If you seek his monument, look around.
Celebrating the life and work of Sir Christopher Wren, a fascinating series of talks will take place across London in four of Wren’s greatest buildings, the Wren London Series, from July – October 2023. A speaker, or panel of speakers, will offer an in-depth perspective of Wren and his work at the Old Royal Naval College, St Paul’s Cathedral, Royal Hospital Chelsea, St James’s Piccadilly, and onboard a specially commissioned Uber Boat by Thames Clippers vessel. The Wren London Series is part of Wren 300, a year-long celebration of Wren’s tercentenary, life and works.
The Wren London Series starts at St Paul’s Cathedral on 4th July in the Wren Suite, with speakers Shahed Saleem, (architect and Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Cities, University of Westminster) and James Campbell (Professor of Architecture and Construction Theory, University of Cambridge; author of Building St Paul’s, Thames & Hudson) in conversation with St Paul’s Cathedral Head of Collections, Simon Carter. The talk will consider the practicalities and process of constructing Wren’s buildings, focusing on the remarkable craftsmen who made his designs a reality and underlining the collaborative nature of design and execution, as well as exploring what it means to build a dome in a place of worship. Book here.
On 5th July, a panel of speakers at Royal Hospital Chelsea, home since 1692 to the iconic Chelsea Pensioners, will host a unique conversation about health and wellbeing, “Broken by Age or War”: Bringing Wren’s Vision for Veteran Care into the 21st Century. This will explore design for health and well-being in the seventeenth century and the modern day, from historic ideas about contagion and cleanliness to the adaptation of the original building for contemporary use. Until the 17th century, the state made no provision for former soldiers. In 1681 Wren was charged with the construction and bringing the Royal Hospital Chelsea to contemporary medical understanding. The panel will discuss how Sir Christopher Wren’s vision for the British Military’s care holds up against modern standards of care. The panel will comprise Will Palin (CEO of Barts Heritage Trust), Christine Stevenson (Professor of Early Modern Art and Architecture, The Courtauld) and Peregrine Bryant and Laura Morgante (Directors of Peregrine Bryant Architects & Conservation). Book here.
On 1st September Uber Boat by Thames Clippers will host Wren by River, a unique one-hour boat tour led by Colin Thom, Director of the Survey of London, and a leading expert in London’s architectural history. Passengers will be treated to an introduction to Wren’s London legacy, from the incredible perspective of the river Thames. The boat tour will take passengers past Wren’s greatest hits by the river, including the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, St Paul’s Cathedral, Monument, and Royal Hospital Chelsea, as well as other historic riverside points of architectural interest. The boat will depart at 7.00pm from North Greenwich Pier and arrive at Battersea Power Station Pier at 8.00pm. A café bar will be available on board throughout the journey. Book here.
At the Old Royal Naval College on 20th September, Simon Thurley (historian, Chair of the National Lottery Heritage Fund) will give a talk about Wren the Courtier, exploring Wren’s position within Court under King William and Queen Mary, and his work for them including designing Greenwich Hospital (now the Old Royal Naval College) on commission from the monarch. Wren’s success was underpinned by his skill as a courtier, retaining the confidence of four monarchs despite socioeconomic turmoil. His life at court can be reconstructed and demonstrates his devotion to the architectural whims of the Stuart dynasty. By using Wren’s history as a courtier, leading architectural historian Simon Thurley will deliver a thorough lecture with new research, painting Wren’s talents and career in a new light. Book here.
The Wren London Series will conclude on 27th October at St James’s Piccadilly with a lecture by William Whyte (Professor of Social and Architectural History, University of Oxford). Whyte is an academic historian specialising in architecture and his lecture will focus on Wren’s ecclesiastical architecture, using the context of Wren’s family background and the need for a new ecclesiastical idiom prompted by the religious changes of the seventeenth century. This talk will be introduced by Sir Neil McGregor whose BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship in February explored the way in which Wren’s churches not only achieve beauty but provide different sorts of spaces for diverse congregations. Book here.
The Wren London Series will encompass many of the facets of Wren’s life and work as an architect, at some of his most significant sites in London. Most talks will be £10, with St James’s Piccadilly free but ticketed. The ticket for the boat trip talk will be £15.50, and a café bar will be available on board.
Wren300 thanks Olivia Horsfall Turner for her assistance in putting this series together and Tony Hales CBE for his generous support.