In our earlier blog we looked at how many of the streets we see on our London walks were the work of one of London’s most prolific architects, Sir Christopher Wren.
Wren’s opportunity to transform the London skyline came about in September 1666 when the Great Fire of London destroyed virtually all the medieval City.
With the embers of the fire still smouldering, Sir Christopher Wren approached King Charles 11 and presented him with a comprehensive plan to rebuild the City on a grid-pattern that would consist of spacious streets, squares and elegant piazzas.
In truth, since the plan ignored the property rights of all those who had lost buildings in the Great Fire of London it had little chance of ever becoming a reality.
What it did do, however, was persuade the king that this enthusiastic young man was just the person to supervise those parts of the necessary rebuilding that could be undertaken by the Crown and the public authorities.
Wren was, therefore, made one of the three Royal Commissioners for the rebuilding and was employed almost continuously from then until his retirement in 1718.
You can see evidence of his genius on so many of our London walks. From the mighty splendour of St Paul’s Cathedral, to the graceful simplicity of his lesser known churches such as St Anne and St Agnes in Gresham Street.
According to the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, commenting on Wren’s achievement in 1932, ” There is no finer monument to his genius than the character that he gave London…”
Indeed, as Wren himself observed “architecture aims at eternity” and his vision is still apparent to us today as we make our way around the streets of the City on our London walks.
He designed 51 City Churches, four Royal palaces, Royal Hospitals at Chelsea and Greenwich, not to mention numerous minor commissions both within and without London.
When he died in 1723 at the ripe old age of 91 he had transformed London and was, fittingly buried in the crypt of his greatest achievement, St. Paul’s Cathedral beneath a simple black slab that urges “If you require a monument look about you..”
Those who join us on our City of London walks will see that it is not just a reference to St Paul’s Cathedral but to his graceful church towers that still dot the London skyline.