The Twickenham Museum
People : Architects and Scientists

Sir Christopher Wren
Architect and Scientist
1632 - 1723

Sir Christopher Wren

Christopher Wren was born at East Knoyle, near Tisbury, Wiltshire, the son of Dr Christopher Wren, rector of that parish. An uncle was Matthew Wren who, inter alia, had succeeded Richard Corbet as bishop of Hereford and then of Norwich. After attending Westminster School he studied at Oxford becoming Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, London in 1657 and at Oxford in 1661. He was one of the founders of the Royal Society. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 he made designs for the rebuilding of the whole of the City, although these were not implemented. In 1669 he designed the new St. Paul's, and also designed many other churches, the Royal Exchange, Greenwich Observatory and numerous other buildings. He was knighted in 1673.

English Heritage Blue Plaque on Old Court House

Residence at Hampton Court

Wren both worked and resided at Hampton Court. From 1668 he stayed, from time to time, in a house now known as The Old Court House, facing Hampton Court Green, with a garden sloping down to the River Thames. He obtained a lease of the property from Queen Anne in exchange for some unpaid fees and he may have rebuilt it for himself, in about 1706. This property had been reserved for the use of the Surveyor General of the Works and it is probable that Wren had occupied it on occasions from the start of his appointment in 1668.

When he was relieved of his office in 1718, at the age of 86, he had held the post for nearly 50 years and he retired to the house for the remainder of his life. He actually died in his house in St James's Street from where he was carried to St Paul's Cathedral for burial.

The fire at Hampton Court Palace in 1986

Work at Hampton Court and Bushy Park

In 1689, shortly after the arrival, from Holland, of the Queen, William and Mary went to Hampton Court Palace and very soon decided to pull down most of the old buildings and build a new one rivalling the palace of Versailles. Wren was set to work on the plans and demolition started little more than a month after their visit. Unfortunately the Queen died suddenly of small pox in 1694 at the age of 33 and little further work was then done until 1699.

Bushy Park was also laid out and Chestnut Avenue planted by Henry Wise for William in accordance with Wren's design. His plan was to make the main route to Hampton Court Palace through Bushy Park from the Teddington Gate. The Diana Fountain and the rows of horse chestnuts and limes that line Chestnut Avenue were completed in 1699. However, the planned new grand entrance to the palace on the north side of the Great Hall was thwarted by the death of the King in 1702 and remained unbuilt.

The main parts of the surviving palace built by Wren are Fountain Court, the East Front, the South Front, the King's and Queen's Apartments and the Orangery. The King's Apartments were badly affected by the disastrous fire of 1986 but have now been restored. In 1995 the newly restored Privy (Private) Garden was opened reproducing the layout of the garden originally laid out in 1702 and intended to be overlooked by the then newly constructed King's Apartments.

Further reading:

The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper No42, 1983
John Sheaf and Ken Howe, Hampton and Teddington Past, Historical Publications, 1995
Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects - 1600-1840, Yale, 1995 edition.

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