Tag Archives: Gresham College

The Royal Society (1660)

Hooke entertaining friends to dinner - Copy.jpg

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.   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.    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 of his house on Bishopsgate (now occupied by Tower 42).   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 Exchange (the 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.

The Royal Exchange

1 - The old Royal Exchange

On this day in 1566, the first stone of the original Royal Exchange was laid (*).

3 - Gresham

The building, modelled on the bourse in Antwerp, was the brainchild of the City financier and philanthropist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79).  Incidentally, Gresham also founded Gresham College, by bequest.  He is buried in the church of St Helen, Bishopsgate.

The Royal Exchange was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.  An eye-witness, one Thomas Vincent, wrote:

“The Royal Exchange itself, the glory of the merchants, is now invaded with much violence.  And when once the fire was entered, how quickly did it run round the galleries, filling them with flames; then descendeth the stairs, compasseth the walks, giving forth flaming volleys, and filleth the courts with sheets of fire.  By and by, down fall all the kings upon their faces, and the greatest part of the stone building after them, with such a noise as was dreadful and astonishing”.

A replacement building was built in 1669, and burnt down in 1838  …

2 - The new Royal Exchange

… and a second replacement was in turn built in 1844.

4 - Gresham's grasshopper symbol atop the Royal Exchange

The grasshopper on the top of the building is Gresham’s insignia.

(*)  Much to the disgust of native Londoners, the architect was a foreigner.  On a related note, a  census taken in the City on this day in 1567 revealed the presence of “40 Scots, 428 Frenchmen, 45 Spaniards, 140 Italians, 2030 Dutch, 44 Burgundians, 2 Danes and 1 Liegois”.

Open House London 2014 (Barnard’s Inn; Christ Church, Spitalfields; and St Pancras Old Church)

Porch

St Pancras Old Church

20th September 2014 – Open House London

(photos below all taken today by Bob Jones)

Barnard’s Inn

Barnard’s Inn, which  dates to the late fourteenth- or early fifteenth- century, is one of the Inns of Chancery, thought to have originated in the Medieval period as a place where chancery clerks were trained  – in the preparation of writs –  and also where they were housed.  By the middle of the fifteenth century,   it had become a place where students of the law could train as solicitors (lawyers who counsel their clients in chambers); and by 1530, it had become affiliated to Gray’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court, to which they might be “called to the bar” to train as barristers (lawyers who represent their clients in court).  By the eighteenth century, it had ceased to have much of a legal educational function, as by then students could enrol directly in an Inn of Court; and by 1892  it had become so  little used that it was sold to the Mercers Livery Company to house  the relocated Mercers School, which it did until 1959.  Since 1991, it  has housed  the relocated Gresham College.

Barnard's Inn Hall - exterior

Barnard’s Inn Hall – exterior

Barnard's Inn Hall - interior

Barnard’s Inn Hall – interior

Gresham College

Gresham College

Gresham portrait

Gresham portrait

Mercers School sign

Mercers School sign

Christ Church, Spitalfields

Christ Church, Spitalfields was built between 1714-29, as one of a proposed fifty new churches commissioned by an Act of Parliament in 1711 to meet the needs of the expanding population in what were then the extremities of London  (in the event, only twelve were actually built).  The church was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and is extraordinary both in its  containing form and in its contained space.  As the guide-book has it:

“Neat proportional systems seldom appear in the geometry of solids and voids on which his architecture especially depends”.

Detail of interior

Detail of interior

Exterior

Exterior

Interior

Interior

Interior with memorial to Edward Peck (d. 1736)

Interior with memorial to Edward Peck (d. 1736)

Interior with memorial to Robert Ladbroke (d. 1773)

Interior with memorial to Robert Ladbroke (d. 1773)

Interior with organ

Interior with organ

St Pancras Old Church

St Pancras Old Church may  legitimately lay a claim to being the oldest place of Christian worship in London, although almost all of its ancient  fabric was destroyed during the Victorian rebuilding  of 1847-48 (the church has also been restored, rather more sympathetically, a further four times since then – in 1888-95, in 1925, in 1948, and in 1977-81).

There are pieces of Roman tile incorporated into the surviving Norman north wall of the church, and it is possible, although not proven,  that these were taken from a late Roman, i.e., fourth-century, church that once stood on the site (which was perhaps previously the site of a pagan compitum or shrine, in a typical location for such  on elevated ground adjacent to a water-course). In 1955, the local historian Charles Lee even suggested a date “possibly as early as 313 or 314” (313 was the year of the issuing of the Edict of Milan, which ensured tolerance of Christianity; and 314 was the year of the Christian Council of Arles, known to have been attended by at least one representative from Roman London or Londinium, whose name was Restitutus).  Note also that 304 was the year that the patronal Pancras was martyred on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian.

There is also a Saxon altar-stone of Kentish Rag inlaid into  the Georgian altar-table.  The altar-stone, together with some fine pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean silver plate, was hidden away during the Civil War and Commonwealth of the mid-seventeenth century, and was only rediscovered during the rebuilding of the  nineteenth.   It depicts one large cross surrounded by  four smaller ones, making a total of five, symbolising  the number of wounds received by Christ on the cross.  The unusual form of the crosses, which have distal nodes, is reminiscent of that on the tomb on a small island in the Firth of Lorne of Columba’s mother Eithne, who died in 597.  It is thus suggestive of a date around  the time of the conversion of the Saxons by St Augustine, also in 597, and the construction of the first incarnation of St Paul’s Cathedral, in 604 (interestingly, the land on which the church stands was granted to  St Paul’s in 604 – by King Ethelbert).  This would make it significantly older than the Saxon arch in the church of All Hallows Barking or All Hallows by the Tower in the City of London, which dates to around 675.

Entrance

Entrance

Exterior

Exterior

Norman wall

Norman wall

Porch

Porch

Post-Medieval gravestone in interior

Post-Medieval gravestone in interior

Post-Medieval memorial in interior

Post-Medieval memorial in interior

Recycled Roman tile in Norman wall

Recycled Roman tile in Norman wall

Saxon altar-stone

Saxon altar-stone

Churchyard

The correspondingly atmospheric seventeenth- to early nineteenth- century churchyard contains a number of notable graves, including that of the philosopher and women’s  rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft, author of  “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (who died in 1792, ten days after giving birth to her daughter, also Mary, the author of “Frankenstein”), which was relocated from its original position during the construction of the nearby railway, at which time the body was disinterred, and reinterred in a family plot in Bournemouth; and that of the architect Sir John Soane (d. 1837).  It also contains an ornate  memorial to Baroness Burdett Coutts, who is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Burdett-Coutts memorial

Burdett-Coutts memorial

Wollstonecraft memorial

Wollstonecraft memorial