Wren 300 at Wadham

Posted on: May 9th, 2023 by wrenEditor

On Saturday June 24th Wadham marks the 300th anniversary of the death Sir Christopher Wren, 1632-1723, Wadham’s most famous alumnus, with a symposium led by leading scholars, an exhibition of Wren material from the College library and a Wren-themed walking tour of Oxford. The events are part of the 2023 national ‘Wren 300’ programme assisted by Rory Coonan (English, 1973), an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and former director of architecture at the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Christopher Wren came up to Wadham in 1649/50 (the precise date is uncertain) during the English civil wars and following the execution of Charles I. His father was Dean of Windsor; the family was devoted to the Royalist cause. The young Christopher already enjoyed a reputation as a child prodigy in mathematics and geometry. At Wadham he was part of the group of ‘experimental philosophers’ encouraged by the Warden, John Wilkins (1614-72). Wilkins created an informal ‘Philosophical Club’ whose members were at the forefront of what came to be termed ‘science’. It offered a challenge to the ‘Schools’ of ancient learning. The group met in the Warden’s lodgings. Apart from Wren, it included Seth Ward, Thomas Willis, the Irish scientist Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke. The Club formed the nucleus of what became the Royal Society, of which Wren was second President.

Wren’s principal claims to fame rest on his unsurpassed achievements as Surveyor-General to six monarchs, as the architect of St Paul’s cathedral, the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, the designer of 52 City churches and author of the masterplan to re-build London after the great fire of 1666. His most famous buildings remain today at the centre of national life and ceremonials. He taught himself architecture with the aid of books. However, even if Wren had never designed a single building, he would still enjoy a distinguished place in the history of physiology, meteorology, drawing, engineering, geometry, mathematics and astronomy. (Wren was appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford at the age of 25.)

The Wren 300 Symposium at Wadham will explore the astonishing breadth of Wren’s interests and achievements before he took up architecture in his 30s. It will also examine his continuing influence on leading contemporary British architects.


The syposium will take place between 10am and 2pm on Saturday 24 June, and includes a short lunch break and exhibition. Full session timings will be confirmed in due course. For those remaining in Oxford on the morning of Sunday 25 June, we are delighted also to offer a guided walking tour: ‘The Oxford of Christopher Wren’.

Please contact development.team@wadham.ox.ac.uk if you would like to join the tour.

Known to millions as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Christopher Wren’s early years were spent in Oxford where he arrived at Wadham College as a ‘gentleman commoner’ in 1649/50. This tour will start from Wadham and stroll past the Garden Quad at Trinity College, which was originally designed by Wren in the 1660s. In the same decade (and while working as the Savilian Professor of Astronomy), Wren was invited to submit designs for the impressive Sheldonian Theatre in Broad Street. After spending some time looking at the Sheldonian and walking past the gateway to All Souls in Radcliffe Square, we will move onwards to Christ Church and Wren’s Tom Tower, a key feature of the Oxford skyline. Over the course of 60 minutes, you will see Wren’s most important Oxford buildings, learn some Oxford secrets and find out more about the man described as ‘the greatest architect Britain has ever known’ and a ‘towering genius’.

Lizzy Rowe is an art historian who studied Classics at Oxford University before completing an MA in Classical and Byzantine Art at the Courtauld Institute in London. Initially an editor in book-publishing, she later worked at English Heritage as a guidebook editor. She currently lives in Oxford where she teaches Art History in primary schools and gives guided tours and talks.

She is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic speaker on a wide variety of art-related subjects. Her particular interest is in the exploring the art collections of the Oxford colleges, where many treasures can be found in chapels, dining halls and libraries.

Speaker biographies

We are delighted to confirm that the symposium will be moderated by Dr Jane Garnett, Fellow in History. She will be joined by the following speakers:

Katherine Blundell OBE

Katherine Blundell is a professor of astrophysics at Oxford University. She is also Gresham Professor of Astronomy, in direct line of succession to Wren himself in this post. She is a research fellow at St John’s College, Oxford. She was educated at Cambridge University. Her publications include Black Holes: A Very Short Introduction. She is a recipient of the Royal Society’s Rosalind Franklin Award.

Diana Darke (Arabic, 1974)

Diana Darke is an author and Middle East cultural specialist. After Wadham, she studied Islamic art and architecture at SOAS. Her publications include My House in Damascus: an inside view of the Syrian crisis (2016); Stealing from the Saracens: how Islamic architecture shaped Europe (2020) and The Ottomans: a cultural legacy (2022). She spent 35 years working in the Middle East for both government and commercial sectors. She is a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, an independent body in Washington DC, USA.

Eric Parry RA

Eric Parry is an internationally recognised British architect. Noteworthy projects include the 1993 extension of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Wren’s first architectural commission (1665). In 2008 Eric Parry led the restoration and renewal of St Martin in the Fields. His work has been exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the British School at Rome and the Royal Academy. Eric Parry was educated at the Royal College of Art and later taught architecture at Cambridge University (Peterhouse).

Tim Riley

Tim Riley is an art historian and Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum, designated by Congress, in Fulton, Missouri, USA. The Museum, at Westminster College, includes the reconstructed Wren Church of St Mary, Aldermanbury.

Matthew Walker (Ancient & Modern History, 2000)

Matthew Walker is co-editor of Wren’s correspondence (due to be published in 2023/24) and a Wadham alumnus. He joined Queen Mary, University of London, in 2018, having taught in the architecture school of the University of New Mexico and in the art history department at Oxford, where he held an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral fellowship. Wren is the last of the ‘Royal Society group’ to have their correspondence published.

Booking details

By invitation only to Wadham 1610 Society members and recent benefactors. A limited number of additional tickets will be available on a first come, first served basis. For booking enquiries, please email us at development.team@wadham.ox.ac.uk

Email invitations are due to be sent 24th April.

Guests: One per alumnus

Wren Conversations: His International Influence and Contemporary Relevance

Posted on: January 3rd, 2023 by wrenEditor

From India to the USA Wren’s influence can be seen in buildings around the world. Ranging from the clapboard churches of New England to the city halls of Belfast and Durban. In this conversation chaired by Edwin Heathcote, architecture critic at the Financial Times, speakers will discuss whether Wren was Britain’s first ‘starchitect’ and to what extent the international ‘Wrenaissance’ should be considered the language of British colonial architecture. The panel will also consider if 300 years after his death, Wren is still relevant to contemporary architecture.

Ticket proceeds will go towards the Square Mile Churches and World Monuments Fund Britain.

Chair: Edwin Heathcote

Edwin Heathcote is the architecture and design critic of The Financial Times. He is an architect and designer and the author of over a dozen books including The Meaning of Home (2012). He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of online design writing archive Readingdesign.org and a columnist and contributor to a number of magazines, including GQ and Icon.

Panellists include:

Annabelle Selldorf

Annabelle Selldorf is the Principal of Selldorf Architects, which she founded in 1988. Ms. Selldorf serves as lead designer on each of the firm’s projects. Born and raised in Germany, she received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Pratt Institute and a Master of Architecture degree from Syracuse University in Florence, Italy. Ms. Selldorf is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and serves on the Board of the Architectural League of New York, the World Monuments Fund, the Chinati Foundation, and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

Selldorf Architects are currently working on a series of sensitive adaptations to a series of buildings at The National Gallery, London. Coinciding with the Gallery’s Bicentenary in 2024, the projects will create a world-class welcome to the millions of visitors it receives each year.

Loyd Grossman

Loyd Grossman CBE is an entrepreneur, author and broadcaster. Born in Boston in 1950, he began his career as a journalist writing for music publications including Rolling Stone, Fusion, and Vibrations whilst studying as an undergraduate at Boston University (BA).

He has a lifelong interest in history, the arts and heritage, receiving a PhD from the University of Cambridge and serving on the board of a number of cultural institutions including English Heritage, the British School at Rome and the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association. He is Chairman of The Royal Parks, President of The Arts Society and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He founded the 24 Hour Museum (now Culture 24) and was its Chairman until 2005. In June 2015 he was appointed CBE in recognition of his services to Heritage.

Alex Bremner

Alex Bremner is Professor of Architectural History at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the history of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, with a special interest in British imperial and colonial architecture. His books include Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, c.1840-70 (2013), Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire (2016, 2020), and Building Greater Britain: Architecture, Imperialism, and the Edwardian Baroque Revival, c.1885-1920 (2022).

 Ticket proceeds will go towards the Square Mile Churches and World Monuments Fund Britain.

Supported by William J. Loschert KSG

Wren Conversations: Building Cities

Posted on: January 3rd, 2023 by wrenEditor

Three days after the Great Fire in 1666, Wren presented the King with his plan for rebuilding the City of London.  It never came to fruition and instead Wren introduced a wholly new architectural style, building 51 churches mainly on mediaeval foundations.  This conversation will discuss the opportunities and challenges of designing buildings in historic settings such as the City of London and touch on concerns such as pollution in cities in Wren’s time and today, City infrastructure, the needs of the community, and the future of City churches.

This event is free – booking essential.

Chair: Sir David Bell

Between 1995 and 2002, Sir David Bell was Chairman of the Millennium Bridge Trust, responsible for conceiving the first new bridge across the Thames in the centre of London for 100 years.

Panellists include:

Amanda Levete

Amanda Levete CBE is a RIBA Stirling Prize winning architect and founder and principal of AL_A, an international award-winning design and architecture studio. Since its formation in 2009, AL_A has refined an intuitive and strategic approach to design. Collaborating with ambitious and visionary clients, AL_A develop designs that are conceptualised not just as buildings, but as urban propositions – projects that express the identity of an institution, reflect the ambitions of a place, and hold the dreams of a community.

Sumayya Vally

Sumayya Vally is an award-winning architect and founder of Counterspace. Vally’s design, research and pedagogical practice is searching for expression for hybrid identities and contested territory, particularly for African and Islamic conditions. Her process is often forensic and draws on the oral, aural, sound, ritual, supernatural, and the overlooked as generative places of history and work.

In 2019, Counterspace was invited to design the 20th Serpentine Pavilion in London, making Vally the youngest architect ever to win this internationally renowned commission. With the Serpentine, she has initiated and developed a new fellowship program, Support Structures for Support Structures, which assists artists and collectives working at the intersection of art with social justice, the archive, and ecology. As Artistic Director, Vally is currently working on curating the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale taking place in Jeddah in January 2023.

Rab Bennetts

Rab Bennetts co-founded Bennetts Associates in 1987 with his partner Denise Bennetts and established its reputation for architecture and professionalism at the highest level. To date, the practice has accrued almost 200 awards, including being shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize three times and winning UK Architect of the Year on four occasions.

Since the early 1990s, Rab has pioneered the link between sustainable design and high-quality architecture, and is a founder of the UK Green Building Council. He continues to take a personal, hands-on approach to projects, fostering a collaborative spirit throughout the practice’s activities.

Kate Murphy

Kate Murphy is a Senior Partner at Foster + Partners, a global studio for sustainable architecture, urbanism, engineering and design, founded by Norman Foster in 1967. With over 20 years of experience on a variety of project types and scales, ranging from cultural buildings to high-rise towers, Kate’s speciality is the regeneration of historic buildings to give them a sustainable future.

Kate had a senior role in the European Headquarters for Bloomberg, a major office building on one of the most sensitive and historic sites in the City of London. Kate was responsible for successfully delivering the significant levels of innovation that enabled the building to achieve BREEAM Outstanding with the highest design score ever awarded for an office building.

Additional panellists to be confirmed.

This event is free – booking essential.


This event is supported by Bloomberg and William J. Loschert KSG


Wren Conversations: Wren and his Contemporaries

Posted on: January 3rd, 2023 by wrenEditor

Led by Harry Mount, architectural historian and editor of The Oldie, the evening will include a discussion about the context Wren was working in, and other key figures of the period, such as Nicholas Hawksmoor, Robert Hooke and Grinling Gibbons; the role and influence of the parishioners, the Church and the King; and diarists, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. 

Chair: Harry Mount

Harry Mount, the Oldie editor, has recently written Et Tu, Brute? The best Latin Lines Ever (Bloomsbury) with John Davie. Other books include A Lust For Window Sills; and Amo, Amas, Amat and All That. He writes for the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Spectator and many other newspapers and magazines. He was a leader writer and New York correspondent at the Telegraph.

Panellists include:

John Goodall

John Goodall is the architectural editor of Country Life. He is responsible for writing and commissioning the celebrated series of architectural features published in the magazine every week.

John has been involved in various television series on history and architecture. He was the series consultant for the BBC1 television series on architecture presented by David Dimbleby, The Way We Built Britain (2007).

Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones is a presenter, writer and broadcaster. In the early 1980s he worked on the BBC television comedy sketch shows Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith & Jones alongside Mel Smith. Griff is a passionate advocate of heritage preservation, appointments include President of Civic Voice, President of the Victorian Society, Patron of the Stour and Orwell Trust.

Dr Anna Keay

Dr Anna Keay is a 17th century historian, She read modern history at Magdalen College, Oxford, where she won two academic  scholarships. Her PhD on court ceremonial in the reign of Charles II was supervised by Professor John Miller at Queen Mary, University of London

From 1996 to 2002 Anna worked as a curator for Historic Royal Palaces, which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House in Whitehall. From 2002 until 2012 she was Properties Presentation and then Curatorial Director of English Heritage, responsible for curating and presenting to the public 420 historic sites across England, from Stonehenge to Kenwood House. She is now Director of The Landmark Trust.

Ticket proceeds will go towards the Square Mile Churches and World Monuments Fund Britain.

Supported by William J. Loschert KSG

The Georgian Group 2023 Symposium

Posted on: October 19th, 2022 by wrenEditor

A central focus of the Wren 300 Festival is The Georgian Group’s 2023 Symposium led by Geoffrey Tyack of Oxford University.

Across an immersive full day, Wren’s late work from 1690 to 1723, his subsequent reputation and design legacy will be considered by leading scholars.

Public tickets include a buffet lunch and drinks reception and will be available to book directly from The Georgian Group from Thu 1 Dec 2022 when the day’s full programme will also be published.

The Professional World of Sir Christopher Wren

Posted on: September 23rd, 2022 by wrenAdmin

In April 1719, towards the end of his long life, Sir Christopher Wren wrote a letter to his former paymasters, the Lords of the Treasury. Reflecting on his fifty-year career, Wren told the Lords that he had ‘worn out (by God’s Mercy) a long life in Royal Service’, he then added that it was because of this service that he had ultimately ‘made some figure in the world’. Looking back, then, Wren saw his life as one defined principally by service to the Church and to the Crown, and these institutional duties occupied him for almost his entire professional life.

This conference, organised to celebrate the Tercentenary of his death in 1723, will investigate, in detail, this crucial aspect of Wren and his architecture. Bringing together major scholars of Wren, and his broader professional milieu, the conference will present a series of papers that will shed much new light on the commitment and leadership that Wren brought to all his official positions; as the head of the Office of Works, and as the driving force behind the design and building of the City Churches and St Paul’s Cathedral. The conference will explore the numerous designs that Wren produced for these offices, the administrative reforms that he introduced into all of them, and the identities and roles played by the draftsmen, officers, and craftsmen that he employed. In all, we will demonstrate that we cannot in any way understand Wren, his architecture, and his legacy, without fully understanding his professional world.