The architecture of Robert Hooke is much less well known than that of his contemporary and collaborator Sir Christopher Wren. Partly this is due to the enormous stature of Wren as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral and numerous other London churches (with Hooke’s involvement); partly to the unhappy accident of very few of Hooke’s buildings having survived the 19th century.
Hooke’s transition from scientist to architect came with the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666. The City of London had to be rebuilt, and quickly. To guide and effect this enormous venture the King appointed three people of whom one was Wren; the City appointed three of whom one was Hooke. Effectively the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire became a joint effort between these two men. It is wrong that Hooke’s contribution is so poorly acknowledged.
The following list is derived from Espinasse (1); the authoritative work on Hooke’s architecture is Batten (2).
Hooke’s involvement with buildings as architect is often unclear because of his role as Surveyor to the City of London. Thus with Greenwich, for example, it is not known whether the building was not at all, partly or entirely his design. Hooke’s diaries are tantalisingly oblique at times on this issue of who did what.
Hooke produces a plan for the rebuilding of London. It is not adopted, partly on the grounds of building cost and partly on the grounds of requiring a large amount of compensation to landowners since the layout was totally new. This results in his being appointed Surveyor to the City, in which role he set out new foundations, adjudicated on property rights and boundaries, and supervised adherence to building regulations. He was responsible for sewers, paving, bridges, quays, markets and public clocks – all assimilated into the general fabric of the City.
With Wren canalised the Fleet River, which was an open sewer. The canal was not commercially successful but did considerably improve public health.
Constructed Cheapside and Holborn conduits.
Suggested and supervised improvements to the north bank of the Thames.
Designed a house for Sir Walter Young ‘in Devon’ – site unknown.
Designed the screen for Merchant Taylors’ Hall, 1673. Destroyed in WWII.
Involved in the repairs to the Barbers Surgeons’ Hall, 1672. Demolished in the 19th century.
Designed the Monument to the Great Fire, 1677. Although usually attributed to Wren, Hooke’s diaries and other contemporary accounts make it clear that the Monument is Hooke’s. The original inscription written by Dr Gale of St Paul’s School alleged that Catholics were responsible for the Great Fire. This inscription was partially removed in 1831. Pope in his Moral Essays criticised the original inscription thus:
Where London’s column, pointing at the skies
Like a tall bully, lifts the head and lies.(3)
Architect of Montague House, Bloomsbury, 1675. Destroyed by fire 1686, and rebuilt by a French architect. Whether Hooke’s exterior survived is not clear. The building stood where the British Museum now is.
Architect of house for Lord Oxford in Privy Gardens, Whitehall.
Design of a house for Sir Richard Edgcumbe, Earl of Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall.
Design for a church for Sir John Lowther of Lowther in Westmoreland.
Design for Sherwood Place, Brentwood.
Design for Lord Burlington, probably Londesborough House.
Architect of Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, for Lord Conway, 1679. Ragley Hall is now the home of the Earl and Countess of Hertford. The east front is in original condition, the west front having been modified in 1750. Hooke also designed the gardens, but the present ones date from the 19th century.
Architect of St Mary Magdalene, Willen, Buckinghamshire. This church was built for Dr Richard Busby, Head Master of Westminster School for 57 years, scholar and benefactor of Balliol College Oxford, who also paid for the church. It is not in original condition, having gained an apse and lost the cupola from the tower in the 19th century.
Considerable involvement in the alterations to Westminster Abbey (St Peter). Hooke re-paved the Choir and Lantern in 1676, and in 1688 and 1693 worked on the north window (this in conjunction with Wren) as well as the Henry VII Chapel and various houses in the precincts and buildings in Westminster School.
Supervised the construction of more than 30 of Wren’s London churches.