London’s Wren-connected streets: from Wren Street to Pineapple Court

As today is Sir Christopher Wren’s birthday, let’s take a look at some of the London streets with a connection, obvious or not so obvious, to him. First, speaking of obvious connections, as @oldmapman pointed out, there is a Wren Street in Bloomsbury, so named because Wren once lived there.

St Mary at Hill takes its name from the church there, which dates back to at least the 12th century and was called ‘on the hill’ because of the steep ascent from the Thames. It was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, and was rebuilt by Wren.

Not a street, but a building: the Royal Hospital, now home to the Chelsea Pensioners, was built by Wren. For many years, there was a rumour that Nell Gwynn had beseeched Charles to build the hospital after she heard had been moved by the story of an injured soldier. Once the hospital had been built, old soldiers there would toast Nell as their benefactress.

Lamb’s Conduit Street involves a conduit provided for the residents of the area by 16th-century William Lambe, “a rich citizen and clothworker”. He spent a vast sum of his own money to have several springs connected to form a head of water, which was then conveyed by a lead pipe around 2,000 yards long to Snow Hill where a derelict conduit was rebuilt. The conduit was damaged in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt the following year from a design by Sir Christopher Wren.

Czar Street in Deptford was named for Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, who lodged here at the end of the 17th century, a tenant (by means of various sublets) of the diarist John Evelyn, who had moved to Deptford to escape the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. The Czar did not treat the house or garden in a seemly manner and Evelyn later wrote of his  “now ruined garden, thanks to the Czar of Moscovy”. The government later agreed to compensate him and Christopher Wren, along with the King’s gardener, was assigned the job of assessing the situation and supervising those repairs that were possible.

The church of St Peter’s Cornhill was, for a time, considered to be the oldest church in England and has the only chancel-screen known to have been designed by Christopher Wren. The church is possibly more famous for its view of a building with three 19th-century gargoyles known as the Cornhill Devils. These are, supposedly, an architect’s revenge on an obstreperous rector.

When the buildings in that area were being designed, the rector of the time discovered that one of the buildings would encroach fractionally on church land. He insisted the plans be redrawn so, forced literally back to the drawing board, and facing no small expense as a result, the architect gave one of the gargoyles the face of the rector.

Queen Victoria Street (named for Queen Victoria), which runs from Cheapside to Victoria Embankment (also named for the queen) and is roughly parallel to the Thames, was originally part of Wren’s plans for rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. However, it was more than two centuries before the street was built; it was officially opened in 1871 and was fitted with the first permanent electric lighting system in the City.

The parish church of St James Garlickhythe was yet another building destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren. The church is home to Jimmy Garlick, an almost perfectly mummified corpse, discovered in 1839 when workmen were closing up the old vaults. It is possible that he is (or, rather, was) either Richard Rothing, who built the original church, or one of the six early Lord Mayors of London who were buried there.

From the obvious connection of Wren Street to the tenuous link (yes, I had to get one of those in) of Pineapple Court, which took its name from the fruit, which was introduced to England in the 17th century;. Like the artichoke, its shape and novelty made it popular on signs, especially those of confectioners. Christopher Wren was said to be so taken with the shape that he adopted it in the decorations of all his buildings (though many of them resemble acorns more than pineapples).

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One thought on “London’s Wren-connected streets: from Wren Street to Pineapple Court

  1. A fitting tribute to Wren, Elizabeth, and as interesting as ever.

    I went to school for a time (1957) in Evelyn Street, Deptford, which Czar Street runs off of, via New King Street. I knew of the connection with both the diarist, and the regal Russian ship-builder.

    My regret is that Evelyn was a Royalist, and a fervent supporter of Charles I
    Best wishes, Pete.

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