No he didn’t. And neither did Catherine of Aragon. What?! Well, my reader may have seen the plaque on the wall of 49 Bankside, London SE1 – I know I have – which proudly says:
“Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral.”
And goes on to say:
“Here also in 1502 Catherine, Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first Queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.”
The house is parked conveniently between Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre, a pretty little Queen Anne thing with cream render and red door, and is passed by hundreds of people every day. Regrettably, it wasn’t built until around 1710, the year the new St Paul’s was finished – so, probably nothing to do with Chris and about 200 years too late for Cathy.
Allegedly, the plaque (which is of unknown age) was placed there in 1945 by the house's mildly eccentric owner, Malcolm Munthe. Apparently, Sir Chris lodged a few doors further west, past the power station. But it is said that the plaque was taken at face value by redevelopers working through bomb-damaged London after the Second World War, which might have saved the house from being flattened.
The location is an historic one, though. The house stands on the site of an old inn called the Cardinal’s Hat, much frequented by the boisterous rowdies that used to indulge their beastly japes on Bankside. Who knows, Shakespeare himself might have popped in for a swift pint after a show. Samuel Pepys certainly did, no doubt prowling for comely wenches. The pub has left its legacy in the name Cardinal Wharf and, to the left of No 49 you can see Cardinal Cap Alley – which apparently dates back to the 14th century.
There is a book, “The House by the Thames and the People Who Lived There” by Gillian Tyndall that reveals all. I haven’t read it, but word is that it’s meticulously researched and chronicles the house’s owners almost from its first lick of paint. The second coat is due any time soon. I should stress that the property is in private ownership, not open to the public and you are asked to limit your gawping.
I think Sir Christopher Wren would have appreciated this.
And he'd have found it easier to treat himself to a night out.
Hopefully, he'd have been delighted with this.
But he had nothing to do with this.