architecture, church, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape, London

Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren died 300 years ago on 8 March 1723. The Folly Flâneuse thought she would mark the anniversary by looking at a two examples of his work that served as garden ornaments – once surplus to their original requirements.

Steel engraving of St Antholin’s, c.1830. ©The Trustees of the British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

In 1829 the churchwardens of St Antholin on Budge Row, rebuilt to a design by Wren after the Great Fire of London, were informed that the church was in need of repair, and that it was ‘indispensably necessary to take down and rebuild the upper part of the spire’. The Bishop of London was petitioned for permission to borrow the £1,000 needed to cover the cost of repairs to the church, and an appeal was then launched allowing work to begin. An entirely new spire was erected, leaving the old one in need of a new home…

The original spire was bought by a wealthy printer called Robert Harrild (1780-1853) and re-erected as an ornament in the garden of Round Hill, his villa at Sydenham in south London. Here he was laying out ‘extensive grounds’ on land he had reclaimed from ‘wild common’. And happily there it has remained, despite much of his former estate being developed for housing in the 1960s. The spire is listed at grade II and was restored in 2019.

The plaque erected in Budge Row when St Antholin’s was demolished. Now moved to St Mary Aldermary.

St Antholin’s replacement spire, as erected in 1829, did not have such a happy ending. Despite a public outcry, and an initial promise to leave the tower and spire standing, St Antholin’s was demolished in its entirety in 1875 to enable the construction of Queen Victoria Street. The tower and spire were sold to a building contractor for 5 Guineas and according to contemporary accounts he recouped his investment by selling the stone at 3 shillings a barrowload. This plaque originally marked the site of St Antholin’s on Budge Row, but was moved a short distance to the wall of St Mary Aldermary early this century.

View of Temple Bar, illustration to Malton’s ‘Picturesque Tour’, 1796. Etching and hand-colouring © The Trustees of the British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Temple Bar, completed in 1672, was one of the city gates designed by Wren. It stood on Fleet Street for two centuries, and was the last surviving city gate until it was taken down in 1878, with the carefully numbered stones being taken into storage.

Card postmarked 1905, courtesy of a private collection.

The masonry was acquired a decade later by Sir Henry Bruce Meux, who had the gate rebuilt as a feature on his estate at Theobalds in Hertfordshire. The move was unpopular, and throughout the 20th century there were appeals that it should be returned to the City of London. In 1911, following the death of Lady Meux, it was proposed to make the gate the centrepiece of a grand garden in front of the Adelphi Terrace, and in the 1950s the architectural practice of Seely and Paget proposed re-erecting it on Ludgate Hill. The eminent photographic studio of Bedford Lemere & Co. worked with the architects to create a photomontage of how the arch would look in its new location.

Seely & Paget’s proposal to erect the gate on Ludgate Hill, as brought to life in a photomontage created by Bedford Lemere & Co., 1950. Image ©RIBA Collections.

Each proposal failed until The Temple Bar Trust was established in 1976 with a new determination to save the deteriorating structure. With the support of the City of London Corporation, Temple Bar was eventually re-erected as part of the Paternoster Square development in 2004.

Temple Bar today, returned to the City of London.

You can read more about the Wren300 programme of events here

Tim Crawley’s 1998 bust of Wren on the entrance front of the Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts are always welcome – please scroll down to the comments section below to get in touch.




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13 thoughts on “Sir Christopher Wren”

  1. Gand says:

    Robert Harrild was not just a printer. He also designed printing machines. Perhaps his greatest innovation was the creation of the ink roller. Before rollers ink was applied with an ink ball and dabbed on the type. A skill but a time consuming one. When one was good at this one was said to be a dab hand.
    Several of Harrild and Co printing machines can be viewed at Bradford industrial museum.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Gand. I didn’t have room to cover Harrild’s career in the post, but I thought you might recognise the name. Thanks for this fascinating extra information.

      1. Sally Paque says:

        Another fascinating fact – a good quiz question!
        My husband & I met when working for Legal & General Assurance in the 60’s – their logo was Temple Bar where their Head Office was situated. We’ll have to go to Paternoster Square for old times’ sake!

        1. Editor says:

          Hello Sally, there are plenty of cafes in the square where you could reminisce in the shadow of Temple Bar! Thanks for getting in touch.

  2. Moira Garland says:

    More fascinating reading, thank you.
    And for the added info from Gand. I’ve yet to visit Bradford’s industrial museum but that piques my interest.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Moira. I encourage you to visit the Industrial Museum to see the collection. You might even be lucky enough to bump into Gand or one of his colleagues demonstrating the printing presses.

      1. Moirs says:

        Oh I’d like that!

        1. Gand says:

          Best days for demonstrations are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

  3. Charles Cowling says:

    Well I never. That’s what I thought when I read this. To be fair, FF, it’s what I usually think when I read your weekly account, but this week you surpass yourself. You wear your meticulous research lightly and your prose is always elegant. I especially enjoyed this piece.

    I relate to Wren in a different way from most people having for some years lived on the Isle of Portland, whence all his dazzling white limestone came and where his insatiable quarrying has left a great deal of negative space on, especially, the NE side of the island. Portland is a wild, weird and much hacked place, the very obverse of St Paul’s and countless other ceremonial buildings. But Portlanders are very proud of the association.

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Charles, and thank you so much for your kind comments which are very much appreciated. I don’t know the Isle of Portland well. I had a brief visit to the area last year, and I hope to return to explore further whenever I can squeeze it into my flaneusing. Thanks to you I will definitely think of Wren when I survey the landscape.

  4. Rosemary Hill says:

    So much new material on such a (supposedly) familiar subject, thank-you again. As a South Londoner I’d like to go and pay homage to the spire of St Antolin -could you help with a more precise location in Sydenham?
    Keep up the good work -it’s always such a treat.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Rosemary. I’m so pleased you have been inspired to visit the Spire. It’s on Round Hill, Forest Hill/Sydenham and not hard to find. I hope you enjoy visiting it and are as lucky with the weather as I was.

      1. Rosemary Hill says:

        Thank you -will do. Today not promising for weather -fingers crossed for next week.

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