Continuing our journey on the DLR, we arrived in the historic Naval area of Greenwich, home to the Cutty Sark, Royal Greenwich Observatory, Royal Naval College and many other landmarks…
Status: Royal Borough of Greenwich, Greater London (historically Kent), District, England
Travel: DLR (Bank – Cutty Sark)
Eating & Sleeping: The Old Brewery
Attractions: Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory, St Alfege Church, Royal Museums Greenwich, River Thames, Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Queen’s House, Millennium Dome, Flamsteed House, Greenwich Meridian etc
Arriving at Cutty Sark DLR Station, we were greeted by 1 of the enormous Tunnel Boring Machines which was used to cut the rail tunnels that link the Isle of Dogs with Greenwich, when the DLR was extended in 1991. It also appears to have been painted to resemble the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom created by the imposition of the Flag of England over that of Scotland, with the St Patrick’s Cross added when Ireland joined the Union in the 19th century.
Emerging into the centre of town, we got a great view up the local high street, towards the tower of the Church of Alfege, rising high above the older Georgian brick buildings. Designed and built by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661 – 1736, English Architect) between 1711 and 1714, the Church was created after the passing of the “Fifty New Churches Act 1711”. This allowed for up to fifty new Churches to be built in London as the community grew, although in reality less than 20 would actually be constructed, whilst others were rebuilt.
The new Church here in Greenwich replaced a previous version destroyed in 1710 dating back centuries, and famous as the place of Baptism of the future King of England, Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in 1491. The main tower of the Church was added in 1730, by John James (1673 – 1746, English Architect), and later rebuilt in the early 19th century.
Heading North along Greenwich Church Street, we came out on the banks of the Thames, at the Southern end of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, designed by Sir Alexander Binnie (1839 – 1917, Chief Engineer for London County Council) at the end of the 19th century. Its main purpose was to allow an easy through route for people living in Greenwich who worked in the docks on the other side of the river in the area now known as Canary Wharf, in place of a previous ferry service. The tunnel opened in 1902, and runs 1215 ft underneath the thames, with pedestrians encased in cast iron rings clad in concrete.
Either end of the Tunnel is marked by a circular brick building, topped by a large glass dome. They house both a spiral staircase and a set of lifts, allowing easy access to the tunnel. Whilst today the old docks at Canary Wharf have long since closed, it is still an invaluable link across the Thames, as the nearest bridges are:
East: Dartford Crossing, 19.0 miles away in Kent, carrying the A282 which connects up with the M25 Orbital Motorway at either side of the bridge. Numerous tunnels do lie between Greenwich and Dartford, most notably the twin Blackwall Tunnels that connect the 02 Arena with Tower Hamlets.
In front of the Tunnel entrance stands the tall, imposing figure of the Cutty Sark, a large Clipper originally built for carrying tea at the Clyde docks in Glasgow in 1869. The Cutty Sark set sail in late 1869, registered at the Port of London, entering service as a ship carrying cargo between the UK/Europe, and the East Indies/China. The ship is now the last remaining example of a Tea Clipper, now in a permanent dry dock and open to the public.
By 1895 the Cutty Sark had been sold to Ferreira & Co, a Portuguese Company from Lisbon, and renamed the Ferreria during use as a Cargo Ship. She wouldn’t return to Britain until 1922, when she was bought by Wilfred Dowman in the 1920’s, and berthed in the Cornish town of Falmouth, where she became a training ship. She would continue in this capacity, albeit in different ports until the 1950’s, when she was put into a dry dock to be preserved for future generations.
The drydock itself was custom built, as an open dock which the ship was sailed into. Once inside, the North end of the dock, bordering the Thames, was filled in, effectively stranding her inland. You can find out more about the Cutty Sark, and visiting times, on their official website here.
As shown behind the Greenwich entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel earlier, you get a fantastic view of the Isle of Dogs, the large peninsula in Tower Hamlets which the new Canary Wharf complex inhabits. The main tower in the area is called One Canada Square, which can be identified above by the distinctive pyramid which tops the roof. When the 770 ft skyscraper was completed in 1990, it became Britain’s tallest building, although it has now been surpassed by the Shard, at just over 1000 ft.
You can find out more about the various towers at Canary Wharf, and the history of the old docks which used to take up the area, in my Tower Hamlets post here.
Moving along the river, just passed the Cutty Sark, we arrived outside the “Pepys Building” which currently houses the Royal Museums Greenwich. The original portion of the building to be completed is the block to the far right, designed by Alexander Ross Clarke (1828 – 1914, British Geodesist & Royal Engineer) in the 1870’s.
It would soon be joined by 2 more blocks, in the centre, and to the far left. They were designed to mirror the existing block, so you’d be hard pressed to tell that they weren’t actually built at the same time, or by the same architect. The job of designing the new blocks was given to General Pudsey, and completed by 1883, housing Racket Courts for the Royal Naval College, which moved into the old Greenwich Hospital a decade earlier, but more on that in a moment.
Outside the building stands a statue of Sir Walter Raleigh (1554 – 1618, English Writer, Soldier and Politician) who was an important player during colonisation of North America. He later became infamous for both his attempts to find the legendary City of Gold, El Dorado, in 1594, and his involvement in the plot to unseat King James I (1566 – 1625) from the British Throne in 1603. After imprisonment for treason until 1616, Raleigh tried for a 2nd time to find El Dorado, although on his journey he attacked a Spanish Outpost, for which he was executed when he returned to England in 1618.
From this area of Greenwich, you can look East towards the 02 Arena, immediately recognisable thanks to its distinctive sweeping dome, and the 12 x 328 ft tall yellow towers which support the whole structure.
Designed by Richard Rogers (Born 1933, Italian Architect), the Dome opened in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium, housing a large exhibition space, open to the public. Unfortunately it wasn’t as popular as it was forecast to be, and after just a couple of years it was forced to close, with many of the exhibition spaces being dismantled and removed.
In 2005 however it was offered a reprieve, when it reopened as the 02 Arena, which it remains today. Various live performances are held here, and it remains 1 of the premier destinations in the East of Greenwich, although many locals and visitors still refer to it as “The Dome”. You can find out more about events at the 02 on their official website here.
1 of the most well known landmarks in Greenwich is the Royal Naval College, shown above, a beautiful set of twin buildings, which originally opened as the Greenwich Hospital in 1692, although it was still a Naval Facility. The Hospital was used to treat officers serving in the Royal Navy for over 150 years, an idea instigated by Queen Mary II (1662 – 1694) after she witnessed the horror of the wounded soldiers returning from battle.
The building is split into 2 sections, which was actually an after thought, as apparently the new hospital would have impeded the view from the Queen’s House, which you can just see in the distance at the back of the picture. To negate this, a gap was left between the 2 halves of the building, allowing a full view out to the River Thames.
In 1869 the Hospital was shut down, and lay derelict until 1873 when the Royal Navy moved in for the next 100 years, using the site as a training college for new recruits into the Navy. Aside from a brief suspension in 1919 when the building was requisitioned for use as barracks for troops during WWI, training continued until around 1998, when the building passed into the care of the Greenwich Foundation. Like many of the old buildings in the area, it is now open to the public, with various areas of the complex open to visit.
The most notable areas are “The Chapel”, located in King William Court, the right hand building, and “The Painted Hall”, in the Queen Mary Court to the left. Both date back to the Greenwich Hospital days, with “The Chapel” being a religious area residents of the Hospital could practice their faith. The Painted Hall was sparsely used, mainly becoming an attraction, especially when the body of Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805, British Naval Officer killed in the Battle of Trafalgar) lay in state there before being transferred to St Pauls Cathedral in the City of London.
Outside in the main courtyard, on the path that leads from the Queen’s House to the Thames sits a statue of King George II (1683 – 1760). Greenwich was the location where he made landfall after sailing from The Hague in the Netherlands, where he took the title of Prince of Wales, whilst his father, George I (1660 – 1727) became King of Great Britain & Ireland. Although both George’s were born in Hanover, Germany, they inherited the British Throne through Queen Anne (1665 – 1714, 1st Monarch of the new United Kingdom created in 1707). She passed away without bearing a child, so the Throne was inherited by George I, her 2nd cousin.
Moving through the grounds of the Naval College, we approached the aforementioned Queen’s House, originally built for Queen Consort Anne of Denmark (1574 – 1619, Wife of James I) in 1616. This fine mansion was designed by Inigo Jones (1573 – 1652, British Architect from London), but unfortunately construction stalled in 1618 with the building incomplete, and Anne died the following year.
It wouldn’t be 100% complete until 1635, after the building had been gifted to Henrietta Maria (1609 – 1669, Queen Consort of King Charles I, the successor to King James I). Again it’s intended occupant didn’t have time to make full use of the building, as the English Civil War broke out in 1642, and Charles I was executed in 1649, marking the end of the Monarchy when Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) took over as Lord Protector. When Charles II (Son of Henrietta/Charles I) eventually restored the Monarchy in 1660, Henrietta took up residence until 1662, until she moved West to the county of Somerset.
The building would eventually enter the possession of the Royal Naval Asylum, gifted by George III (1738 – 1820) in 1805, before it became part of the National Maritime Museum in the mid 20th century. Today it is open to the public like the rest of the Greenwich complex, and remains an important part of the Boroughs history.
High on the hill overlooking Queen’s House and the Old Naval College sits Flamsteed House, a large observatory designed by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723) for King Charles II in 1675. It occupies a site once held by Greenwich Castle, of which no remains currently exist. The building was named after John Flamsteed (1646 – 1719, English Astronomer), who became the 1st holder of the post of “Astronomer Royal”, created by Charles. The observatory would become famous in 1851, when Sir George Airy (1801 – 1892, English Astronomer) established the Greenwich Meridian at the observatory in 1851, a longitudinal line based at 0 degrees, around which co-ordinates of points around the globe were based. It also became the point around which GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) was founded, with it becoming 0 on the time scale. Areas East of here would be +1 hour, and areas to the west were -1 hour, going up incrementally.
You can see the line of the actual Meridian if you visit the observatory, as it is represented by a long strip of stainless steel passing through the courtyard.
Turning back towards the River, we took in the view that the Monarchs would have seen, between the almighty halves of the Hospital/Naval College, domes glistening in the afternoon sun, with the Thames laid out beyond. It’s a stunning view, and illustrates perfectly why this area of Greenwich is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1 of 3 in London, the others being the area around Westminster Abbey/Palace, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and the Tower of London.
Just to the right of Queen’s House lies the “National Maritime Museum”, housed in the stunning building shown above. I mentioned earlier that Queen’s House became part of the Royal Naval Asylum in 1805, as did this building. It would only last a year, with the Asylum moving out in 1806, and the Royal Hospital School took over until 1933 when it moved slightly North to Suffolk. The Museum was created in 1934, and occupied the Royal Hospital School buildings, which includes Queen’s House and Flamsteed House, all of which come under the UNESCO World Heritage Site here at Greenwich.
Greenwich has a long Naval History, which is also closely linked with the British Monarch, for which the Borough as a whole was awarded the title of “Royal Borough” in 2012 in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. There is plenty of history, heritage and some of the worlds most famous attractions, such as the Prime Meridian and the Cutty Sark. With the arrival of DLR in 1991, the area has become a lot more accessible to visitors, with stations at Cutty Sark, and just round the corner at Greenwich. Whilst the Jubilee Line misses out the main part of Greenwich, it does call at North Greenwich tube station outside the Millennium Dome, and various National Rail lines/stations bisect the borough.
With the new transport links, Greenwich is the perfect place to spend an afternoon, and you could even pop in for a drink at the Old Brewery, a charming cafe located in an old brewery from 1831, which is now part of the Pepys Museum/Museum of Greenwich.
As for us, we had many other areas of London to explore, starting with the London Borough of Camden, home to some of London’s most famous train stations…