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Sir Christopher Wren and the Cathedral

Diagram drawn by Christopher Wren as part of his report to Salisbury Cathedral on the state of the fabric of the building in 1668

Sir Christopher Wren, one of the country’s most famous architects, best known as architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, was requested by the Bishop of Salisbury, Seth Ward, to advise on the repair and refurbishment of the Cathedral in the second half of the 17th century following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.   Seth Ward and Wren appear to have been good friends and Wren was commissioned by Ward to write a report on the condition of the fabric of the Cathedral. Seth Ward (b.1617) was a fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and in 1649 was appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University where he gained a high reputation for his theory of planetary motion.  He was appointed Bishop of Salisbury in 1667, previously having been Bishop at Exeter Cathedral, 1662-1667.  Seth Ward was also an early member of the Royal Society in London, as was Wren.


Wren’s subsequent report dated 31st August 1668 has survived in the Cathedral archives and is considered to be ‘one of the first objective appraisals of a medieval building’.  Wren was particularly concerned about the inclination of the spire and used plumb lines to assess that the apex of the spire was about 27 ½ in south and 17 in west of its true position.  He advised that further tests be made: if the foundation settle no further (as possible it will not) it is undoubtedly secure enough.  But if it move, the remedy will be to build eight bows from the walls of the Nave…a chargeable, but I fear the only cure.  Wren’s recommendation to strengthen the spire with internal iron bands was carried in around 1670.


Wren also advised on the remodelling and decoration of the Choir in 1671-72 and appears to have worked closely with master-joiner Alexander Fort.  In the Cathedral archives as part of the series of fabric records there is a 1673 memorandum between Salisbury Cathedral and Fort concerning discrepancies in payments for the repair of the Choir.  Wren has added his signature to the bottom of the memorandum in support of Fort.


See the accompanying gallery for further photos of the Report.  Read more here.