Tag Archives: London plaques

The Christopher Wren Ramble

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).

Anyone for tennis?

Should you go down Lillie Road, just past the Ibis Hotel near the curiously named Telephone Place there is a small terrace of Grade II listed mid-19th century stuccoed houses. Nothing unusual then, all over London you can find these types of houses – slated roofs; pane sashes; and painted white – except number 62 which has a highly decorated round window above the ground floor and above that what looks like a Royal coat of arms.

[C]oncealed behind trees and street furniture (as the Google street view shows) this intriguing addition to what is a very normal group of London townhouses.


Google street view

Could it be Edward VII moniker? Rumours have it that the future monarch would have secret trysts with Lillie Langtry within these modest walls. But our portly heir-apparent went to enormous lengths to remain undercover while having his dalliances. Rules Restaurant had a secret door to access the private room used by the couple; so it’s hardly likely the Prince of Wales is going to advertise his presence in such a manner as sticking the Royal Crest on the outside wall, while he got on with the business inside.

The answer must be Joseph Bickley. At this point anyone reading this with just a passing interest in playing on an indoor court will be uttering his name in reverential hushed tones. Bickley lived at 62 Lillie Road between 1889-1919 and was known for architectural moulding – hence the ornate ox-eye window. His fame (and fortune) came from his patented process of laying ‘non-sweat’ floor rendering for tennis courts.


Joseph Bickley window and Royal crest

All good stories involve a little mystery and Bickley’s tennis courts are no exception. He patented his method in 1889 and refined the process issuing a further patent in 1909. He would personally make up the ingredients part of which involved sieving fine sand through a 0.5mm mesh that at the same time, it was thought, adding the secret ingredient along with manganese dioxide, known as Bickley’s Mineral Black and always working while there was no prospect of a frost. The surface was then polished continuously night and day until the flawless court floor was achieved.

In 1964 Harrow School wanted to replicate the Bickley formula. Contacting a former employee a Mr. Harbour who had honeymooned in New York at the company’s expense while constructing a new court on Park Avenue. Harrow School found that the composition of Portland cement had subtly altered since Bickley’s day. The court was completed but was it the same as the fabled Bickley formula?

Featured image: Queen’s Real Tennis Court one of two constructed there by Joseph Bickley. 

Historic England have a picture of Crabbet Park, Tennis Court And Orangery, Worth, West Sussex taken on 26 July 1907 with Joseph Bickley then aged 72 standing on the left slightly away from the landed gentry who intend to play on his court.