World War I, it was repaired. But it was finally destroyed during an air raid on 29th December, 1940, after which the church was not rebuilt but its parish joined with that of St Margaret Lothbury.
A City of London Corporation plaque at the intersection of Coleman Street and Kings Arms Yard marks the site of the former church.
PICTURE: An etching of St Stephen’s Coleman Street published in 1819.