Tag Archives: Christopher Wren

Robert Hooke and his “Microscopicall Observations” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

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On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Before I went to bed I sat up till  two o’clock in my chamber reading of Mr Hooke’s Microscopicall Observations [Micrographia], the most  ingenious book that ever I read in my life”.

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Robert Hooke was elsewhere memorably described by Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”.

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He was evidently a brilliant, but curmudgeonly, polymath: not only  a pioneer microscopist, but also one of the founder members of the Royal Society  in 1660, and an architect, who worked alongside Wren  on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666 (*).

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Monument, where there is a memorial to him, is visited on various of our walks, including the “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London” and “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

(*) Readers interested in further details of the life and works of this extraordinary man are referred to the biography entitled “The Curious Life of Robert Hooke … “ by the late Lisa Jardine, originally published by HarperCollins in 2003.

The second Great Fire of London

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On this day in 1940, an air raid by the German Luftwaffe led  to the so-called “Second Great Fire of London” (see  M.J. Gaskin’s “Blitz”, published by Faber & Faber in 2005;  see also September 16th, 2015 posting on “The London Blitz, and the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps“). Tens of thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, and the small individual fires that they set off soon coalesced into a great conflagration that threatened the entire city centre.  Over 200 people were killed, and damage to property was on a then unprecedented scale.  The area around St Paul’s was essentially razed to the ground, and although the cathedral itself miraculously survived essentially intact, due to the heroic actions of the firefighters of the St Paul’s Watch, a number of other Wren churches were seriously damaged, and two, St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, were substantially destroyed.  Remarkably, St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt, out of salvaged material, and according to Wren’s original design, in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1966 (as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946).

The sites of St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street are visited on our “Lost Wren Churches” themed special.  Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.  Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

These and other sites associated with the raid are visited on one of the walks organised by our friends at “Blitzwalkers” (http://www.blitzwalkers.co.uk).

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666  (Samuel Pepys, 1666)

On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[T]hrough the City … , observing the ruins … .  So … to the [rebuilt] Upper ‘Change, which is almost as good as the old one; only shops are but on one side”.

Remarkably, a matter of mere  weeks after the devastating Great Fire of September 2nd-6th, the City was already getting back on its feet and beginning to function as normal again.

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It would be over forty years, though,  before the  rebuilding process was completed, with Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral only finally topping out on October 26th, 1708, and not officially opening until Christmas Day, December 25th, 1711.  Wren’s grandiose plans for the redesigning of the layout of London after the Great Fire (see December 21st posting) were eventually  abandoned on the grounds of practicality and expediency in favour of  one involving much less legal wrangling and groundwork, and much more like the old one.  The  new City was to differ from the old one, though, in several  important respects.  The old narrow streets were to be replaced with new wide ones, designed to  simultaneously hinder the spread of fire and unencumber the flow of traffic.  The  old  houses were to be replaced by new ones of four categories of standard build, of fire-proof stone and brick rather than timber; and the old  breeding-grounds for disease were to be swept aside in the process, although incidentally rather than  by design.  And, as another incidental, the old organic economy was to be replaced by a modern mineral economy, considerably ahead of its time, fuelled by coal rather than wood.  The cost of the entire enterprise, incidentally, was covered by an emergency  tax on coal imposed by Act of Parliament.

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire … ” and “Lost Wren Churches” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

“How fine this would have been” (Vita Sackville-West, 1926)

On this day in 1926, Vita Sackville-West wrote, in a letter to Virginia Woolf:

“… What I think of when I walk down the Strand is: how fine this would have been if Wren’s plans for rebuilding London after the Great Fire had been adopted.  Steps to the river, and all that – and a broad thoroughfare … ”.

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Wren’s grandiose plans for the redesigning of the layout of London after the Great Fire of 1666, if fully implemented,  would have given it a radically new look and feel, much more like  that of the great European cities of the day, with their uniform architecture, broad boulevards and open piazzas.  But they  were soon essentially abandoned on the grounds of practicality and expendiency in favour of  one involving much less legal wrangling and groundwork, and much more like the old one.   So in some ways the City that might have been never came to be, and  that that had been would come  to be again:  for the most part neither  particularly beautiful nor harmonious, but, rather,   “lived in”  and fractious; and yet, familiar and loved.

Wren’s plans for redesigning London after the Great Fire are reviewed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire … ” and “Lost Wren Churches” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The Royal Society (1660)

On this day in 1660 was founded the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, nowadays generally known simply as the Royal Society.  The purpose of the Society, according to its Charter, was and is “To improve the knowledge of all natural things, and all useful Arts, manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines and Inventions by Experiments – (not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar [or spelling, presumably], Rhetorick or Logick)”.

The founder members of the Society included Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Robert Moray, John Wilkins, and William, Viscount Brouncker.

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Christopher Wren was an architect and a  member of an aristocratic family who had finally found favour in the Restoration, after years in the wilderness during the Protectorate and Commonwealth.  He was also an anatomist and astronomer (one wonders whether he, like Sartre’s autodidact, acquired his learning by reading an encyclopaedia, starting with the letter “A”); a follower of the “New Philosophy” of Francis Bacon; and, in short, an archetypal (English) Renaissance Man.

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Hooke was another architect, who worked alongside Wren on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666.  He was also a pioneer microscopist and polymath, although curmudgeonly as well as brilliant, and memorably described by  Samuel Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”.

The Society’s first meetings were held at Gresham College, founded by a bequest by the financier and philanthropist Thomas Gresham, on the site now occupied by Tower 42 on Bishopsgate.   Available to it here was not only a  room for its meetings, but also a separate room for its anniversary elections, another for its Repository and Museum of Curiosities, a Gallery, and a Great Hall.  Meetings were temporarily suspended in 1665 on account of the outbreak of Plague, and then temporarily moved to Arundel House after the Great Fire of 1666, when  the business of Gresham’s Royal Exchange, which had been burnt down, was moved to Gresham College, which had survived.

The Society’s meeting place and headquarters was later at Crane Court, from 1710-1780, at Somerset House,  from 1780-1857, and at Burlington House, from 1857-1967, and  has been at Carlton House Terrace since 1967.

Lightning strikes (St Paul’s)

On this day in 1444, the spire of Old St Paul’s was destroyed by lightning.  A replacement spire was completed in 1462, and itself destroyed by lightning in 1561 (see also July 2nd posting ).

There have been five  cathedrals on the site of the present St Paul’s (see also  November 27th and December 2nd postings).

The first was built  in 604, shortly  after the first Christian mission under St Augustine landed in Kent, by the King of Kent, Ethelburg, for the Bishop of London, Mellitus, and destroyed by fire in 675.

The   second, the Church of Paulesbyri, was built between 675-85  by the Bishop, Erkenwald,  and destroyed by the Vikings in 962.

The  third was built in 962, and destroyed by fire in 1087.

The  fourth, Old St Paul’s, was built in the Norman, or Romanesque, to Early Gothic styles in the years after  1087 by the  Bishop, Maurice and his successors; rebuilt and extended in the Gothic style in 1221-1240,  and in the “New Work” of 1269-1332; renovated in the Renaissance  style by Inigo Jones in 1633-1641, and again by Wren, after the Civil War, during which it had been occupied by  Parliamentary troops and horses, in 1660; and burnt down in  the Great Fire of 1666.  There is a model of Old St Paul’s in the Museum of London.  It was clearly an impressive building, measuring some 600’ in length, and rising to a height of between 460-520’ (estimates vary),  inclusive of the spire.  As John Denham wrote in 1624:   “That sacred pile, so vast, so high/That whether ‘tis a part of earth or sky/Uncertain seems, and may be thought a proud/Aspiring mountain or descending cloud … ”.

The fifth, present cathedral  was built in the Baroque style by Wren between 1675-1711, after its immediate predecessor was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.  It famously survived the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War essentially intact: some would say due to divine intervention; others,  due to the heroism of the St Paul’s Watch, who extinguished around 30 fires caused by incendiary bombs on the night of Sunday 29th December 1940 alone.

There are a great many important memorials in the interior of the cathedral.  The one in the south quire aisle to  the metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) survived the Great Fire of 1666, although if you look carefully, you can still see scorch-marks around  its base!  The ones in the crypt to, among others, Nicholas Bacon (d. 1579), father of Francis, and Thomas Heneage (d. 1594), stepfather of Shakespeare’s patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, also survived the fire, although again not without a certain amount of charring!

St Paul’s is visited, although not entered, on our “London Wall”, “Tower to Temple”, “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn”, and “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walks.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

The Royal Society

November 28th –  On this day in 1660 was founded the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, nowadays generally known simply as the Royal Society.  The purpose of the Society, according to its Charter, was and is “To improve the knowledge of all natural things, and all useful Arts, manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines and Inventions by Experiments – (not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar [or spelling, presumably], Rhetorick or Logick)”.

Modern portrait of Robert Hooke

Modern portrait of Robert Hooke by Rita Greer

The founder members of the Society included Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Robert Moray, John Wilkins, and William, Viscount Brouncker.   Wren was an architect and a  member of an aristocratic family who had finally found favour in the Restoration, after years in the wilderness during the Protectorate and Commonwealth.  He was also an anatomist and astronomer (one wonders whether he, like Sartre’s autodidact, acquired his learning by reading an encyclopaedia, starting with the letter “A”); a follower of the “New Philosophy” of Francis Bacon; and, in short, an archetypal (English) Renaissance Man.    Hooke was another architect, who worked alongside Wren on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666.  He was also a pioneer microscopist and polymath, although curmudgeonly as well as brilliant, and memorably  described by  Samuel Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”.

The Society’s first meetings were held at Gresham College, founded by a bequest by the financier and philanthropist Thomas Gresham, on the site now occupied by Tower 42 on Bishopsgate.    Available to it here was not only a  room for its meetings, but also a separate room for its anniversary elections, another for its Repository and Museum of Curiosities, a Gallery, and a Great Hall.  Meetings were temporarily suspended in 1665 on account of the outbreak of Plague, and then temporarily moved to Arundel House after the Great Fire of 1666, when  the business of Gresham’s Royal Exchange, which had been burnt down, was moved to Gresham College, which had survived.

The Society’s meeting place and headquarters was later at Crane Court, from 1710-1780, at Somerset House,  from 1780-1857, and at Burlington House, from 1857-1967, and  has been at Carlton House Terrace since 1967.

Bust of Sir Christopher Wren

Bust of Wren, in the Wren Library, St Paul’s Cathedral

Link to other related blog posts:

A Plaque dedicated to Hooke is featured in my Blog ‘Blue is the New Plaque’  here

The blog about my visit to the Wren Library in St Paul’s Cathedral – Open House London –   here