Littell's Living Age/Volume 126/Issue 1626/Miscellany

The Builder of last Saturday (July 3) contains a very interesting bird's-eye view of London, drawn in accordance with Sir Christopher Wren's scheme for the rebuilding of the city after the fire. We are all familiar with the original plan, but this architectural projection gives us a better notion of what London would have been had the great architect been allowed his own way. Wren proposed to build main thoroughfares north and south, and east and west; to insulate all the churches in conspicuous positions; to form the most public places into large piazzas; to unite the halls of the twelve chief companies into one regular square annexed to Guildhall; and, to make a fine quay on the bank of the river from Blackfriars to the Tower. His streets were to be of three magnitudes — ninety feet, sixty feet, and thirty feet respectively. The whole area of the city was to be levelled, and blind alleys, inferior buildings, graveyards and noxious trades were to be excluded. "The Exchange was to stand free in the middle of a piazza, and to be as it were the centre of the town, whence the sixty-feet streets as so many rays should proceed to all the principal parts of the city, the buildings to be contrived after the form of the Roman Forum with double porticoes." St. Paul's was to stand like the narrow end of a wedge formed by the two straight streets from Ludgate to Aldgate and Tower Hill respectively, and many streets were to radiate from London Bridge. The chief advantages of the plan were the opening-up of these noble avenues, the purification of the Fleet River, and the embankment of the Thames. It is generally supposed that nothing was done in furtherance of this plan, but from passages in Pepys' "Diary" it appears that some progress was made with it, until in the end the scheme was upset by the perverseness of the citizens. On one occasion Pepys was told by Mr. May that the design of building the city went on apace, and "by his description it will be mighty fine;" and some time afterwards he wrote, "The great streets in the city are marked out with piles drove into the ground, and if ever it be built in that form with so fair streets it will be a noble sight." The author of the "Parentalia" writes: "The practicability of this scheme without loss to any man or infringement of any property was at that time demonstrated, and all material objections fully weighed and answered." It is usual to condemn the citizens and to regret the non-adoption of Wren's plan; but something may be urged on the other side. In the first place, although in Charles the Second's reign London had largely overrun its ancient limits, and showed some signs of its present vastness, yet the old walls were retained by Wren, and the rebuilding was only considered with respect to the city itself. No preparation was made for more bridges, and the quays from Blackfriars to the Tower would have afforded but little facility for the growth of that commerce which has made London the port of the world. It is therefore open to question whether a city laid out on this uniform plan, with little provision for any but the rich, would have grown, without some modification, into the London of to-day. It is a remarkable fact that within a few days of the great fire three several plans were presented to the king for the rebuilding of the city — one by Wren, another by Evelyn, and a third by Robert Hooke. Evelyn in a letter to Sir Samuel Tuke writes: "Dr. Wren got the start of me," but "both of us did coincide so frequently that his Majesty was not displeased." His plan included several piazzas of various shapes, one of which formed an oval with St. Paul's in the centre. It differed from Wren's chiefly in proposing a street from the church of St. Dunstan's in the East to the cathedral, and in having no quay or terrace along the river. He wished, however, to employ the rubbish he obtained by levelling the streets for filling up the shore of the Thames to low watermark so as to keep the basin always full. He wished also to place the new building for the Exchange at Queenhithe, instead of retaining it in its old position, as was proposed by Wren. Although none of the plans were carried out, Wren and Hooke were both employed in arranging for the rebuilding of the city on the old lines.