Biography of Christopher Wren 1632-1723

Christopher Wren 1632-1723 is in Architects.

Great Fire of London

Before 1100. St Benet Gracechurch [Map] was known as Grass Church given the nearby haymarket. St Benet is a shortened form of St Benedict of Nursia who founded Western monasticism. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Christopher Wren.

On 30 Oct 1623 Christopher Wren was born.

Evelyn's Diary. 11 Jul 1654. Was the Latin sermon, which I could not be at, though invited, being taken up at All Souls, where we had music, voices, and the orbos, performed by some ingenious scholars. After dinner, I visited that miracle of a youth, Mr. Christopher Wren (age 30), nephew to the Bishop of Ely. Then Mr. Barlow (age 46) (since Bishop of Lincoln), bibliothecarius of the Bodleian Library, my most learned friend. He showed us the rarities of that most famous place, manuscripts, medals, and other curiosities. Among the MSS. an old English Bible, wherein the Eunuch mentioned to be baptized by Philip, is called the Gelding: "and Philip and the Gelding went down into the water", etc. The original Acts of the Council of Basil 900 years since, with the bulla, or leaden affix, which has a silken cord passing through every parchment; a MS. of Venerable Bede of 800 years antiquity; the old Ritual secundum usum Sarum exceeding voluminous; then, among the nicer curiosities, the "Proverbs of Solomon", written in French by a lady, every chapter of a several character, or hand, the most exquisite imaginable; an hieroglyphical table, or carta, folded up like a map, I suppose it painted on asses' hide, extremely rare; but, what is most illustrious, there were no less than 1,000 MSS. in nineteen languages, especially Oriental, furnishing that new part of the library built by Archbishop Laud, from a design of Sir Kenelm Digby (age 51) and the Earl of Pembroke (age 33). In the closet of the tower, they show some Indian weapons, urns, lamps, etc., but the rarest is the whole Alcoran, written on one large sheet of calico, made up in a priest's vesture, or cope, after the Turkish and Arabic character, so exquisitely written, as no printed letter comes near it; also, a roll of magical charms, divers talismans, and some medals.

Pepy's Diary. 02 Oct 1663. So home to dinner with my wife, who is over head and eares in getting her house up, and so to the office, and with Mr. Lewes, late, upon some of the old victuallers' accounts, and so home to supper and to bed, up to our red chamber, where we purpose always to lie. This day I received a letter from Mr. Barlow, with a Terella1, which I had hoped he had sent me, but to my trouble I find it is to present from him to my Lord Sandwich (age 38), but I will make a little use of it first, and then give it him.

Note 1. Professor Silvanus P. Thompson, F.R.S., has kindly supplied me with the following interesting note on the terrella (or terella): The name given by Dr. William Gilbert, author of the famous treatise, "De Magnete" (Lond. 1600), to a spherical loadstone, on account of its acting as a model, magnetically, of the earth; compass-needles pointing to its poles, as mariners' compasses do to the poles of the earth. The term was adopted by other writers who followed Gilbert, as the following passage from Wm. Barlowe's "Magneticall Advertisements" (Lond. 1616) shows: "Wherefore the round Loadstone is significantly termed by Doct. Gilbert Terrella, that is, a little, or rather a very little Earth: For it representeth in an exceeding small model (as it were) the admirable properties magneticall of the huge Globe of the earth" (op. cit, p. 55). Gilbert set great store by his invention of the terrella, since it led him to propound the true theory of the mariners' compass. In his portrait of himself which he had painted for the University of Oxford he was represented as holding in his hand a globe inscribed terella. In the Galileo Museum in Florence there is a terrella twenty-seven inches in diameter, of loadstone from Elba, constructed for Cosmo de' Medici. A smaller one contrived by Sir Christopher Wren (age 39) was long preserved in the museum of the Royal Society (Grew's "Rarities belonging to the Royal Society", p. 364). Evelyn was shown "a pretty terrella described with all ye circles and skewing all y magnetic deviations" (Diary, July 3rd, 1655).

Pepy's Diary. 21 Feb 1666. Thence with my Lord Bruncker (age 46) to Gresham College, the first time after the sicknesse that I was there, and the second time any met. And here a good lecture of Mr. Hooke's (age 30) about the trade of felt-making, very pretty. And anon alone with me about the art of drawing pictures by Prince Rupert's (age 46) rule and machine, and another of Dr. Wren's (age 42)1 but he says nothing do like squares, or, which is the best in the world, like a darke roome, [The camera obscura.] which pleased me mightily.

Note 1. Afterwards the famous Sir Christopher Wren (age 42). He was one of the mainstays of the Royal Society.

Pepy's Diary. 16 Feb 1667. Thence away to my Lord Bruncker's (age 47), and there was Sir Robert Murray (age 59), whom I never understood so well as now by this opportunity of discourse with him, a most excellent man of reason and learning, and understands the doctrine of musique, and everything else I could discourse of, very finely. Here come Mr. Hooke (age 31), Sir George Ent, Dr. Wren (age 43), and many others; and by and by the musique, that is to say, Signor Vincentio, who is the master-composer, and six more, whereof two eunuches, so tall, that Sir T. Harvey (age 41) said well that he believes they do grow large by being gelt as our oxen do, and one woman very well dressed and handsome enough, but would not be kissed, as Mr. Killigrew (age 55), who brought the company in, did acquaint us. They sent two harpsicons before; and by and by, after tuning them, they begun; and, I confess, very good musique they made; that is, the composition exceeding good, but yet not at all more pleasing to me than what I have heard in English by Mrs. Knipp, Captain Cooke (age 51), and others. Nor do I dote on the eunuches; they sing, indeed, pretty high, and have a mellow kind of sound, but yet I have been as well satisfied with several women's voices and men also, as Crispe of the Wardrobe. The women sung well, but that which distinguishes all is this, that in singing, the words are to be considered, and how they are fitted with notes, and then the common accent of the country is to be known and understood by the hearer, or he will never be a good judge of the vocal musique of another country. So that I was not taken with this at all, neither understanding the first, nor by practice reconciled to the latter, so that their motions, and risings and fallings, though it may be pleasing to an Italian, or one that understands the tongue, yet to me it did not, but do from my heart believe that I could set words in English, and make musique of them more agreeable to any Englishman's eare (the most judicious) than any Italian musique set for the voice, and performed before the same man, unless he be acquainted with the Italian accent of speech. The composition as to the musique part was exceeding good, and their justness in keeping time by practice much before any that we have, unless it be a good band of practised fiddlers.

Pepy's Diary. 24 Feb 1667. By and by comes Sir Robert Viner (age 36) and my Lord Mayor to ask the King's directions about measuring out the streets according to the new Act for building of the City, wherein the King (age 36) is to be pleased1. But he says that the way proposed in Parliament, by Colonel Birch (age 51), would have been the best, to have chosen some persons in trust, and sold the whole ground, and let it be sold again by them, with preference to the old owner, which would have certainly caused the City to be built where these Trustees pleased; whereas now, great differences will be, and the streets built by fits, and not entire till all differences be decided. This, as he tells it, I think would have been the best way. I enquired about the Frenchman2 that was said to fire the City, and was hanged for it, by his own confession, that he was hired for it by a Frenchman of Roane, and that he did with a stick reach in a fire-ball in at a window of the house: whereas the master of the house, who is the King's baker, and his son, and daughter, do all swear there was no such window, and that the fire did not begin thereabouts. Yet the fellow, who, though a mopish besotted fellow, did not speak like a madman, did swear that he did fire it: and did not this like a madman; for, being tried on purpose, and landed with his keeper at the Tower Wharfe [Map], he could carry the keeper to the very house. Asking Sir R. Viner (age 36) what he thought was the cause of the fire, he tells me, that the baker, son, and his daughter, did all swear again and again, that their oven was drawn by ten o'clock at night; that, having occasion to light a candle about twelve, there was not so much fire in the bakehouse as to light a match for a candle, so that they were fain to go into another place to light it; that about two in the morning they felt themselves almost choked with smoke, and rising, did find the fire coming upstairs; so they rose to save themselves; but that, at that time, the bavins3 were not on fire in the yard. So that they are, as they swear, in absolute ignorance how this fire should come; which is a strange thing, that so horrid an effect should have so mean and uncertain a beginning.

Note 1. See Sir Christopher Wren's (age 43) "Proposals for rebuilding the City of London after the great fire, with an engraved Plan of the principal Streets and Public Buildings", in Elmes's "Memoirs of Sir Christopher Wren", Appendix, p.61. The originals are in All Souls' College Library, Oxford. B.

Note 2. "One Hubert, a French papist, was seized in Essex, as he was getting out of the way in great confusion. He confessed he had begun the fire, and persisted in his confession to his death, for he was hanged upon no other evidence but that of his own confession. It is true he gave so broken an account of the whole matter that he was thought mad. Yet he was blindfolded, and carried to several places of the city, and then his eyes being opened, he was asked if that was the place, and he being carried to wrong places, after he looked round about for some time, he said that was not the place, but when he was brought to the place where it first broke out, he affirmed that was the true place. "Burnet's Own Time", book ii. Archbishop Tillotson (age 36), according to Burnet, believed that London was burnt by design.

Note 3. brushwood, or faggots used for lighting fires.

Survey London Volume 20 Part 3 Pages 101 103 Volume 20. In 1669 Shaver's Hall with all its appurtenances was bought by Thomas Panton, succinctly described by the Dictionary of National Biography as a "gambler," who in 1671 petitioned the Privy Council "that having been at great charge in purchasing a parcell of ground, lying at Pickadilly, part of it being the two bowling greens fronting the Haymarket, the other part lying on the north of Tennis Court," he might have leave to continue with his development of the property in spite of the king's "late proclamation" against building. Sir Christopher Wren (age 45) reported that "by opening a new street from the Hay-markett into Leicester-fields" Panton's scheme would "ease in some measure the great passage of the Strand, and will cure the noysomness of that part," and recommended that a licence to build be granted provided that the houses were built of brick "with sufficient scantlings, good paving in the streets, and sufficient sewers and conveighances for the water." Panton Street first appears in the ratebooks in 1674 and Oxendon Street, named after Baker's son-in-law, in 1675. Panton was also responsible for the erection of houses on the east side of the Haymarket at this time.

Pepy's Diary. 21 Mar 1669. Thence up and down the House. Met with Mr. May (age 47), who tells me the story of his being put by Sir John Denham's place, of Surveyor of the King's Works, who it seems, is lately dead, by the unkindness of the Duke Buckingham (age 41), who hath brought in Dr. Wren (age 45): though, he tells me, he hath been his servant for twenty years together in all his wants and dangers, saving him from want of bread by his care and management, and with a promise of having his help in his advancement, and an engagement under his hand for £1000 not yet paid, and yet the Duke of Buckingham (age 41) so ungrateful as to put him by: which is an ill thing, though Dr. Wren is a worthy man. But he tells me that the King (age 38) is kind to him, and hath promised him a pension of £300 a-year out of the Works; which will be of more content to him than the place, which, under their present wants of money, is a place that disobliges most people, being not able to do what they desire to their lodgings. Here meeting with Sir H. Cholmly (age 36) and Povy (age 55), that tell me that my Lord Middleton (age 61) is resolved in the Cabal that he shall not go to Tangier; and that Sir Edward Harlow [Harley], whom I know not, is propounded to go, who was Governor of Dunkirke, and, they say, a most worthy brave man, which I shall be very glad of.

Pepy's Diary. 30 Apr 1669. So to the Mr. Cutler's, and there did give Tom, who was with me all day a sword cost me 12s. and a belt of my owne; and set my own silver-hilt sword a-gilding against to-morrow. This morning I did visit Mr. Oldenburgh, and did see the instrument for perspective made by Dr. Wren (age 45), of which I have one making by Browne; and the sight of this do please me mightily.

Pepy's Diary. 08 May 1669. By and by also comes Browne, the mathematical instrument maker, and brings me home my instrument for perspective, made according to the description of Dr. Wren's (age 45), in the late Transactions; and he hath made it, I think, very well, and that, that I believe will do the thing, and therein gives me great content; but have I fear all the content that must be received by my eyes is almost lost.

Evelyn's Diary. 09 Jul 1669. In the morning was celebrated the Encænia of the New Theater, so magnificently built by the munificence of Dr. Gilbert Sheldon (age 71), Archbishop of Canterbury, in which was spent,£25,000, as Sir Christopher Wren (age 45), the architect (as I remember), told me; and yet it was never seen by the benefactor, my Lord Archbishop having told me that he never did or ever would see it. It is, in truth, a fabric comparable to any of this kind of former ages, and doubtless exceeding any of the present, as this University does for colleges, libraries, schools, students, and order, all the universities in the world. To the theater is added the famous Sheldonian printing house. This being at the Act and the first time of opening the Theater (Acts being formerly kept in St. Mary's Church, which might be thought indecent, that being a place set apart for the immediate worship of God, and was the inducement for building this noble pile), it was now resolved to keep the present Act in it, and celebrate its dedication with the greatest splendor and formality that might be; and, therefore, drew a world of strangers, and other company, to the University, from all parts of the nation.

Evelyn's Diary. 19 Feb 1671. This day dined with me Mr. Surveyor, Dr. Christopher Wren (age 47), and Mr. Pepys (age 37), Clerk of the Acts, two extraordinary, ingenious, and knowing persons, and other friends. I carried them to see the piece of carving which I had recommended to the King (age 40). Note. Those of Grinling Gibbons (age 22) - see John Evelyn's Diary 1671 January 18.

Evelyn's Diary. 01 Mar 1671. His Majesty's (age 40) Surveyor, Mr. Wren (age 47), faithfully promised me to employ him. I having also bespoke his Majesty (age 40) for his work at Windsor Castle [Map], which my friend, Mr. May (age 49), the architect there, was going to alter, and repair universally; for, on the next day, I had a fair opportunity of talking to his Majesty (age 40) about it, in the lobby next the Queen's (age 32) side, where I presented him with some sheets of my history. I thence walked with him through St James' Park [Map] to the garden, where I both saw and heard a very familiar discourse between ... and Mrs. Nelly (age 21), as they called an impudent comedian, she looking out of her garden on a terrace at the top of the wall, and ... [Note. the elipsis here is John Evelyn being coy about the King's (age 40) conversation with Nell Gwyn.] standing on the green walk under it. I was heartily sorry at this scene. Thence the King (age 40) walked to the Duchess of Cleveland (age 30), another lady of pleasure, and curse of our nation.

Evelyn's Diary. 27 Jun 1675. At Ely House, I went to the consecration of my worthy friend, the learned Dr. Barlow (age 51), Warden of Queen's College, Oxford, now made Bishop of Lincoln. After it succeeded a magnificent feast, where were the Duke of Ormond (age 64), Earl of Lauderdale (age 59), the Lord Treasurer (age 43), Lord Keeper, etc.

Evelyn's Diary. 28 Feb 1676. [Note. Date adjusted to 28 Feb since original entry stated 29 Feb when it isn't a leap year.] I dined with Mr. Povey (age 62), one of the Masters of Requests, a nice contriver of all elegancies, and exceedingly formal. Supped with Sir J. Williamson, where were of our Society Mr. Robert Boyle (age 49), Sir Christopher Wren (age 52), Sir William Petty (age 52), Dr. Holden, subdean of his Majesty's (age 45) Chapel, Sir James Shaen, Dr. Whistler, and our Secretary, Mr. Oldenburg (age 57).

Evelyn's Diary. 27 Nov 1677. Dined at the Lord Treasurer's (age 45) with Prince Rupert (age 57), Viscount Falkenburg (age 50), Earl of Bath (age 49), Lord O'Brien (age 35), Sir John Lowther (age 22), Sir Christopher Wren (age 54), Dr. Grew (age 36), and other learned men.

Evelyn's Diary. 17 Jun 1679. I was godfather to a son of Sir Christopher Wren (age 55), surveyor of his Majesty's (age 49) buildings, that most excellent and learned person, with Sir William Fermor (age 30), and my Lady Viscountess Newport, wife of the Treasurer of the Household (age 59).

Evelyn's Diary. 30 Aug 1680. I went to visit a French gentleman, one Monsieur Chardin (age 36), who having been thrice in the East Indies, Persia, and other remote countries, came hither in our return ships from those parts, and it being reported that he was a very curious and knowing man, I was desired by the Royal Society to salute him in their name, and to invite him to honor them with his company. Sir Joseph Hoskins and Sir Christopher Wren (age 56) accompanied me. We found him at his lodgings in his eastern habit, a very handsome person, extremely affable, a modest, well-bred man, not inclined to talk wonders. He spoke Latin, and understood Greek, Arabic, and Persian, from eleven years' travels in those parts, whither he went in search of jewels, and was become very rich. He seemed about 36 years of age. After the usual civilities, we asked some account of the extraordinary things he must have seen in traveling over land to those places where few, if any, northern Europeans used to go, as the Black and Caspian Sea, Mingrelia, Bagdad, Nineveh, Persepolis, etc. He told us that the things most worthy of our sight would be, the draughts he had caused to be made of some noble ruins, etc.; for that, besides his own little talent that way, he had carried two good painters with him, to draw landscapes, measure and design the remains of the palace which Alexander burned in his frolic at Persepolis, with divers temples, columns, relievos, and statues, yet extant, which he affirmed to be sculpture far exceeding anything he had observed either at Rome, in Greece, or in any other part of the world where magnificence was in estimation. He said there was an inscription in letters not intelligible, though entire. He was sorry he could not gratify the curiosity of the Society at present, his things not being yet out of the ship; but would wait on them with them on his return from Paris, whither he was going the next day, but with intention to return suddenly, and stay longer here, the persecution in France not suffering Protestants, and he was one, to be quiet.

Evelyn's Diary. 05 May 1681. Came to dine with me Sir William Fermor (age 32), of Northamptonshire, and Sir Christopher Wren (age 57), his Majesty's (age 50) architect and surveyor, now building the Cathedral of St. Paul [Map], and the column [Map] in memory of the city's conflagration, and was in hand with the building of fifty parish churches. A wonderful genius had this incomparable person.

Evelyn's Diary. 30 Nov 1681. Sir Christopher Wren (age 58) chosen President [of the Royal Society], Mr. Austine, Secretary, with Dr. Plot, the ingenious author of the "History of Oxfordshire". There was a most illustrious appearance.

Evelyn's Diary. 25 May 1682. I was desired by Sir Stephen Fox (age 55) and Sir Christopher Wren (age 58) to accompany them to Lambeth, Surrey [Map], with the plot and design of the college to be built at Chelsea, to have the Archbishop's approbation. It was a quadrangle of 200 feet square, after the dimensions of the larger quadrangle at Christ church, Oxford, for the accommodation of 440 persons, with Governor of and officers. This was agreed on.

Between 1685 and 1688 Belton House [Map] was built on behalf of John Brownlow 3rd Baronet (age 25) in the style of Carolean architecture. The architect may have been William Winde or Christopher Wren (age 61).

Around 1690 Daniel Finch 2nd Earl Nottingham 7th Earl Winchilsea (age 42) commissioned the building of Burley-on-the-Hill House as it is known today. Christopher Wren (age 66) was consulted. The designs of Montague House and Devonshire House [Map] were reviewed.

Evelyn's Diary. 05 May 1695. I came to Deptford, Kent [Map] from Wotton, Surrey [Map], in order to the first meeting of the Commissioners for endowing an hospital [Map] for seamen at Greenwich; it was at the Guildhall [Map], London. Present, the Archbishop of Canterbury (age 58), Lord Keeper, Lord Privy Seal, Lord Godolphin (age 49), Duke of Shrewsbury (age 34), Duke of Leeds (age 63), Earls of Dorset (age 52) and Monmouth (age 37), Commissioners of the Admiralty and Navy, Sir Robert Clayton, Sir Christopher Wren (age 71), and several more. The Commission was read by Mr. Lowndes, Secretary to the Lords of the Treasury, Surveyor-General.

Evelyn's Diary. 04 Jun 1696. A committee met at Whitehall [Map] about Greenwich Hospital [Map], at Sir Christopher Wren's (age 72), his Majesty's Surveyor-General. We made the first agreement with divers workmen and for materials; and gave the first order for proceeding on the foundation, and for weekly payments to the workmen, and a general account to be monthly.

Evelyn's Diary. 30 Jun 1696. I went with a select committee of the Commissioners for Greenwich Hospital [Map], and with Sir Christopher Wren (age 72), where with him I laid the first stone of the intended foundation, precisely at five o'clock in the evening, after we had dined together. Mr. Flamstead (age 49), the King's Astronomical Professor, observing the punctual time by instruments.

Evelyn's Diary. 09 Jun 1698. To Deptford, to see how miserably the Czar had left my house [Map], after three months making it his Court. I got Sir Christopher Wren (age 74), the King's surveyor, and Mr. London, his gardener, to go and estimate the repairs, for which they allowed £150 in their report to the Lords of the Treasury. I then went to see the foundation of the Hall and Chapel at Greenwich Hospital [Map].

In 1711 Godfrey Kneller (age 64). Portrait of Christopher Wren (age 87).

On 08 Mar 1723 Christopher Wren (age 99) died.

Vesta Monumenta. 1747. Plates 2.1 and 2.2. Three plans for rebuilding the city of London after the great fire of 1666. The plans were originally submitted to King Charles II in September of 1666 and February of 1668 by John Evelyn and Christopher Wren. Engravings by George Vertue (age 63) after the original plans by Evelyn and Wren.