I was recently commissioned to paint a few places in the London Borough of Greenwich. All the places featured, are within 15 minutes walking distance of each other so on a visit you can pack a huge amount into a day. Much of it is open spaces and parkland too, so if your are a mite tired of the rough and tumble on central London, then a day out in Greenwich might be just the ticket.
There are five views in all, so I thought I would spread them across two painting stories. This is part one. See part two of the Greenwich tour here.
The Cutty Sark
Now there is nothing more important to an Englishman and his tea. Wars have been started, endured, and ended over tea.
Now when the tea was grown and packed in China, the ship that could get back to England the quickest would get the best price for the tea on board.
The Cutty Sark was built especially for this very task and on the 25th June 1870, she left Shanghai sailed down the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived in London on the 13th October. She was without doubt one of the fastest ships afloat.
Her glory days were short, however, as her building coincided with the opening of the Suez Canal, and the building of steam ships. Slowly the improvements on steam ship design made the trip around the Cape uneconomical and she spent the rest of her career on general cargo duties and finally a training ship for cadets.
Today, she is a museum and you can go on board and have a small glimpse of the life of a 19th century sailor. Oddly, I don’t think they have a tea shop!
The Greenwich observatory
Over the years there have been many buildings on this hill top spot, however, it was not until 1674, that Sir Jonas Moore persuaded King Charles II to build the Royal Observatory here.
Aside from being the Royal Observatory, it was also employed to mark the site of the Greenwich Meridian where Greenwich Mean Time is established. It also contained the most advanced telescopes, and most accurate clocks in the world.
These accurate clocks were employed to aid the captains of ships in the Pool of London to accurately set their chronometers to help establish the elusive longitude prior to a long sea journey.
This was achieved by the rather ingenious idea of the large orange ball on the top of the observatory. It is winched up to the top of its staff and at exactly one o’clock it drops to the bottom. With a reasonable telescope this can be seen in the London docks. One can only assume that ships didn’t leave on foggy days.
The last time it was used as a professional observatory was in 1924, which isn’t bad considering that’s over 250 years at the same location.
Today, it plies its trade as a museum of astronomical and navigational tools, this is attached to the National Maritime Museum which sits at the bottom of the hill.
Amongst other exhibits, you will find John Harrison’s prize-winning longitude marine chronometer, the H4, and its three predecessors, You also get to ‘see’ the Greenwich Meridian. This is marked by a steel strip across the floor so visitors can have their photo took with one foot in the Western hemisphere and the other in the Eastern hemisphere.
The only issue being that with modern, more accurate measuring, the current strip is just over 100 meters too far to the West. No one seems to be that bothered though, they were all happy snapping away, and any pedants would have been given short shrift.
Old Royal Naval College
Originally this building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, started out as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, a sort of sister hospital to the one in Chelsea for soldiers which is still in use today.
This closed in the 1869 and was converted to the Royal Naval College. The Royal Navy trained their future sailors there until 1989 when they left for Dartmouth, never to be seen again.
At that point, there was a massive oversight by the London authorities, and assorted multinational building firms. They completely forgot to demolish it all and put glass flats, and office blocks in its place.
This disaster continued when it was handed over to the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College who promised to preserve it all for the nation, and UNESCO promptly pronounced it as “finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape ensemble in the British Isles”, so that’s that then, it looks like it’s there to stay.
It is without doubt a beautiful site and well worth a visit, the National Maritime Museum, or watching the filming of another Dickens or Bronte TV series.