Tomorrow marks the 300th anniversary of the death of London’s greatest architect. Ironically, it was on a trip to London to see how St Paul’s was progressing that the architect ‘caught a chill’, which eventually led to his death, hardly surprising, despite his advancing age, he would be hoisted up the cathedral in a bucket to view the works.
Rather than celebrating this event by going on about his churches, monuments and hospitals, we’re taking a tour of his plaques.
Famously the inscription on his tombstone in St. Paul’s Cathedral reads: ‘Lector, si monumentum requiris circumspice’ – Reader, if you seek his monument – look around.
So today we’re going on a ‘circumspice’ of Wren’s London plaques. A total of eleven plaques, some genuine locations, others whose claim to Wren’s fame is tenuous.
From St. Paul’s, crossing New Change into Watling Street we find at 69:
The Guild Church of St Mary Aldermary Rebuilt 1679-82 by Wren’s office after the Great Fire of London The interior is enriched with splendid plaster fan vaulted ceilings The plan of the church follows its medieval outline.
At the end of Watling Street left into Queen Street and forward to King Street is Guildhall Yard:
St Lawrence Jewry is so called because the original Twelfth Century Church stood on the Eastern side of the City, then occupied by the Jewish Community. That Church, built in 1136, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 The building which replaced it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680. Almost completely destroyed by fire in 1940 this time as the result of action by the King’s enemies it was restored in 1957 in the tradition of Wren’s building. St. Lawrence Jewry is now the Church of the Corporation of London
Leave by Gresham Street it is a short walk down Princes Street to Bank Junction:
At 1 Threadneedle Street, there’s a plaque on the site of St. Benet Fink burnt 1666 rebuilt by Wren demolished 1844:
Further along Threadneedle Street a plaque marks the site of St. Bartholomew by The Exchange, burnt 1666 Rebuilt by Wren, Demolished 1841
Turning right into Gracechurch Street leads you to Wren’s most famous:
The Monument, was designed by Robert Hooke FRS in consultation with Sir Christopher Wren, was built 1671-1677, on the site of St Margaret Fish Street Hill. To commemorate the Great Fire of London 1666. the fire burnt from 2 to 5 September, devastating two-thirds of the city, and destroying 13,200 houses, 87 churches, and 52 Livery Company Halls. The Monument, a freestanding fluted Doric column topped by a flaming copper urn, is 61m/202ft in height, being equal to the distance westward from the site of the bakery in Puddin Lane where the fire first broke out. It’s central shaft originally housed lenses for a zenith telescope, and its balcony, reached by an internal spiral staircase of 311 steps, affords panoramic views of the city. The allegorical sculpture on the pedestal above was executed by Caius Gabriel Cibber and shows Charles II coming to assist the slumped figure of the City of London. St Magnus the Martyr Fish Hill Street, to the south, leads to St Magnus the Martyr, a Wren church, alongside which is the ancient street which led to the medieval London Bridge
Leaving by Pudding Lane, turning right into Eastcheap, St. Dunstan’s Hill takes you to:
The church of St. Dunstan in the East stood on this site from ancient times. Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the church after the Great Fire of 1666 and the only part of his design which survives is the tower. The remainder of the church was rebuilt in 1817 and destroyed by enemy action in 1941. This garden was created by the Corporation of London and opened by the RT. Hon. The Lord Mayor Sir Peter Studd. on 21st June 1971
At the bottom of St. Dunstan’s Hill, walk west along Lower Thames Street, climb up to London Bridge forward to Borough High Street and left to St. Thomas Street in the shadow of The Shard find:
Church of St Thomas Apostle (formerly St Thomas Martyr) Southwark, SE1 Parish Church of St Thomas 1136-1862 which also served as the Chapel of St. Thomas’s Hospital 1215-1862 Rebuilt in 1703 by Thomas Cartwright & Son (Sometime Master Mason to Christopher Wren) The roof space was used as the hospital’s Herb Garret and from 1822 as its Operating Theatre Rediscovered by Raymond Russell in 1956, the Herb Garret and Operating Theatre is now a Museum.
Retracing your steps turn left into Borough High Street and bear right at the lights Stoney Street on the right gives onto Clink Street and follow the signs to Shakespeare’s Globe:
On Bankside a disputed plaque states: Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Pauls Cathedral
Fortuitously a cab rank is nearby outside the theatre to take you to Clerkenwell:
43 Hatton Garden has a complete history affixed to its wall:
‘This building, reputed to be from designs by Sir Christopher Wren, was erected as a church by Lord Hatton to serve the needs of the neighbourhood after St. Andrew’s Holborn had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was adapted for use as a charity school about 1696, was severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the 1939-45 war and has since been reconstructed internally to provide offices – the original facades being restored and retained. The figures of scholars in 18th century costume taken down and sent for safe keeping during the war to Bradfield College, Berkshire have been replaced in their original positions as a memorial of the former use of the building.’
The last two mean a trek out to leafy south-west London:
Unusually on a wall of the Old Court House, Hampton Court Green, East Molesey, was unveiled by Virginia Bottomley, Minister for National Heritage:
Thames Street, Windsor, this, strongly disputed claim, asserts the architect designed and lived in the property.
All images uploaded are registered with a Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL).
2 thoughts on “The Christopher Wren Ramble”
Great tribute to Wren!
Best wishes, Pete.
He’s one of my London heroes. Thanks for the comment
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