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‘England’s Leonardo’: Extremely Rare Document of Robert Hooke as Surveyor of London Rebuilding After the “Late dreadfull fire” of 1666
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British polymath Robert Hooke (1635-1703), scientist, architect, astronomer, paleontologist, physicist, geologist and surveyor. Hooke was chief assistant to Christopher Wren overseeing rebuilding in the wake of London’s Great Fire of 1666.

Hooke’s July 4, 1670 report, as one of three City Surveyors, settles a dispute about a property on Ludgate Hill, one of London’s three ancient hills and the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral (constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries, destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt from 1675 to 1711).

Before the fire, skinner and tanner John Rowley occupied the second story of draper and dry goods merchant Will Sanders’ residence and shop. Under new post-fire regulations, Sanders agreed to provide an alternative space for Rowley next to the building. Robert Hooke and fellow surveyor John Oliver approved of this plan, signing at lower right. Hooke’s signatures are scarce, so any document signed by him is valuable, and this relates to one of the most frightening conflagrations of early modern Europe.

ROBERT HOOKE. Autograph Document Signed “Rob: Hooke”, Viewer Report, July 4, 1670, London, England. 1 p., 7⅛ x 11½ in.

Inventory #26472       Price: $39,000

Historical Background
From September 2-6, 1666, the Great Fire of London, sparked in a bakery on Pudding Lane, gutted the medieval City inside the original Roman wall, destroying St. Paul’s Cathedral, 87 parish churches, most city government buildings, and an estimated 13,200 houses, home to 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants.

Parliament passed a series of Rebuilding Acts between 1666 and 1670, regulating the heights of private homes, street widths, wall thicknesses, building materials (brick and stone preferred), and the architectural styles of buildings on designated High Streets. A court was established to settle differences between landlords and tenants of burnt buildings. Hooke’s plan to rebuild on a grid system was rejected as too costly and time-consuming, though some streets were widened or straightened. Generally citizens rebuilt on their old foundations but with the new codes.

In the hundreds of years prior, the City had grown haphazardly. Adjoining properties often had occupants living in rooms that lay over or under the living spaces of their neighbors. A new regulation called for common walls to be vertical and entire, from the ground to the highest level. Neighbors had to share the cost of rebuilding party walls separating their properties.

To supervise the rebuilding, the City turned to its three Surveyors—Robert Hooke, John Oliver, and Peter Mills. Between 1668 and 1691, they investigated and reported on hundreds of disputes.

At least two of the Surveyors and Viewers (5 or 6 men who had experience in carpentry and masonry) were responsible for each view and report. It appears that when Hooke participated in a viewing, he wrote the report and the other(s) signed it.[1] Few of these documents survive.

Complete Transcript
We whose names are underwritten two of the surveyors of the City of London [?]by the Directions of the Right Honble the Lord Mayor[2] and in pursuance of the Additional Act of Part for Re-building the City having viewd the houses of Mr Wilt: Sanders Draper & Mr John Rowly Skinner situate on Ludgate hill, and being informed by both the said partys that before the Late dreadfull fire the said Rowly had from the 2d story upward the Room of seaventeen foot from north to south, and ten foot in bredth from East to West over the passage and part of the shop of the said Sanders. We therefore find that the said Mr Sanders hath in Rebuilding his said house carryd the Party wall upright and Intire and inclosed the said Rome of Mr Rowly to his own house. Now to the end the said Party wall may remain Intire and upright we doe order and award that the said Mr Saunders shall enjoy all the sd Roome of 10 foot in bredth & 17 foot in Length wholy to himself and that the said Rowly shall make such Legall conveyance of the same until him as councill Learned in the Law shall advise if it be necessary, and that the said Mr Sanders shall make the like conveyance to him the said Rowell for a parcel of Groun lying next behind the house of the said Rowly which said parcel shall contein fourteen foot in bredth from East to west and twelve foot in depth from north to South. In testimony whereof we have hereunto set our hands this 4th Day of July 1670.

                                                                        Rob: Hooke:    Jo: Oliver

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was born on the Isle of Wight as the son of an Anglican priest. At his father’s death in 1648, he inherited £40. He moved to London to begin an apprenticeship but entered Westminster School instead. There, he mastered Latin and Greek, learned to play the organ, and began a lifelong fascination with mechanics. He obtained a chorister’s place at Christ Church, Oxford, and received a Master of Arts degree in 1662 or 1663. There, he became a friend of architect and polymath Christopher Wren. A year after the Royal Society was founded in 1660, Hooke became the Society’s curator, demonstrating experiments for the members. He became a noted polymath, active as a scientist, architect, surveyor, astronomer, paleontologist, and physicist. Called by some “England’s Leonardo,” Hooke was Surveyor of the City of London. In the aftermath of the Great Fire in 1666, Hooke served as chief assistant to Christopher Wren in rebuilding London. He designed several buildings, including an observatory, a hospital, a library, a parish church, the Royal College of Physicians, and others. He collaborated with Wren on St. Paul’s Cathedral, the dome of which was constructed using methods Hooke developed. He also participated in the settlement of many property disputes after the Great Fire because of his skill as a surveyor and tact as an arbitrator.

John Oliver (1616-1701) was a master mason and glazier by training. After the Great Fire, he was appointed one of the three surveyors of the City of London (with Peter Mills and Robert Hooke). Later in life, he became a printmaker, publisher, and dealer in maps.

[1]M. A. R. Cooper, “Robert Hooke’s Work as Surveyor for the City of London in the Aftermath of the Great Fire. Part Three: Settlement of Disputes and Complains Arising from Rebuilding,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 52 (July 1998): 209.

[2] Sir Samuel Starling, a brewer, was Lord Mayor of London from November 1669 to November 1670.

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