The Wren Office Drawings

The Collections
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The Wren Office Drawings

Wren Office Drawings
1673-1752

A collection of 226 drawings produced by Sir Christopher Wren and his draughtsmen, recording the design and construction of the present Cathedral. There are 217 drawings for St Paul’s and nine drawings of other buildings unconnected with the Cathedral, all of which are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. In addition to this there are 67 drawings held in the Wren Collection at All Souls College, Oxford, and a single plan at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.
 
The collection is believed to represent only a small part of what had been originally produced, for it contains very few executed designs and just one full-sized profile for construction, but it includes designs for the Great Model, 1673; designs from the first phase, 1675–1685; upper elevations and west end, c.1685–1694; designs for fittings for the Choir and Morning Prayer Chapel, c.1693–1697; designs for the dome, c.1687–1708; designs for the western towers, c.1685–1710; and designs for the churchyard and paving, c.1690–1713.
 
It was once thought that Wren finalised the whole design up to the roofline of the Cathedral before work began on the foundations in June 1675, but recent research on the activities of Wren’s draughtsmen in relation to the main phases of construction has established that he revised the design stage by stage as work moved from one part of the building to the next.
 
In the first phase, up to 1685, Wren planned the Cathedral with equal-length nave and choir arms and single-storey aisle walls. Soon after the accession of James II in 1685, when the Cathedral’s funding was increased, he enlarged the west end and added upper aisle walls (known as ‘screen walls’) to create an all-round two-storey elevation beneath a more richly modelled dome, wider and higher than the one he had designed at the start of work. The ‘Revised design’ of c.1685-1687 (as it is now known) was partly inspired by what Wren then knew, from drawings and engravings, of Jules Hardouin-Mansart’s domed church of Les Invalides in Paris, begun in 1677.
 
Between about 1690 and 1695, Wren progressively revised the dome to give the drum a 32-column peristyle and a sloping inner wall; and in about 1702, when construction was halfway up the peristyle, he added a concealed brick cone to support a tall stone lantern above a timber and lead-clad outer dome. Finally, in 1703-04, he revised the lanterns of the western towers to give them a more Baroque form, in contrast with the plainer treatment he had adopted for the outer dome, the covering of which was finished in 1710.
 
The entire design process depended on close collaboration between Wren and his draughtsmen. Often working in pairs, they produced finished or alternative schemes for his approval and made large-scale working drawings for construction. Amongst them were the master-masons Edward Pearce and Edward Strong, the surveyors Edward Woodroofe and William Dickinson, the engraver Simon Gribelin, the sculptors Grinling Gibbons and Caius Gabriel Cibber, and the future architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, the last being Wren’s most gifted and prolific draughtsman and the only one paid for such work in the building accounts.