HMS Ark Royal’s Battle Ensign (not) on display in Docklands

Just up the road from where I live is St Anne’s Limehouse, a Hawksmoor Anglican Church that was consecrated in 1730, one of the twelve churches built through the 1711 Act of Parliament.

The Church is significant for several reasons, not least because it boasts the highest church clock in the City.

However, for the purposes of my blog post, the distinguishing feature is that the 60 metre high tower is still a Trinity House Mark for identifying shipping lanes on the Thames – and therefore it flies the Royal Navy’s White Ensign from the top of the tower instead of the more usual flags that Churches might choose to fly at times.

The White Ensign flying from the tower

The reason this is significant is that last week a lot of very distinguished people visited the Church to hand over the red Battle Ensign that flew on HMS Ark Royal during war.

According to the Royal Navy, there are two specially designed exhibition cabinets within the Church – one contains the pre-1801 battle-sized White Ensign of the Royal Navy.

The other cabinet though, now contains HMS Ark Royal’s 18 by 9 foot Battle Ensign, the cap of a rating with the Ark Royal cap tally, pictures and brief histories of all five ships that have born the name Ark Royal and the ship’s crest.

So I went along to have a look.

Alas, despite being in a fairly busy area and very close to Canary Wharf, the church was closed at lunchtime. In fact, it seems that the church is only open for a few hours on a Sunday.

St Anne's Limehouse

The large grounds around the church are open, but only if you can work out how to get in. Three more obvious gates were firmly padlocked closed, but the official entrance is to be found down a rather nice alleyway just off a small side street.

The gates looked at first glance to be locked, but were in fact just closed, and very reluctantly yielded to a strong push to let me squeeze through.

Official entrance to St Anne's Limehouse

Sadly, suspicions confirmed as the doors to the Church were all locked so I didn’t get to see the Battle Ensign within.

Considering its proximity to Canary Wharf and the large number of Americans working there in need of a dose of guilt, I would have thought the church would be welcoming visitors, but it is very closed – and despite claiming the grounds are open to the public, the difficulty in getting inside suggests they are open to meet a technical requirement rather than to be welcoming to the public.

I was the only person who penetrated their gated portal when I went, despite the main road to the North being quite busy.

I know churches aren’t obliged to be open, and especially not just to satisfy curious bloggers, but this one seems to be sadly neglecting its local customer base.

Pyramid - was supposed to go on the towers.

A curiosity – a pyramid. Thought to have been part of the original design to sit on top of the two square towers at the rear of the church, but never used.

St Anne's Limehouse

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3 Comments

  1. Presumably the Occult Hawksmoor Theory lovers are great fans of the pyramid and attach huge significance to it.

  2. Richard Bray

    As a member of St Anne’s I’m sad that in this day and age you can’t leave a building open unattended.

    But anyone is very welcome to come when there are events on and people are around – every Sunday morning at 10.30am, or Wednesday mornings in term time for carers & toddlers, or occasional Saturday mornings for dads & toddlers, etc.

    Also the west entrance to the churchyard off Newell St is usually open during daylight hours; the others are locked on advice of the police.

    • IanVisits

      I’m not really convinced – as I go into a lot of churches that are open and unattended in London and they seem to survive.

      As to the gates, would love to know why one gate open is fine, but two gates open is such a serious risk that the police have asked for it to be closed. I wonder what dire calamity would take place if the gate on the main road was open?

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