St. Paul’s Cathedral at 300
Lecture by Martin Stancliffe
Given at Barnard’s Inn Hall, November 23 and November 30, 2011
Overview: 2011 is the 300th anniversary of the completion of Christopher Wren’s Cathedral. This coincides with the completion of an historic £40 million programme of cleaning and repair, in which the building has been comprehensively restored inside and out. Now that the final scaffolding has been removed, the two million visitors and worshippers who come to St Paul’s each year can witness Gresham Professor Christopher Wren’s original vision, see his cathedral as fresh as the day it was completed and understand something of the changes it has undergone in its first 300 years.
Introduction: The purpose of my two talks is to give some account of what has been done over the last 21 years. I believe that history may look back on us and consider this to have been a significant period. Time will tell, and it is not for me to say, but I feel that I should make an account of what I have seen and done as Surveyor to the Fabric, before I hand over to my successor.
In the role of Surveyor, Wren has been followed by a continuous line of successors. Wren’s last meeting of the commission was on 20th September 1710. Thereafter, he was around, but clearly did not play an active part. Of course, he did have to petition Parliament to pay his final salary, which was agreed to be paid on Christmas Day 1711. The Dean and Chapter has agreed with me that my final day will be Christmas Day 2011. I have yet to discover whether they intend to hand me a bag of gold on that day, but I am not hedging my bets!
Clearly, in the first years after Wren, things continued very much as before. John James was his assistant at St Paul’s and carried on when the great man stood back, and perhaps it was natural for somebody like Henry Flitcroft, a carpenter like John James, to take over from him. But as time went on, it became clear that the idea of having a Surveyor to the Fabric could not necessarily be counted on.