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Central domed scheme, 1695


[2] Central domed scheme, 1695

Signed and dated

  • 1695
    Main Year
  • Other Years: 1694


Although usually dated before the decision to reserve a 'way' from the Queen's House to the river in October 1694, the clearest evidence for the production of this particular design is on 21 May 1695. On this day Wren and other members of the Grand Committee, which had been appointed by the Commissioners for the new Royal Hospital at their first meeting on 14 May, submitted their advice after viewing the site that had been granted (ADM, 67/1, pp. 1-2). The Commission itself had been appointed on 12 March (Corporation of London Archives/064/02/030).

The Grand Committee recommended on 21 May that if, in addition to accommodating about 300-400 seamen in the King Charles Building and a new Base Wing (at a cost of about £6000), it were thought fit to make provision for 'a much greater number', then it would be necessary for the King to grant to the hospital additional land. This would be 'the peace of ground excepted from the grant already made, which is ... for an avenue or visto [from the Queen's House] to the river; which intended way separates [he King Charles II Buillding] from the other part of the ground already granted whereon any additionall building must be erected to render it uniform with the present, as may appear by the draught thereof prepared by Sir Christopher Wren, as was directed by the Committee at their last meeting, & now ready to be produced.' The 'draught thereof prepared' would have been a drawing of a symmetrical design with a matching block on the east side to balance the King Charles II Building and Base Wing on the west side. The central domed scheme [2] and the seven-block scheme [3] both match this description. They appear to be contemporary with each other, both in terms of drawing technique and the design and internal planning of their west and east base wings (indeed the plan of the two northern courts in the central domed scheme at [2/3] appears to post-date the plan of this part in the seven-block scheme at [3/2 and 4]).

In the minutes of the Grand Committee on 30 September 1695, Wren and his colleagues went further still (ADM, 67/1, pp. 4-5). They now sought additional land on the east and west sides, and repeated their request for the avenue. On the south side, they now asked for the Queen's Garden, the Queen's House and 'the park containing about 206 acres'. They concluded: 'And considering the ground already granted be very scanty & narrow for a design so generall as the entertainment of aged & disabled seamen their widows & children, in case his Majesty will be graciously pleased to bestow the rest of the Tilt-yard the Queens house and the Park [...] for this good and publick use; We humbly conceive it will be a great incouragement to persons [...] to contribute towards the building and endowing of the same.'

A much more ambitious design than one circumscribed by the grant of land was therefore under consideration between May and late September 1695. This period is long enough for the production of the central domed scheme and seven-block scheme. The latter [3] was probably prepared as a compromise proposal after the first [2] had been rejected, one which preserved the central avenue, but which depended upon the granting of the Tiltyard, the Queen's Garden, the Queen's House and the park. Other drawings for the central domed scheme are at All Souls College. The earliest of these is a block plan attributed to Hawksmoor which anticipates his neat ground plan plan at [2/3] (Geraghty 2007, no. 188) and Leonard Knyff's two aerial perspectives at [2/1 and 2]. In the All Souls block plan the front portico of the domed vestibule has only four columns, not the six with paired end columns in all the other drawings for the central domed scheme. The curved colonnades join the sides of this portico on the line of its columns, rather being set back from portico columns, as in the two Knyff perspectives. The arrangement of giant-order portico columns joined with much smaller flanking colonnades is a variant on the plan of the central hall and chapel range at Chelsea Hospital: Wren has simply converted the straight colonnades into quadrants.

Next at All Souls College are three large-scale elevations (one with a section through the domed vestibule) and one elevation of the back of a base block that have been developed from the plan at [2/3]: Geraghty 2007, nos. 190, 197, 191 and 192. These drawings predate the last design from a final stage in the evolution of the central domed scheme. This is the smaller scaled front elevation at [2/4], a design which embodies significant variations in the treatment of the wall elevations and 'transept' pavilions of the hall and chapel blocks, and which may have been prepared for presentation purposes at the same time as the two smaller elevations of the seven-block scheme, [3/2 and 4]. The main printed sources for the central block of the scheme are Le Jeune de Boullencourt's Description Generale de l'Hostel Royale des Invalides (Paris, 1683), and Carlo Fontana's Il Tempio Vaticano e sua origine ...(Rome, 1694).



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Contents of [2] Central domed scheme, 1695