1666 - the birth of a new City


When in 1655 Oliver Cromwell invited Jews to England, he harboured great expectations that Jews become source of great wealth for the City of London. Indeed, the first Jews who arrived to London following his formal invitation were said to have brought one and a half million in cash into England.58 In 1656, following England's declaration of war against Spain, a wealthy Marrano Antonio Rodrigues Robles declared himself a Jew to avoid arrest as Catholic Spaniard and confiscation of his goods. The Council of State upheld his claim and restored the property to him. Henceforth, the Jews were permitted to live and trade in London, as long as they did not advertise their warship and they refrained from making converts.59 In 1656, Antonio Fernando Carvajal, a wealthy ship-owning Marrano, who formed a spy network for John Thurloe, Cromwell's chief of Secret Service, agreed with churchwardens of St Katherine Creechurch for the lease of the house at 5 Creechurch Lane in the City of London for the use of the synagogue. This was the first synagogue after the re-admission of Jews to Britain. Jewish merchants, who were coming to England from the European Continent, hoped that the City of London would become their “New Jerusalem”. However, what they found instead was, in words of a contemporary diarist, John Evelyn, a "wooden, northern, and inartificial congestion of Houses." By "inartificial" Evelyn meant unplanned structure being the result of organic growth and unregulated urban sprawl. In comparison with Bruge, Antwerp or trading cities of Italy, London was a complete dump. It had become progressively overcrowded and stenchy inside its defensive city wall. All the waste and sewage was disposed into the river Thames, which stank to such a degree that the Venetian ambassador complained that its 'odour remains even in clean linen.'60 Plagues and epidemic diseases from Africa and Asia were regularly transmitted to humans from infected rats that escaped the shipping cargo. Between 1348 and 1665, London was struck by 40 plagues, each killing around twenty percent of the population. In 1665, a bubonic plague, better known as the “The Black Death”, characterized by the appearance of buboes—swollen, tender lymph nodes – spread in the City of London. With the advent of the bubonic plague, the Lord Mayor of London ordered lodgers and visitors to quit the City. If the plague was diagnosed in a house, all residents were locked inside for forty days, by when, it was assumed, the infected had either died or recovered. Watchmen kept guard to enforce this quarantine. The men with the carts were passing by the houses calling to 'bring out your dead'. Corpses posed terrible problems, as churchyards overflowed and the air reeked of death. The authorities ordered mass graves. As it was impossible to bury all immediately, the bodies piled up in the streets. Trade was disrupted, production halted, tens of thousand were out of work.61

If London was going to become a capital of the new Trading Empire and central trading port something had to be done immediately to alter its image and increase its competitiveness with other trading cities in Europe. This was a problem that occupied the mind of the members of the Oxford Philosophical Club including Sir Christopher Wren, an astronomer, geometer and mathematician. He was born in a well-established family that was very close to the royal court. His father Christopher Wren (the Elder) was dean of the most important chapel in England – St Georges Chapel - in the Windsor Castle. St Georges Chapel was the home to the Order of the Garter, the premier order of chivalry in England that drew its heritage from the Order of the Temple of Solomon. King Charles I, as the head of the Order, worked on reforming the liturgy in very close collaboration with Christopher Wren. During the Parliamentarian occupation of Windsor Castle, Wren refused to relinquish the keys to St George’s Chapel in an effort to protect the treasures and records of the Chapel and the Order of the Garter. His attempts were sadly unsuccessful and the treasury was plundered. However, through his subsequent efforts, Wren was able to retain the records of the Order and the sword of the founder, king Edward III. His son, Christopher Wren (born in 1632) had spent much of his childhood in the Windsor Deanery. After the English Civil War, the family moved to Blethingdon in Oxfordshire, to the country home of Dr William Holder, who married Wren’s elder sister Susan. It was Dr William Holder who ‘initiated’ Wren in the principles of mathematics and astronomy. During this time period, Wren invented and constructed several mechanical instruments. At the age of 13 he invented an astronomical instrument and a pneumatic engine. In 1649, at the age of 14, Wren was admitted to Wadham College, in Oxford, and it was not too long before he had been drawn by Dr John Wilkins, the Warden of the College and supporter of Oliver Cromwell, to the experimental club of William Petty. For most of the 1650s, Christopher Wren's scientific researches were carried out in collaboration with fellow members of the Oxford group, in which Wadham men predominated. The experiments conducted by this group were multi-faceted and were also carried out on living organisms. While at Wadham College, Wren performed gruesome vivisections on dogs, being the first to administer successful injection of a substance into the bloodstream of a dog. These experiments contributed to the first attempts at the transfusion of blood on the principle that if intravenous injection could introduce poisons into the system of a healthy creature, it could also introduce healthy-giving substances – such as good blood to replace bad. After receiving his Master of Arts in 1653, Wren was elected a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and in the same year he began an active period of research and experiment, ending in 1657 with his appointment as professor of astronomy in Gresham College, which was designed to train future elites of the corporations of the City of London. At Gresham, Wren did the experiments involving determining longitude through magnetic variation and through lunar observation to help the English ships with navigation. Together with Sir Paul Neile, he helped to construct a 35-foot (11m) telescope and drew up the lunar map on a globe that he made himself, which he presented to King Charles II.

On November 28, 1660, 12 men met after a lecture at Gresham College given by Christopher Wren and resolved to set up “a College for the promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning”. This had been the first ever recorded meeting of THE ROYAL SOCIETY and the report from this read: "Memorandum November 28, 1660. These persons following according to the usual custom of most of them, met together at Gresham College to hear Mr Wren's lecture, viz. The Lord Brouncker, Mr Boyle, Mr Bruce, Sir Robert Moray, Sir Paule Neile, Dr Wilkins, Dr Goddard, Dr Petty, Mr Ball, Mr Rooke, Mr Wren, Mr Hill. And after the lecture was ended they did according to the usual manner, withdraw for mutual converse."62 Of the early members of the Royal Society we can identify initiates into freemasonry: Robert Murray, Robert Boyle, John Aubrey and Elias Ashmole. After obtaining the patronage of the restored monarchy, the society became known as the Royal Society, or, in some circles, they were known as "Greshamites." Others called it “the Invisible College” or “the Solomon's House”, as the reference of the Francis Bacon's book, New Atlantis, where a secret society is said to work behind the scenes in world events.63 The Royal Society's motto 'Nullius in verba', taken to mean 'take nobody's word for it', was an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.64

One year after the establishment of the Royal Society, Christopher Wren was appointed Surveyor of works to king Charles II. In the circle of friends, Wren often discussed the re-modelling of London. In his Tracts on Architecture and Other writings he stated that: “Architecture has its political Use...it establishes a Nation.”65 There was almost complete absence of serious architectural endeavour in England at the time. The architect Inigo Jones, the first person who introduced the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to Britain, had died about 10 years previously. There were perhaps half a dozen men in England with a reasonable grasp of architectural theory but none with the confidence to bring the art of building to the standards expected by the Royal Society. In search of architectural inspirations, Wren made a trip to France in 1665. At that time, the architecture at the court of the French king Louis XIV had reached a climax of creativity. The Louvre Palace was approaching completion and the re-modelling of the Palace of Versailles had begun. Great Italian sculptor and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was in Paris making designs for the Louvre’s east front and the aged Italian allowed Wren to peruse his drawings. There was considerably more for Wren to see in the French capital including the domed churches of the Val-de-Grâce and the Sorbonne and a marvellous array of châteaus within easy range of Paris. The domed churches of Lemercier and Mansart that he saw during his strolls around capital – the Sorbonne, the Oratoire, Sainte-Marie de la Visitation came to him as revelation. There was nothing like them in England. In fact there were no domed churches at all in England. On his return from Paris, unimpressed with London architecture, Wren prepared his plans for reconstruction of the old St. Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul's Cathedral was giving the authorities serious cause of concern for some years. The building had been steadily falling into pieces, ill-used during Commonwealth when Parliamentarian troops had their horses quartered in the cathedral. In 1663 Wren, asked to advise on repairs, suggested demolition. On August 27, 1666, master masons including Christopher Wren met at St Paul's Cathedral when reconstruction of the church and the City was heatedly debated and Wren's project approved.66 One week later London was on fire.

For further reading please purchase an eBook

58 Fraser, Crommwell Our Chief Man, p. 562 »

59 'England' by Joseph Jacob, JewishEncyclopedia.com http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5764-england »

60 Gray, A history of London, p. 143 »

61 Porter, London, A Social History, pp. 82-83 »

62 Gresham College, History, 1660, The Royal Society is founded at Gresham College http://www.gresham.ac.uk/about/history/ »

63 Hogan, The Way of the Templar, p. 61 »

64 The Royal Society, History of the Royal Society https://royalsociety.org/about-us/history/ »

65 Tract I, Parentalia, 351 cited in Adrian Tinniswood, His Invention So Fertile. A Life of Christopher Wren (London: Pimlico, 2002), p. 248 »

66 Adrian Tinniswood, His Invention So Fertile. A Life of Christopher Wren, p. 146 »