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The Best of Sir Christopher Wren


Most visitors to London recognise St Paul's Cathedral with its landmark domes, but few realise that this was just one of 51 churches across London that were designed by architect and astronomer, Sir Christopher Wren.

Talented and ambitious, Sir Christopher Wren was certainly in the right place at the right time as the Great Fire of London in 1666 left a huge need for the city to be rebuilt.

Wren's Education

Wren's interest in architecture began with his studies of engineering and physics at Westminster School, and later at Oxford University.

He was very talented in mathematics and invented a device for writing in the dark, among other things.

He was also very keen on astrology and his first significant appointment was at Gresham College where he became the Astronomy Professor when he was just 25 years old.

Sir Christopher Wren was one of only a few people in the 17th century that had a sound science-based understanding of the structure of buildings.

His first design was in 1665 when he was commissioned by the Bishop of Ely to design the Pembroke College Chapel. He then worked on Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre, his first dome feature.

Wren and the Fire of London

Wren had already been commissioned to repair St Paul's Cathedral when the disastrous Fire of London destroyed it, along with 13,000 houses and 70 parish churches.

Along with Robert Hooke and John Evelyn, Wren surveyed the enormous destruction and damage to the city.

He then produced an inspired plan for redesigning the city from scratch, with wider streets and open spaces radiating out from a central point. His plan failed to materialise as few property owners were willing to sell the land on which their ruined buildings stood.

In 1669, Wren was given the job of Surveyor of the Royal Works, which gave him control of most government buildings. He wielded great power and influence in the city and left an incredible legacy with his magnificent architectural vision.

He received a knighthood in 1673 and went on to design the Greenwich Royal Observatory followed by a commission to build a hospital for retired soldiers in Chelsea in 1682. A further royal commission was for the Greenwich Hospital for Sailors in 1696.

Wren's talents were not just confined to London.

He designed the beautiful Trinity College Library in Cambridge in the late 17th century as well as a new facade for Hampton Court Palace.

Other Wren Buildings

Other great buildings he designed include St Mary Le Bow Church in the East End of London, St Nicholas Cole Abbey, the Great Fire of London Monument, St Stephen's Church at Walbrook and St James's Church, Piccadilly.

Wren's memorial

When Sir Christopher Wren died in 1723, he was honoured with a burial in St Paul's Cathedral.

If you visit you will see the inscription on his tombstone in Latin, part of which translates as, "If you seek his memorial, look about you". It's true; 300 years on, Sir Christopher Wren's vision remains visible across the skyline of London and beyond as a tribute to a great man with a wonderful talent for architecture.

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