Best known for Greenwich mean time, the historical maritime town of Greenwich has much more of interest: world famous architecture, churches, ships, museums, parks, walks, galleries, restaurants, markets, and, not least, the Prime Meridian where you can stand in both the eastern and western hemispheres. In fact the town centre is itself a World Heritage Site, designated as such in 1997. Boasting buildings by famous architects Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Joseph Kay, the town centre offers unrivalled architectural views.
The area, on the bank of the river Thames in south-east London, was settled as early as the bronze age, proof of which are burial grounds uncovered in the area. Roman remains have also been found in Greenwich near Maze Hill gate. The Danes discovered the area in the 10th century.
St Alfege church witnessed the murder of its archbishop at the hands of Danish soldiers in 1012. The Norman conquest ousted the Danes and by 1414 Greenwich started its history as a playground for royalty when Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (brother of Henry V) built his home here. On his death The home later morphed into Greenwich palace (overseen by Henry VII) serving as a home for the Tudor kings and the birth place of Henry VIII and his daughters Elizabeth I and Mary and also the scene of two of his infamous marriages. The palace no longer exists.
For 400 years Greenwich was important to Britain’s maritime heritage. Hostile attacks on London by river had to pass by the town, therefore its military significance. About the 16th century shipbuilding was an important industry along the Thames, but it declined around 1869. In 1694 a royal hospital was constructed for seamen. The hospital closed in 1869 and was converted into the Royal Naval College, and is now the site of the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music.
Other royal influences include the brick wall built around the park by King James I who then gave the park to his wife Anne. She had the Palladian style Queen’s house designed and built by famous architect Inigo Jones. It was finished in 1635 after her death when Charles I gave Greenwich to his wife, Henrietta-Marie.
Charles II got involved in Greenwich by creating the Royal Society in 1661 and commissioning Christopher Wren to build the observatory. He also remodelled the park and had the Tudor palace levelled, intending to build a new one. His park projects included the creation of the great steps—grass terraces lined with hawthorn—an avenue of chestnut trees (Blackheath Avenue), and the planting of woodlands. After King James II’s time royalty lost interest in Greenwich. It was his daughter who gave the palace site for use as a seaman’s hospital.
Greenwich can be reached by DLR (Docklands Light Railway), bus, coach, river boat, mainline train, or underground.
Greenwich Tourist Information Centre
2 Cutty Sark Gardens
London SE10 9LW
Tel. 0870 608 2000
You can buy tickets and book accommodation at the TIC
2 Greenwich Church St, Greenwich
Tel. 0 20 8858 2698
Open: closed until late 2008 for conservation work; some hard hat tours available; check website for full details.
1869 sailing ship used to haul tea, then wool; shop
Web: Cutty Sark
12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich
Tel. 0208-305 1441 or 0208-293 1889
Open: Tue-Sat, 11am-5pm; sun from noon to 5pm; afternoon tea on Tue and Sun from 3pm.
Over 3500 mainly 17th and 18th century fans with some 19th century and early ones on display in Georgian houses; gift shop
Web: Fan Museum
Greenwich Heritage Centre
Tel. 020 8854 2452
Open: Tue-Sat, 9am-5pm
An amalgamation of the former borough museum and local history library; information and displays on Greenwich history and the royal arsenal and royal Woolwich dockyard told in documents, books, maps, photographs, and prints; talks; activities; shop
Reached from London by Jubilee underground North Greenwich, then 188 bus; by DLR to Cutty Sark station or Greenwich station; buses and riverboats also available.
Open: park from 6am to pedestrians, 7am to traffic, year round; teahouse from 9am-8pm in summer, until 4pm in winter; St Mary’s Gate Café from 9am-8pm in summer, in winter weekends only. London’s oldest enclosed royal park with 180 acres; part of the World Heritage site and a Grade I listed landscape; chestnut avenues; location of the Prime Meridian and the Royal Observatory; flower garden; boating lake; wilderness with deer; pavilion tea garden; children’s playground.
Web: Greenwich Park
National Maritime Museum
Greenwich Park, Greenwich
Tel. 020 8312 6565 for recorded information
Open: 10am-5pm, daily, until 6pm in summer
Britain’s seafaring heritage with related artefacts and displays; inside the Neptune Hall is a museum of marine artefacts; the Barge House is home to Prince Frederick’s barge and Queen Mary’s shallop. The West Wing has displays of the early voyages of discovery, information on the Royal Navy, ships’ models, Britain’s marine history, shipbuilding, and much more. The Old Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House are part of the museum.
Planetarium at Royal Observatory, Greenwich
Go to Planetarium shows for names and times of shows.
Old Royal Naval College
Tel. 020 8269 4747
Open: daily grounds 8am-6pm; hall, chapel and visitor centre open 10am-5pm; Sun hours for chapel are 12.30pm-5pm but 11am service open to all.
The Naval college was established by royal charter in 1694; moved to this site in 1873 and disbanded in 1998. Baroque buildings located on site of Greenwich palace where Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I were born; designed by several architects, one of whom was Wren; the painted hall and plasterwork in the chapel of St Peter and St Paul are of special note. Visitor Centre located in Pepys building has displays on history of Greenwich and the building; shop, café open 10am-4.30pm; King William restaurant open noon-3pm, Tue-Fri and Sun.
Greenwich, part of the National Maritime Museum
Open: 10am-5pm, daily, until 6pm in summer
Palladian villa built by Inigo Jones; inside the Neptune Hall is a museum of marine artefacts; the Barge House is home to Prince Frederick’s barge and Queen Mary’s shallop. The West Wing has displays of the early voyages of discovery, information on the Royal Navy, ships’ models, Britain’s marine history, shipbuilding, and much more.
In Greenwich Park, Greenwich; part of National Maritime Museum.
Open: 10am-5pm, daily, until 6pm in summer.
Built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675; World Heritage site; home of the Prime Meridian; four time galleries: Time and Longitude, Time and Greenwich, Time and Society, and Time and the navy
Web: Royal Observatory
Castle Wood, Shooters Hill, London, SE18 3RT (Greenwich area), directions on website
Open: April-end Oct, Thu, Fri, and Sun, 12.30-4.30pm; autumn/winter Thu, Fri, Sun, 11am-3pm
Small Gothic-style building constructed as a folly by Lady James (thought to be memorial to her husband, a director of the East India Co.); style mimics castles built as fortresses but no living accommodation; wedding and venue site; tea-room
Web: Severndroog Castle
St Alfege Church
Greenwich Church St, Greenwich
Open: Sat, 11.30am-4pm; sun noon-4pm; check website for service times.
Grade I listed Hawksmoor church built in 1714; ring of ten bells in tower;
Web: St Alfege
Wernher Collection, Rangers House
Tel. 020 8853 0035
Open: April-end Sep, 10am-5pm on Mon, Tue, Wed, and Sun; Oct-end March pre-booked tours only; closed rest of year.
Under the care of English Heritage; collection of Renaissance objets d’art; Georgian paintings, and furniture in Georgian villa built 1723; former home of Sir Julius Wernher, one of De Beers’ diamond mine founders.
Photos © by Barbara Ballard and
Photos courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Cutty Sark by Chris Downer; Maritime Museum by Richard Croft; Royal Naval College by Christine Matthews; St Alfege church by Todd Keator; and two photos of Greenwich park courtesy Greenwich tourism; Fan Museum courtesy the Fan Museum
History of Maritime Greenwich
Please check all opening times as they can change from year to year.
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