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13 November 2014

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You are in: Berkshire > Places > Places features > Did Sir Christopher Wren really live there?

Sir Christopher Wren (1632 - 1723)

Sir Christopher Wren (1632 - 1723)

Did Sir Christopher Wren really live there?

A hotel in Windsor claims that the great architect Sir Christopher Wren built the property in 1676 and lived there with his family. However, local historians dispute that this is the case. We look at the hard facts below.

Sir Christopher Wren is one of England's most distinguished architects, famous for designing St Paul's Cathedral and Windsor's Guild Hall.

But which building did Wren himself call home?

Almost 290 years after his death in February 1723, Wren is at the centre of a dispute between local historians and a Windsor hotel owner, whose literature states that Wren built the property and lived there.

Sir Christopher Wren House Hotel

Sir Christopher Wren House Hotel

According to the Sir Christopher Wren House hotel, in Thames Street, Windsor, the original building was Wren's family home in 1676.

"No unfortunately," says architectural historian Elias Kupfermann on whether he believes the hotel's claim, "though I'd love it to be the case. There's no historical evidence or architectural evidence."

There's certainly no evidence from English Heritage.

The opening sentence in the building's listing observes: "The painted inscription dates building as being 1676 and records that Sir C Wren apparently lived here". But then the survey goes on to list the oldest part of the building as 18th century - a century later than 1676.

See the English Heritage listing here:

English Heritage have however granted a plaque to The Old Court House in Hampton Court Green, East Molesey, where Wren lived from time to time from 1668.

Elias Kupfermann

Elias Kupfermann

It's also known from the minutes of the Corporation Of Windsor Town book that Wren rented a building just outside Windsor known as The Mylles, which was close to the town's waterworks.

It appears that what could have been harmless folklore surrounding the Thames Street hotel appears to have become hard fact.

The hotel's website announces that the building was "once the family home of the famous British architect Sir Christopher Wren", and goes on to say that his father becoming the Dean Of Windsor "was a major factor in Sir Christopher's decision to build a family home here."

A trip on the Windsor Wheel will also tell you in its audio guide that the hotel was once the home of the architect.

And when I personally visited the hotel to enquire about the Wren connection, a member of staff told me that guests could actually stay in Sir Christopher Wren's own bedroom.

While she told me I was unable to book the room that night, she showed me a room behind the reception desk with wooden latticed walls, which according to her was from the 17th century and thus would give me a good indication of what Wren's bedroom was like.

Outside the building blue oval plaques look remarkably similar to the English Heritage plaques. On closer inspection, the plaque only states the name of the hotel.

English Heritage plaque (left), hotel's plaque (right)

English Heritage plaque and the hotel's plaque

When I visit Kupfermann, who is also an expert on Berkshire history, he has a range of history books and documents sprawled out on a table at his Windsor home.

The earliest document is from 1689 and records the minutes of the Corporation Of Windsor.

On one page it states that Windsor's Guild Hall "should be finished under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren" following the death of the original architect Thomas Fitz.

It makes no mention of another Wren building.

Nor does A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1660-1840 by Sir Howard Colvin, who was one of the leading architectural historians of England and wrote his landmark reference book in 1954.

A Kelly's directory of 1899 which lists all the principal monuments of the town only mentions the Guild Hall as having a Wren connection.

"If there was another Wren building in town such as the building in Thames Street, you'd expect to see it mentioned in here," says Kupfermann.

The building has been a hotel since the 1920s, and T.E. Harwood's Windsor Old And New book from 1929 shows the Wren rumour to be at least 80-years-old.

Harwood writes in a footnote on the Guild Hall: "Several other buildings in the town are said to have been designed by Wren, I cannot find any authority for this statement that he lived in a house in Thames Street."

Old House Hotel brochure from 1974

Old House Hotel brochure from 1974

The first official hotel documentation making reference to Sir Christopher Wren comes from an advertising brochure in 1964, when the building was called The Old House Hotel.

And it's formed part of the hotel's story ever since.

"Obviously they haven't done their homework," says Kupfermann of the hotel's past and present owners.

He adds: "I will give the hotel a challenge: if the hotel can produce historic documentation that a) Wren lived there, and b) Wren built the building I'll eat my hat and I will make sure that Windsor is told that this is the case.

"So it's over to the hotel I think, don't you?"

The hotel's general manager and acting press officer Mathew Griffin told the BBC at first that he thought there was an English Heritage letter to back up their claim. But upon further enquiries with hotel owner Goran Strok's admin staff, the letter doesn't appear to exist.

The hotel has yet to give the BBC an official statement.

last updated: 25/06/2009 at 07:39
created: 24/06/2009

You are in: Berkshire > Places > Places features > Did Sir Christopher Wren really live there?

Wren facts

Wren was born on 20 October 1632.

As well as an architect he was known as a leading English scientist and mathematician.

His father became Dean of Windsor.

In 1664 and 1665 Wren was commissioned to design the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and chapel for Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Wren designed plans for the rebuilding of London following the Great Fire in 1666, but they were rejected.

He did however design the new St Paul's Cathedral.

In 1689 he took over the design for Windsor's Guild Hall.

He was knighted in 1673.

Wren died on 25 February 1723.

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