Dutch Church, Austin Friars
History and museums
The Dutch Church, Austin Friars (Dutch: Nederlandse Kerk Londen) is a reformed church in the Broad Street Ward, in the City of London. Located on the site of the 13th-century Augustinian friary, the original building granted to Protestant refugees for their church services in 1550 was destroyed during the London Blitz.
The present church was built between 1950 and 1954 and is a familiar landmark in the Broad Street Ward. With the founding of the church dating to 1550, it is the oldest Dutch-language Protestant church in the world, and as such is known in The Netherlands as the mother church of all Dutch reformed churches.
The original church was a monastic priory known as the Austin Friars, London, a contraction of "Augustinian Friars", founded circa 1253 by Humphrey de Bohun, 2nd Earl of Hereford (d. 1275). The priory was dissolved in November 1538. The City of London attempted to buy the church of the friary from the Crown in 1539 and again in 1546 but was rebuffed. In 1550, London's community of "Germans and other strangers" was granted the use of the friary church's nave; the rest of the church was used as a storehouse, with the monuments sold for £100 and the lead stripped from the roof. The choir, tower and transepts were demolished in 1600.
The nave became the first official nonconformist chapel in England under its Polish-born superintendent John a Lasco (known in Poland as Jan Łaski) who had founded a preaching house for a group of Protestant refugees mainly from the Low Countries. The mostly Dutch and French speaking "strangers" were granted a royal charter on 24 July 1550 that allowed them to establish a Stranger Church and this was incorporated by letters patent from King Edward VI. Upon incorporation, the church was named the "Temple of the Lord Jesus" and had four pastors: two for Dutch and two for the French-Walloon who by the 1580s began using St Anthony's Chapel in Threadneedle Street.
By 1570, the Dutch community was the largest group of expatriates in London, numbering 5,000 out of the 100,000 total population of the time. About half of the Dutch in London were Protestants who fled the Flemish Low Countries due to religious persecution. Others were skilled craftsman, including brewers, tile makers, weavers, artists, printers and engravers, who came to England for economic opportunities. Engraver Martin Droeshout, famous for his 1623 portrait of William Shakespeare, was among the Flemish Protestant emigrants who arrived in London.
A century later, the arrival of William of Orange brought a second wave of Dutch emigrants to London. This second group included noblemen, bankers, courtiers, merchants, architects and artists.
In the night of 15–16 October 1940, just a decade before the Dutch Church celebrated its 400th anniversary, the medieval building was completely destroyed by German bombs . The church's collection of rare books including Dutch Bibles, atlases and encyclopedias had been moved out of London for safe-keeping one day before the bombing raid that destroyed the building. Today the collection is housed in the church library and includes a multilingual Bible published by the Plantin Press of Antwerp in 1569-1571, and a 1649 atlas of all the cities in the Low Countries by Willem Blaeu. The church's manuscript collection and original charter are kept in the London Metropolitan Archives. The church's library collection is currently being digitalised and a launch date for the online catalogue of September 2015 has been announced.
The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 23 July 1950 by the 10-year-old Princess Irene of the Netherlands. The new church, built to the design of Arthur Bailey, was completed in 1954. The new building is a concrete box frame, externally clad in Portland stone. The church possesses detailed archives, and is a popular tourist attraction.
The church was designated a Grade-II listed building on 25 September 1998. In 2000, the church celebrated its 450th anniversary; Prof. Keetie E Sluyterman at the University of Utrecht published a book about the church and its history, De Kerk in de City.
The church remains active today, with weekly Dutch-language church services, confirmation classes, and meetings for various groups. The church also does outreach to the Dutch community in London, including ministering to the elderly. The church is home to two other UK registered charities: The Netherlands Benevolent Society (NBS) and The Dutch Centre. On 24 April 2015, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands was honorary guest in the Dutch Church for a jubilee celebration to mark 150 years since the founding of the NBS. On the same day the Dutch Centre was officially opened by Laetitia van den Assum, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, Liesbeth Knook, Chairman of the Church Council and Paul Beiboer, General Manager of London branch of Rabobank.
In April 2014, the current minister of the Dutch Church, Rev. Joost Röselaers, confirmed that the Dutch Church is able to perform weddings for same-sex couples.