Cambridge University

Ax:son Johnson Centre for the Study of Classical Architecture

The Professional World of Sir Christopher Wren

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The Professional World of Sir Christopher Wren

FRIDAY, 22 September 2023

from 9:30 – 18:00 (GMT) 

Downing College, University of Cambridge


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.

St Paul's Cathedral, London (Photo by Deans)
Wren's Pre-fire design for rebuilding St Paul's, 1666 [AS II.7 © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, CC-BY-NC 4.0]


9:30  Registration with coffee and tea in the Howard Theatre (Grace Howard room, ground floor)

10:00 Welcome and introduction (Theatre, first floor)

Frank Salmon, Director of CSCA, St John’s College, University of Cambridge

10:10 Opening Address

Anthony Geraghty, University of York


Session I

Chair: James Campbell, Queen’s College, University of Cambridge

‘Articulating Craft Practice in the Circle of Sir Christopher Wren’ by Christine Casey, Trinity College, Dublin

‘Ornamenting a Wren Building: The Role of Sculptors’ by Charlotte Davis, University of York

‘Wren in the Domestic Sphere. Recent Discoveries’ by Richard Hewlings, Independent Scholar


Coffee break (Grace Howard room, ground floor)


Session II 

Chair: Anthony Gerbino, University of Manchester

‘Wren in Control: Mathematics in Streater’s Ceiling in the Sheldonian’ by Martin Kemp, University of Oxford 

‘Wren, Hooke, and the Mathematisation of Craft Knowledge’ by Yelda Nasifoglu, University of Oxford



13:00  Buffet lunch (Grace Howard room, ground floor)


Session III 

Chair: Mark Kirby, Lincoln College, Oxford

‘‘Masons and Carpenters at the City Churches’ by Luka Pajovic, CSCA, Downing College, University of Cambridge

‘An Objective Reappraisal of the Warrant Design’ by Elizabeth Deans, CSCA, Downing College, University of Cambridge

‘Wren’s Professional World after the Death of Queen Mary II in December 1694’ by Gordon Higgott, Independent Scholar

Coffee break  (Grace Howard room, ground floor)


15:30   Closing Address

‘Wren, a Life in Service’ by Matthew Walker, Queen Mary University of London

16:15   Drinks reception (Grace Howard room, ground floor)

           Exhibition viewing

           Walk to Wren Chapel at Emmanuel College (10-min walk)

18:30   Historic sermon (Wren Chapel, Emmanuel College)

           Revd Jeremy Caddick, Emmanuel College, Cambridge




The conference will include an exhibition of architectural drawings in honour of Sir Christopher Wren. It will feature the work of Luka Pajovic, CSCA PhD student, and Minty Sainsbury, a London-based artist and Cambridge alumna, and Chris Henton, an architectural illustrator and CSCA logo artist.

St Stephen's Walbrook by Luka Pajovic
St Mary le Bow by Minty Sainsbury
Trinity Library (CSCA logo) by Chris Henton

Sermon in the Wren Chapel

The end of the conference will be marked by a historic sermon delivered in the Restoration interior of Wren’s chapel at Emmanuel. The words of Dean William Sancroft, a central figure in Sir Christopher Wren’s life, will be read by Revd Jeremy Caddick, Dean and Chaplain of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Emmanuel College Chapel by David Loggan, c. 1690
Interior of the 'Wren Chapel'


General registration:     £35

Student registration:     £25

The cost of registration includes entrance to conference and exhibition, coffee, tea, and refreshments during session breaks, a light buffet lunch, and champagne reception with canapes at the end of the day.

Register on eventbrite:

Practical details


If you are staying overnight in Cambridge and require hotel accommodation, we recommend the University Arms, located directly across Regent Street from Downing College as well as the Ibis Hotel at the Cambridge Rail Station, which is about a 15-minute walk to Downing College. Please kindly note that the conference is not holding rooms for attendees.


If you are planning on arriving in Cambridge by car, there are public parking facilities available in Cambridge. Click here for more information. Please note that unless you are a member of Downing College, no parking is available on site. 

This conference is part of the WREN | 300 celebrations. More information can be found here: