Underground Greenwich (2) Tunnels in Greenwich Park

Since commencing myown personal Great Greenwich Read-A-Thon, I have realised A Universal Truth. No – nothing about single men in posession of fortunes or anything like that, no.

Merely that a story set in Greenwich or Blackheath must be in want of a good underground tunnel. I got no further than page 19 of The Worm of Death (sitll loving that title) before they started mentioning the tunnels in Greenwich Park, and virtually all the other books set in the area are based around the fantasy of a troglodytic world.

On Bentos’s suggestion, I thought I’d do a bit of sniffing about these caverns and tunnels, but am sure I’m only scraping the surface here. Anyone who wants to add a freaky fact or spooky story of their own, please feel free to do so…

My first link is to

www.kurg.org.uk/sites/secret.htm

which is all about underground tunnels, and they describe the ones under Greenwich Park as conduits rather than secret passages. They are very much man-made, brick-lined and with rather splendid arched roofs. They’re about 5ft high and half as wide, so not imposible to walk along if you stooped a bit, assuming you were actually allowed anywhere near them. They’re very closely guarded by Royal Parks. Various people have claimed to have spent some time as small children looking for the entrances, but no one I’ve ever met has ever actually been in one. Do let me know if you actually managed it. Some of them are as long as a quarter of a mile. The site reckons that there are little gaps in the bottom three courses leading to lead troughs in the floor, with occasional manholes.

I have no idea exactly where they run – they apparently have lots of branches, but I can’t find a map of them (do let me know if you know of one.) They were meant as a means of collecting water for the Royal Palace, presumably the more recent one rather than Placentia, though a somewhat obscure English Heritage feature seems to imply they are medieval. I do know that if you stand in the bottom part of the park looking back in the direction of the river you’ll spot, in a private garden, one of the oldest buildings in Greenwich, and, if memory serves, one of the few remaining parts of Placentia. It’s a square, red-roofed building, in a garden to the right of the Queens House as you look from the park, and I remember being told that it once housed the royal water supply – which was well-guarded to prevent poisoning. Perhaps it’s connected to the park conduits.

There’s a conduit head from about 1710 on the corner of West Grove and Hyde Vale – it is quite large, brick-built and has a rounded top. It also has a plaque on it which I must read one day. There’s also a largeish brick building in the west part of the park which I have always assumed was something to do with the water suply – maybe one of the Friends could enlighten me?

Another hole in the park is also mentioned by this site, a 100ft well built in 1670 at the Royal Observatory by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal. He would go down the spiral steps and point his extra-long telescope towards the heavens. The Kurg site says you can see it at the Observatory, but I confess I don’t remember it.

Of course the biggest tunnel underneath Greenwich Park is the railway link from London Bridge out towards Dartford. It was going to be above ground but the good burghers of Greenwich opposed it violently during the 1830s and it was instead built underground in 1878.

Here’s a link to a great pic of the conduit under the park: (you might need to reformat it so it works)

http://viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/search/reference.asp?index=2497&main_query=&theme=&period=&county=&district=&place_name=London&imageUID=76063

I’ll cover the Blackheath tunnels, caverns and other heath-type holes another day…


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