WREN, Sir Christopher (1632-1723)
Plaque erected in 1996 by English Heritage at The Old Court House, Hampton Court Green, East Molesey, KT8 9BS, London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames
Architecture and Building, Science
SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN 1632-1723 Architect lived here
Sir Christopher Wren is Britain’s most famous architect. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 he built dozens of new churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral.
SCIENTIST AND ARCHITECT
Born in Wiltshire, Wren went to Oxford University in 1650, where he excelled as a scientist, mathematician and astronomer. It was through his mathematical studies that he became interested in architectural design, quickly achieving a thorough understanding of the subject. ‘[O]nce a prodigy of a boy,’ the mathematician Isaac Barrow wrote of Wren in 1662, ‘now, a miracle of a man, nay, even something divine.’
On the completion of his first major work, the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, in 1669, Wren was appointed Surveyor-General of the King’s Works, a position he held until 1718.
REBUILDING THE CITY
After the Great Fire, Wren took charge of rebuilding the City of London. He designed about 50 churches – such as St Stephen Walbrook – and oversaw the building of St Paul’s Cathedral, his crowning achievement. The design and construction of the cathedral spanned his whole career. Wren first drew up plans for repair works in 1661, started building works in 1675 and finally completed the cathedral in 1711 when he was 70 years old.
Wren’s secular works included the library of Trinity College in Cambridge, the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich. He also supervised rebuilding work at royal palaces, such as that carried out at Hampton Court from 1689.
OLD COURT HOUSE
Wren’s official residence as Surveyor-General was the Old Court House at Hampton Court, which was owned by the Crown. He made major alterations here from 1710 onwards, but spent much time at his other home in Scotland Yard, Whitehall (now demolished).
Wren came to live at Old Court House more permanently when he retired from the Office of Works in 1718. He spent his remaining years here, ‘free from worldly affairs’ and passing his time ‘in contemplation and studies’. He died at his son Christopher’s house in St James’s Street, off Piccadilly, at the age of 90.
Old Court House was by turns the home of his son Christopher (1675−1747) and his grandson Stephen (b. 1722). It has undergone many changes since, but some of Wren’s work survives, and it remained a grace and favour house associated with the palace until 1958.