Saturday, July 31, 2004

Two Plans for London: #1

It's a common misconception that time constraints and greedy developers confounded Christopher Wren's plan for the rebuilding of London after the 1666 Great Fire (here). This is not true.

The real story is rather more mysterious. After hearing that the city fathers were minded to approve his grandiose plans, Wren went on a terrific all-night drinking session with Robert Hooke. After drinking some twelve pints of Old Vituvius Ale - which he and Hawksmoor arranged into the secret twelve-cornered hexagon of the Masonic God Jabulon (or something) - he passed out and rolled under the table.

When the next day came, he awoke to discover not only that he was late for the meeting that would formally endorse his plan, but also that Hooke had spilt beer all over it. The ink was running quite badly, but there was no time to do it again, so Wren attempted to fill in the gaps and repair it while on the way to Westminster.

A combination of the rubble-strewn streets and an attack of the morning-after shakes meant his new version of the plan possessed few of the clean, crisp lines of the original. Nevertheless, his plan was approved and remains the basic layout of the city of London today.

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