News - Wren 300

2023 marks the tercentenary of Britain’s most famed architect, Sir Christopher Wren. The Old Royal Naval College, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Greenwich, is celebrating along with other Wren-designed buildings and monuments around the UK in an exciting programme, Wren 300...

Press Release

In the 300 years since Wren died, The Old Royal Naval College has remained identical to the architect’s original plan, with its iconic twin domes, as painted by Canaletto in 1751. Commemorating Wren’s extraordinary legacy, some of his most famous buildings and associated institutions including the Old Royal Naval College will be hosting events and activities throughout the year as part of Wren 300.

Wren, whose beautiful buildings define the London skyline, including St Paul’s Cathedral, will be commemorated in events throughout the year. In a first for the Old Royal Naval College, one of the iconic twin domes will be opened for exclusive guided tours this summer so visitors can Discover Wren’s Dome. Visitors can climb the steps that very few have walked before, and discover the rarely seen interiors of the dome, with Wren’s exquisite design laid bare. The dome tours are a chance to discover its stunning architecture up close, see the inner workings of the historic turret clock above the Chapel, and find our more about those who worked up here over the centuries. With rare and remarkable views across Greenwich and London, the dome tour is not one to miss.

From March to September, a special Wren Tour of the Old Royal Naval College will see expert guides show visitors the buildings, as they learn about this fascinating polymath and architect. Visitors can discover the secrets of the buildings, find out about his troubled beginnings, follow his illustrious career and see how his legacy continues to resonate today. Wren was commissioned to design what is now the Old Royal Naval College by King William and Queen Mary, to create a hospital for naval pensioners and seamen (the Greenwich Hospital). Throughout the site’s different iterations over the centuries, one thing has remained constant – Wren's iconic design on the banks of the river Thames.

A free interactive space in the Visitor Centre, Wren’s Studio, will allow visitors to explore architecture, inspired by Wren, his work and designs. Artworks will include a 3D architectural fly-through animation of the Old Royal Naval College, as well as models and technical drawings by University of Greenwich Architecture students of Wren-designed churches and other buildings. Visitors of all ages can discover new things about Wren and classical architecture, with activities for adults, families and children in this studio-like space.

Sir Christopher Wren didn’t set out simply to create monuments for the ages – he was a polymath, an accomplished architect, mathematician, astronomer, anatomist and courtier. He was a great thinker of his time, contributing in invaluable ways to the Enlightenment in Britain. A contemporary photography exhibition, Wren: What Legacy Now?, will draw attention to eight people today who are continuing the different legacies of Wren – including a nutritionist, a sign language inventor, an MP and an architect. Their large-scale, ethereal portraits, taken by Hamish McPherson, will be on free display at the Old Royal Naval College from Easter 2023, capturing the diverse range of interest Wren had through a modern-day lens.

On 12th May, the sublime Chapel of St Peter and St Paul will host the renowned Brandenburg Sinfonia for the Wren 300 Baroque Concert. The Sinfonia will be supported by the 35-strong Trinity Laban Chapel Choir, conducted by Ralph Allwood, who will perform a delightful programme of Handel and Purcell.

There will be family events for budding history and architect buffs during May Half Term and the summer, through the Fun in gWRENwich programme. The Old Royal Naval College will host free family events exploring architecture through play, design and photography. Architecture Through a Lens is a photography workshop all about how to make best use of your phone’s camera, aimed at 10–16-year-olds. Participants will be encouraged to explore the site and take photos of the different architectural motifs they find. The resulting photographs will be displayed in the Mezzanine Gallery in the Visitor Centre in a collage. Small Hands, Big Buildings is a play session aimed at 2–7-year-olds (older children welcome) involving play bricks and junk modelling. Build With Wren is an outdoor building session with large building blocks for all ages, running throughout the summer holidays, supervised by Sir Christopher Wren himself. A new, interactive Family Trail booklet will be available for purchase, including educational activities about Christopher Wren, QR codes revealing hidden places around the site, and an Architecture Scavenger Hunt for families to have a go at. Children will be rewarded with a special prize when they finish the trail.

In the Painted Hall, a special display will show a letter written by Sir Christopher Wren himself on 11th October, 1700. The letter, on display until January 2024, is from the architect to Thomas Gilbert, the Overseer of the King’s Quarries of the Isle of Portland, requesting 2,000 tonnes of Portland Stone for the building of the site. This remarkable insight into the origins of the Old Royal Naval College will be exhibited from Wren’s tercentenary on 25th February 2023 alongside information about Portland Stone and its significance, and a description of how the stone was brought from Dorset to London.

The Old Royal Naval College has a rich 500 year history, of which Sir Christopher Wren is an integral part. Visitors to the site can discover more about the architect throughout the year through the fascinating events and activities on, as well as discover more about the site’s origins as a Tudor Palace, its time as a naval training college, and its remarkable association with Admiral Lord Nelson.

The Old Royal Naval College is also famed for its Painted Hall, a magnificent Baroque room masterminded by 18th century artist Sir James Thornhill. This incredible room is a painted monument to King William and Queen Mary, depicting not only British monarchs but a nod to Christopher Wren (in the form of St Paul’s Cathedral), astronomers, politicians, gods and goddesses on its vast walls and ceilings. One of the finest (and largest) Baroque artworks in Britain, the Painted Hall is not one to miss. For visitors already planning their return visit, tickets can be converted to an annual pass – meaning you only have to purchase entry tickets once for the whole year!

With more activities to be announced throughout the year here's just a taster of some of the events planned:

Wren’s Letter Sunday 25th February 2023 – January 2024
Wren Tours: 300 Years of Wren Thursday 9th March – Thursday 28th September
Wren’s Studio From April 2023
Wren 300 Baroque Chapel Concert Monday 12th May, 6.45pm
Architecture Through a Lens Monday 29th May – Friday 2nd June and Monday 24th July – Wednesday 30th August
Small Hands, Big Buildings Monday 29th May – Friday 2nd June and Monday 24th July – Wednesday 30th August
Build With Wren Monday 29th May – Friday 2nd June and Monday 24th July – Wednesday 30th August
Wren: What Legacy Now? From June 2023

All the events are based around Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NN. Find out more at

About Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723) was Surveyor General to six English monarchs, having started as a child prodigy who entered the University of Oxford at the age of 17 during the English Civil War. By the time he took up architecture in his thirties, he was a famed astronomer – who identified Saturn’s rings, mathematician and inventor, who is sometimes referred to as ‘the British Leonardo’. Many of his buildings are at the centre of national life and ceremonies. They include St Paul’s Cathedral, the Old Royal Naval College, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, parts of Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the Monument to the Great Fire of London, and an astonishing 52 churches built after the devastating fire of 1666.

Wren was the most influential English architect of his time, and worked extensively for William I and Mary II. Their commission for the site in Greenwich for the Royal Hospital for Seamen, known as Greenwich Hospital, incorporated the existing King’s House and Queen Mary’s request for a river view from the Queen’s House, all on top of the crumbled foundations of the pre-existing Tudor Palace of Placentia. Wren’s solution, with his co-designer Nicholas Hawksmoor, was a stroke of genius, a symmetrical arrangement of courts, domes and colonnades, which beautifully framed the Queen’s House and created a London landmark right on the river. The scale and magnificence of the buildings show the generosity of their royal patrons, and the importance of the Royal Navy to national prosperity: the palatial buildings were designed to house naval veterans, and Wren worked for 23 years on the hospital free of charge. Four classical buildings make up the site, which was a refuge for retired or injured sailors who had served in the Royal Navy, known as Greenwich Pensioners – at its peak it housed over 2,700 naval veterans. The site was hailed as a masterpiece, with the main buildings virtually unchanged to this day. 

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