London’s historic Dutch connection – The Dutch Church


London is like a magnet that attracts scores of visitors from across the world every year. A phenomenal 17 million visitors visit London very year which make it out of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. With so many visitors to the city there is a wide range of accommodation to suit their needs.

From luxury hotels for families to budget accommodation for backpackers there is an incredible array of options available. When choosing a place to stay in the city finding a suitable location is the key to having a successful trip. It helps to reduce the travel time across different parts of the city.

One such hotel that is conveniently located in the heart of the city is The Montcalm Hotel at the Brewery London City¸ which is just a short distance from some of the most visited tourist attractions in the city, while also being well connected to other areas of London. While in London a visit to its famous Dutch Church is a must to have on your travel itinerary.

The Dutch Church dates to the time when King Edward granted the Dutch residents in the city permission for a church on 24 July 1550. It had earlier been acquired from Augustinian Friars by Henry VIII, his father. As per the charter granted by King Edward, the Mayor, Bishop, clergy and other civil authorities of London were commanded to allow the Dutch ‘freely and quietly to practice, enjoy, use and exercise their own rites and ceremonies, and their own ecclesiastical discipline, notwithstanding that they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom, without impeachment, disturbance or vexation’.

At that moment in time the Dutch were the biggest foreign community in the city. In 1570 it was as much as 5,000 people, from the total population of 100,000. Of these more than half had arrived in the city as religious refugees, who had fled to avoid persecution in the Low Countries. The rest had come for economic opportunities and brought useful skills to the city. These included master weavers, brewers, craftsmen, glassblowers, tile-makers engravers, instrument makers, portrait makers and sculptors etc. who brought valuable expertise to the growing population of the city.

Towards the end of the 17th century there came a second influx of Dutch settlers to the city, when King William and Queen Mary brought with them a large number of bankers, artists, merchants, noblemen, courtiers, architects and garden designers from Holland. The number of Dutch immigrants increased even more later when London proved to be safe haven during the time of the Batavian Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, and during World War II when Hitler invaded the Low Countries.

Berkeley Square, Mayfair, LondonIn the month of October in 1940, the Church was bombed and destroyed during the Blitz. However, the religious services continued in the Church of St Mary next to Berkeley Square in the West End. It also served as a hub for Dutch refugees all through the war. The current Dutch Church was constructed in the period between 1950 and 1954. The Church contains a number of plaques, tapestries and stained-glass windows symbolic of its history in London. It also contains artefacts linked to Christianity, the Reformation, the history of Holland and its links to the House of Orange.

It also has a limited albeit priceless collection of old books that escaped being destroyed in October 1940: These include early Dutch Bibles, books by Dutch historians of the Golden Age, works by leaders of the Reformation, encyclopaedias and atlases etc. Among these rare artefacts is a magnificent Polyglot Bible that was printed by Plantin of Antwerp in 1569-1571, and a stunning Atlas of all the major cities in the Low Countries (both north and south), printed in 1649 by Blaeu.

In its library there is a cupboard full of history of the Mother of all Reformed Dutch Churches. It includes church minute meetings, correspondence, information about the Church’s role in the early stages of Reformation both in London and the Low Countries. The archives of the Church provide a treasure trove of information, and an ongoing tradition of scholarly publications. In current times the Dutch Church serves as a place of worship with services on Sundays, in the Dutch language. There are a host of other activities as well including discussions on Biblical themes, confirmation and confession, planned visits to the poor, elderly and sick and Dutch prisoners in jails. There is a woman’s group, a choir, and an Open House for young people in the Social Hall. There also a number of associations in the Dutch Community that organise their meetings, including fund raisers here.

In staying true to its founding principles as a Church for refugees the Church members play a very active part in fighting for human rights of prisoners abroad. They also collect donations and funds to aid charities for refugees and refugee organizations in the city. It has also presented a number of symposiums and conferences in and out of London including at The Hague about the plight of refugees and related policies in Europe.

There also is the monthly Dutch City Lunch organised in the Church’s Social Hall, where well known speakers from the Netherlands attend the meets. These include members from the Royal Family, business leaders, writers, politicians and church ministers etc. They come and address an audience primarily of Dutch people who live or work in and around the city. These City Lunches have also proved to be very effective in gaining new members to the Church. The Dutch Church continues its century old tradition of the Minister and the Merchant, which are archetypes of the community’s national character.

For more than four centuries in Austin Friars, the Dutch Church is going from strength to strength in a part of London, that is truly symbolic of Holland.