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Greenwich (pronounced Gren-itch) is best known for its maritime history and many visitors are drawn to see the Old Greenwich Royal Observatory (home of the Prime Meridian), the National Maritime Museum, The Queen's House, the Old Royal Naval College and of course the Cutty Sark Sailing Clipper.
The scenic way to get to these sites is via the River Thames. Regular tour boats leave central London and the visitor is treated to a narrated history of the buildings and places along the way.
As the boat approaches Greenwich Pier the tourist gets the most magnificent view of the Old Royal Naval College and the Queen’s House with the park and Observatory behind. The importance of Greenwich has been recognised by UNESCO and it is now a World Heritage Site listed as ‘Maritime Greenwich’.
Greenwich Pier exits into Cutty Sark Gardens in which is a dry dock containing the world famous sailing clipper Cutty Sark. A Must Visit for all those interested in veteran sailing clippers.
The round, red brick, domed structure to the right on exiting the pier is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the Thames to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs.
A 10 minutes stroll commencing from the Cutty Sark, along King William Walk takes the visitor to St Mary’s Gate, the entrance to Greenwich Park.
It is quite a climb up the hill to General James Wolfe
’s statue, the Observatory and the Planetarium, but is well worth it.
There are two ways to walk up – either by taking the well signed walking path through the park and then climbing the very steep stairs to the top (the quickest route).
Then there is the motor vehicle free road - (The Avenue) from St Mary’s Gate which climbs the hill in an anti clockwise direction and reaches the Observatory after passing the ‘Tea House’ – a welcome break for those with a slower pace!
After reaching the hilltop, the views of Wren’s buildings, the river and London
beyond are magnificent. To the right can be seen the spaceship like structure of the Millennium Dome, now called The O2
Greenwich has been a settlement since pre-historic times. Tumuli in Greenwich Park have been dated to the early Bronze Age and in the 6th century the Saxons used the same area as a burial ground. In the park, between the Vanbrugh and Maze Hill Gates, 4th century Roman remains were found and are protected behind iron railings.
In the 11th century the Viking invaders made Greenwich
their base to raid Kent. Archbishop Alfege of Canterbury
was captured and held prisoner for 7 months at the Greenwich
camp. Unfortunately the Vikings murdered him at the site of St Alfege Church
The Norman Conquest
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, a royal palace and hunting ground was established on the site of Greenwich
Park. The palace was enlarged and extended and by the 15th century was called the Palace of Placentia. It was a favourite royal residence of King Henry VIII
Henry built two major dockyards, one at Woolwich and one at Deptford and so began Greenwich
’s maritime history. Queen Anne Boleyn lived in the Tudor palace and the future Queen Mary I
and Queen Elizabeth I
were born there and spent much of their childhood playing in Greenwich
The Queen's House
In the 17th century King Charles I started renovations and building the Queen’s House, but these stopped when he did away with Parliament and the disastrous Civil War started. The Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell deliberately neglected the palace and by the time King Charles II was restored to the throne it was in a pretty bad state of repair.
Charles II demolished the Tudor palace and decided the new palace should be built in the classical style. Only the ‘King Charles Block’ was completed. King William III did not live at Greenwich
, preferring Kensington Palace
Sir Christopher Wren & the Naval Almshouses
William and Queen Mary II engaged Sir Christopher Wren
to finish the palace intending to use the buildings as naval almshouses. Wren, realising he would not live to see the buildings completed insisted on the foundations for the three remaining blocks being built thus ensuring his design would not be changed. The four blocks, connected by colonnades are as we see them today.
The two buildings on the riverside are the King Charles and the Queen Anne Blocks. The two buildings with the domes are the King William and Queen Mary Blocks and contain the Painted Hall and The Chapel.
These almshouses must have been the most magnificent retirement home ever built! They really were totally unsuitable as a Royal Naval Hospital but thanks to Queen Mary’s misguided vision we have a most beautiful set of buildings for our enjoyment now. In 1873 the buildings became the Royal Naval College until 1998 when the Navy vacated the premises.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)8706 082 000
Tourist Information Centre
The Information Centre is just inside the gates to the University of Greenwich, at the southern end of Cutty Sark Gardens and close to the stern of the Cutty Sark.
Follow the Tourist Information signs in Cutty Sark Gardens and in Greenwich itself.
Google Maps - Greenwich