CHRISTOPHER WREN AND BLETCHINGDON





A young clergyman named William Holder had become rector of Bletchingdon in 1642. In 1643 Rector Dr Holder married Christopher Wren?s eldest sister, Susan, who was then only 16, five years older than Christopher. Christopher Wren?s move to the Rectory in Bletchingdon with his father and siblings appears to have been prompted by the death of his mother in 1645 when he was 12 and by his father?s need for help in raising the family.

As a student at Cambridge, William Holder was a friend and contemporary of the Royalist physician Charles Scarburgh to whom Christopher Wren was referred for suspected consumption in 1647.

Rector Dr Holder (1616-98) achieved fame in his own right as the inventor of a method to teach deaf mutes to speak. He taught the son of a Parliamentarian solider, a deaf-mute named Alexander Popham, to speak. This led in 1669 to his ?Elements of Speech: an essay of inquiry into the natural production of letters; with an appendix concerning persons deaf and dumb.?

At the age of 78 Rector Holder published a ?Discourse concerning Time? subsequently considered to be a reworked version of his lessons with his young brother-in-law, Christopher Wren, particularly geometry and arithmetic.

We know that Christopher Wren graduated from Wadham College Oxford in 1651 when he was 19. The Wadham registers show that he entered Wadham in 1649 when he was 17 spending only two years at Oxford and two years with William and Susan Holder.

William Holder was a formative influence on Christopher Wren?s childhood. He encouraged Wren?s appetite for natural philosophy. One of Wren?s earliest scientific interests was the science of sundials several of which he made in the grounds of the Rectory at Bletchingon. Parentalia, the collection of family memoirs which is a still a core source for Wren studies, mentions a reflecting dial on the ceiling of a room, complete with figures representing astronomy and geometry in the Rectory at Bletchingdon. Sadly these no longer exist.

The earliest description of the Rectory in 1539 shows that it consisted of 67 acres. By the time of the first enclosure in 1623 the rector was allotted 192 acres. In 1634 the Rectory comprised a substantial stone built house, with a living hall, a parlour and a buttery on the ground floor, bedchambers above them, and a single-storey group of domestic offices, including kitchen, larder and dairy, at the rear.

Susan Wren Holder who ran the Bletchingdon household, is the only woman in Sir Christopher Wren?s life to earn more than a passing reference in the letters and journals of the time. She had a gift for healing and when Rector Holder became Sub-Dean of the Chapel Royal and the couple were part of the royal household she achieved fame for curing a wound on Charles II?s hand which had defeated the best efforts of all his personal surgeons.