Windsor, Berkshire

Chaucer was Master of the Works at Windsor Castle in 1390 and may have lived in the Winchester Tower [Eastman, p.191.] He was in charge of restoring St. George's Chapel, but he seems to have been here for only two years. [B.J.W. Hill, Windsor and Eton, Batsford, London, 1957, p.41]

The family of Christopher Wren (1632-1723) moved to Windsor in 1635 before he was two. His father was Dean of Windsor in 1635-1659, and Christopher grew up at the Deanery, near St. George's Chapel in the middle of Windsor Castle. It was here, via the court connections, that he met John Wilkins. His older sister's husband, a Rev. William Holder, introduced Wren to mathematics when he was 11. In 1678 or 1675, he drew up a plan (now at All Souls' library, Oxford) for a mausoleum for Charles I, but it was never built [Hill, ibid., pp.90-91 & 100]. In 1681, he surveyed St. George's Chapel in the Castle and found it in need of major repairs [Hill, ibid., pp.66-67]. He was Controller of Works at the Castle from 1684, carrying out major works to rectify the structural problems, though these were not always permanently successful. His plans for conversion to an Italian style palace were never implemented.

Wren completed the Windsor Guildhall in 1689-1690 after the original architect died. Legend says that the Corporation thought it was unsafe and insisted that Wren insert some pillars to hold up the Council Chamber which was over the open Cornmarket. Wren inserted pillars, but they were a little short and never reached the beams above. Versions of this story are attached to several of Wren's works, particularly the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and the Cloisters in the Temple, London. A somewhat different version concerns a chain around the dome of St. Paul's, which Wren omitted to join up. (A similar story is told about Brunelleschi and the Dome of the Cathedral of Florence.) Some months ago, I recalled the story of the short pillars as being about the Temple Cloisters in London, but was unable to track it down, getting the other versions instead. However, I have found [Kent, pp.206-207], who quotes a passage from a somewhat undependable biographer of Wren about Windsor and a report for Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society saying that they had examined the pillars in the Temple Cloisters and not found the legendary gap. However, the Windsor story seems to be true - I have found it in the Official Guide to Windsor, in the Official Handbook of the Guildhall and Exhibition and in a tourist leaflet - though none states the story outright. [Hill, op. cit., p.101] gives the story and says there is no documentary evidence, "nevertheless, the needless columns still remain as silent witnesses", which seems to imply that they are really there. [Christopher Turner, Windsor and Eton Step by Step, Faber, 1986, p.48] says "It can be seen, however, that they don't quite reach the ceiling", which certainly implies that they are still there.
See also Datchet, above.


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