Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723)


Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723)

Christopher Wren was born in Wiltshire on October 20, 1632. His father was the Dean of Windsor and Wren spent a privileged childhood during which he played with the young Prince Charles at Windsor Castle. Although his name has passed down the ages as a brilliant architect, Wren was a talented young man, the annoying kind, who would have shone at anything he turned his hand to. By the tender age of 17, he had already invented a deaf and dumb language, a pneumatic engine and a mechanism that could write in the dark. He later experimented with submarine, barometer and telescope designs, road paving as well as the use of opium as an anaesthetic to aid doctors during surgery.

Wren received his education at Westminster and Wadham College, Oxford. He went on to become a Fellow of all Souls (one of the highest academic awards in the country) at Oxford for his achievements in maths and physics. He continued on to become Gresham Professor of Astronomy in London in 1657 and by 1661 he was the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. In 1662, he collaborated with other scientists, scholars and mathematicians to form the Royal Society of London for Promoting Natural Knowledge.

Wren's career in architecture commenced in 1663 through his family connections. It was through his uncle, the Bishop of Ely that he acquired his first commission to build the Pembroke College Chapel at Cambridge University. His next job, his design for the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford, was inspired by the Roman Theatre of Marcellus. The work firmly secured his name as an architect. A few years later, in 1672 he was bestowed the honour of knighthood.

Ultimately, Wren's name is known mostly to us for the architectural masterpieces he left behind. He was one of the architectural commissioners who were assigned the monumental task of rebuilding and restructuring London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666. Although all of his plans were never realised (many were simply rejected), London today is littered with his works. His legacy remains in buildings such as the Royal Naval College, the College of Physicians, the Royal Exchange, Chelsea Hospital, Drury Lane Theatre, Custom House, Tom Tower at Christ's Church, Oxford and the library at Trinity College. In addition over 50 churches were built to his specifications including St. Clement Danes, St. James, St Mary Le Bow, St. Nicholas Cole Abbey,St. Stephen's Walbrook and many more. His style, which placed a steeple at the top of a seemingly classical Roman Temple, has been fondly nicknamed the British 'wedding cake' style. In 1669, he was appointed Surveyor General of the King's Works by Charles II.

Wren's magnum opus is the grand dome which he designed for St Paul's Cathedral. Wren died at Hampton Court on February 15, 1723. His famous dome now provides a canopy for his final resting place in the crypt of St. Paul's.
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) Photo