Archive for February, 2008

Benedict’s Sheep

Friday, February 29th, 2008

This absolutely refused to load on the correct post, but I loved it so much (and thought Mark’s girl might enjoy it too) that it’s got its own. Benedict won a BBC competition with this image, taken at Mudchute Farm. Congratulations, Benedict. Off you go, Mark…

Beer and Gin

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Virtually nothing survives of the old palace of Placentia, as we were discussing yesterday. So when I hear about something that does just about cling onto existence, I want to know about it. Especially if just about the only description I can find on the internet claims it is ‘obscene.’

I read about Beer and Gin – two ancient figures who lived over the Buttery (food store) at Placentia – in a single sentence in a guidebook written in 1937. Sir Geoffrey Callender, who was the first Director of the National Maritime Museum refers to the pair in passing as having
“presided over many a riotous scene in the days of Bluff King Hal, still serving a long term of imprisonment in the Tower of London, whither they were moved by order of the Commonwealth.”

I was intrigued. I’d never heard of such figures. I googled the pair to infinity, finding only one other mention – as their being ‘obscene.’ No pictures at all, no mention in any modern references to the Tower today.

Now I love an ancient obscene figure as much as the next Phantom, and when faced with the concept of two of them, I sniffed A Quest. Not least, perhaps, one of rescue. What the hell were they doing still languishing in the Tower when Greenwich could do with all the ancient obscene figures it could get? (And no, Chris Roberts doesn’t count.)

Since I couldn’t find anyone to tell me whether they were still there, there was only one thing for it. Co-opt a couple of American visitors and seek the jolly pair out myself.

We decided to do the whole tourist thing – I mean if you’re paying sixteen quid each you want every cheesy moment the Tower can throw at you. And believe me – there are cheesy moments a-go-go on a visit to the Tower. We did the Beefeater Tour, the Crown Jewels and the photo opportunity with the ravens. We paced up and down Sir Walter Raleigh’s Walk and dutifully voted about whether we thought the Little Princes were actually murdered by Richard III. We heard gory tales of Tyburn and Tower Hill and Jack Ketch, The Most Inept Executioner In All Of England. And then we got down to business.

The first Yeoman I asked didn’t know what the hell I was talking about – I doubt he gets many questions that don’t include Anne Boleyn, torture or his costume. It didn’t bode well. So I went for the oldest, beardiest, fattest-looking Beefeater I could find – always the best idea when asking obscure, I find. And obscene. Beer and Gin? Just by the stairs on the first floor in the White Tower, he told me. Tension mounted. Filth coming up…


You know, I spent a long time trying to work out what on earth was obscene about the strange pair in front of me. Waist-length carved wooden gentlemen in Tudor doublet and gown, each clutching a tankard in pudgy fingers and looking – well, a bit pathetic, actually.

They’ve clearly been knocked about a bit (by Cromwell, boo, hiss) and Beer has what looks like a whip wound around his middle. One of my American companions pointed out a slight bulge in an obvious place in Beer’s puffy pants, but frankly, I would defy Mary Whitehouse herself to find these two ‘obscene.’ Comic? Perhaps. Creepy? Definitely. Obscene? Nah…

I can only assume that Cromwell thought that the very act of drinking was obscene. Tell you what, though. Rude or not, I still think they could find a little spot for Beer and Gin in the new Interpretation Centre in Greenwich. Our very own Statler and Waldorf, commenting on goings-on from that balcony up the spiral staircase. I can just see it now:

Beer:”It’s good to be heckling again.”
Gin: “It’s good to be doing anything again!”
Both: “Ha ha ha ha!”

A new campaign for the Phantom, perhaps.

If I’m absolutely honest, there is something else more important (what – more important than Beer and Gin?) The Tower holds that I would like to see returned to Greenwich. But that’s for another day…

Sheepish Phantom

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

This has to be the oddest Ask The Phantom I’ve had so far…

Mark asks:

My girl is absolutely mad about sheep. Cotswold sheep, in specific. Unfortunately she is stuck over in the states in a completely sheepless area. So, for her birthday which is coming up in early April, I thought I would go and try and collect images of her obsession for a sheep-focussed birthday love-letter. (My word, that does sound problematic…)

Now, I have heard rumours of some unknown species of sheep being kept in a park somewhere in or near Greenwich and I’m aware that there’s an urban farm in Mudchute just across the Thames… but would you, or any of your readers, happen to know of more locations I might find sheep in the general area? Cotswolds are the preferred breed, but I’ll take any I can find. Unfortunately I am unable to get myself over to the Cotswolds, the obvious place to search, and am otherwise limited to the general London area, Greenwich being the one in which I live and work.

Unfortunately other people’s pictures of sheep don’t help, it’s just… not going to be the same unless I go out and photograph the sheep myself!

The Phantom replies:

Woodlands Farm Trust has four varieties of sheep – Romney, Suffolk, Texel and Lleyn. Sadly no Cotswold baa-lambs there, but a bit further up the Thames than Lechlade…

At Maryon Wilson Park in Charlton you can actually ‘adopt’ a sheep for your girl. They don’t mention varieties, but they all have names – like poor Mylo who is missing an ear after being attacked by a dog a couple of years back when vandals smashed up the enclosure.

There’s another City Farm – Surrey Docks Farm – along the Thames Path around Bermondsey. It doesn’t appear to have a website.

You know, I’m sure I’ve seen photos by none other than our very own Benedict that included sheep. Of course I might have been hallucinating. It doesn’t sound very likely, I know, but…Benedict? I know you’re more into toads these days – but can you help a young couple?

The King’s House

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Sir Christopher Wren did such a great botch-job on what is now The Old Royal Naval College, that most people tend to assume it was all built at the same time. Truth is, one of the four main courts of Greenwich Hospital is considerably older than the other three, and it was only after eating a slice of humble pie (the recipe of which modern architects could use a taste) that Wren actually came up with what we have today.

It was all a bit of a mess, really. Duke Humphrey’s Bella Court (now firmly underneath the lawns at the ORNC) had been subsumed into Placentia, prettied-up by Margaret of Anjou and enjoyed by sundry monarchs up to James I (or VI of Scotland, if you’re being picky.) But by the time he was building The Queen’s House for his wife (who most ungratefully died before it was finished) poor old Placentia was looking pretty feeble. James, being a weak and feeble type (accused by one contemporary of having ‘spindly legs,’ no less) found the maritime air of Greenwich too bracing and the damp worsened his aches and pains, so he upped sticks to Whitehall. Placentia sat and rotted. Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria found it more to her taste – but stuck to the Queen’s House.

Cromwell sold off everything he could during the Commonwealth, and allowed his soldiers to vandalise the old palace to such an extent that when Charles II came to inspect what was left in 1661, it was a pile in the truest meaning of the word. The place was so neglected that the rusty old gates had to be broken open for him.

The Queen’s House was to be finished – even if now Henrietta Maria was somewhat older – a sad Miss Haversham-esque dowager attended by twenty four gentlemen in black velvet. Her son just wanted a new place. Work began on 4th March, 1664. Samuel Pepys was most excited. “I observed the laying of a very great house for the King,” he wrote, adding “which will cost a great deal of money.”

Pepys was right on the nail, as always. John Webb, the architect, had a grand plan to build it as a grand, three-sided affair, but, in truth everyone knew it was going to be difficult enough to manage just the one.

Like many of Charles’s Big Ideas, the King’s House ran into financial difficulties almost immediately. It was a building site for bloomin’ years. When Pepys came to stay in Greenwich on 24th August 1665, trying to get away from the Plague, he was planning on taking rooms in the palace, but had to content himself elsewhere, as it was nowhere finished.

After three years £26,433 had been spent, and it still wasn’t complete. It didn’t help that Charles was a veritable butterfly – starting projects all over the shop, then flitting onto the next – The Observatory being a case in point. By 1669, Pepys was used to there being nowhere for him when he came to Greenwich. He wearily wrote that it “goes on slow, but is very pretty.”

The East Wing of the King’s House was finally done in 1669. But by this point the world had moved on.

William and Mary were on the throne. Mary wanted to turn the place into a seaman’s hospital, and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design it. He came up with an enormous plan that would flatten both the Queen’s and King’s houses and create an enormous grid-affair of buildings. Mary would hear nothing of it – she wanted to keep the King’s house – and the view from her own gaff. So Wren swallowed his pride, moulding his ideas and ego to fit what was already there.

I ask you. If Sir Christopher Wren could work with old, historic buildings already standing and make something new, vibrant, exciting and relevant out of them, why can’t today’s architects do the same thing? Take the – Victorian, say, buildings we have and adapt them for today’s purposes instead of imposing their conceits and arrogance on us and insisting on razing what is already there to flatter their petty egos?

But I digress yet again. Back to the King’s House.

It’s serious stuff. Heavily classical – pediments, columns, rustications – and with no doubt about its instigator – Carolus II Rex enscribed in giant letters on the river-side. It’s definitely best seen in blazing sunshine or, as photographed at the top by Stevie, by night, when its floodlit severity pays dividends against the black night sky. Inside is the Admiral’s House (for another day) and Trinity College of Music (ditto…) The interior courtyard, still quaintly cobbled, feels more out-of-another-era than the rest of it, and always seems to have a snogging couple lurking in the shadows somewhere whenever I walk through. Aahhhh.

Don’t you just take one look at Stevie’s picture and think what a great place we live in?

Last-Minute Archaeology

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

This has just come to my attention – so if you’re free today, hop along to Woolwich to see what’s going on there. I won’t be there myself, so I’d appreciate any feedback or pics.

I’m really hoping that Oxford Archaeology will actually give people more notice in future. I’d have loved to have seen this…

Site Visit Day: `Teardrop Site’, Warren Lane, adjacent the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich 28th February 2008 c11.00am – 3.00pm Series of pottery kilns from 14th century to 17th century plus a mysterious massive `ditch’.Please contact Dave Score at Oxford Archaeology if you wish to visit.

Greenwich Shudders – And Yet The Phantom Is Unmoved

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Blackheathen writes:

There was just blissful silence in my flat as I lay single in my bed for two (aaahhh!) waiting to drop off when there was the briefest but most palpable of shudders. My very first thought was, that was an earthquake somewhere. Don’t be mad, my inner voice said.

So it was no surprise this morning to hear the news. But so far away? Is this a record?

I even heard talk of a row of bicycles falling over in Amsterdam.

The Phantom confesses to having had a blissful night of uninterrupted sleep. But did anyone else witness bumps in the night as the biggest Earthquake to shake Britain in 20 years rippled out our way?

Perhaps now is the appropriate moment to introduce you to a site that a pal of mine has helped create. Did The Earth Move For You? will compute exactly how far the earth moved while you were enjoying your personal moment of perfect bliss. So that’s what scientists get up to in their spare time…

More Wedding Venue Stuff…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

This really ought to go in an FAQ – except that every wedding enquiry seems to be slightly different…

Sarah asks:

We’d really like to have our civil wedding ceremony in Greenwich then put our guests on a boat from the pier for the recepion. Everywhere I ask say they will only do a ceremony if we book the reception with them too. We would like appox 80-90 guests and think the registry office is too far from the river.We’d like to get married this summer and need the ceremony to cost under £2000.Any suggestions?

The Phantom replies:

Your problem is that there are only a few places that are registered for a civil ceremony and the buggers know it. They know they’ve got you over a barrel and make you do the whole kit and caboodle with them. I’d be tempted to avoid them on principle. If only a few would be a little less greedy and just make themselves available for lovely little standalone civil ceremonies, they’d do a roaring trade. Maybe a few more of the smaller venues should apply (though I’m assuming there are a lot of hoops to jump through and fees to be paid. When it comes to weddings everyone has their hand out…) Sadly The Phantom Back Garden just isn’t big enough, even if it was decked out with some fabulous plastic flowers and the gnomes were dressed in their Sunday best with little carnations in their buttonholes…

What friends of mine have done is two separate events (on different days.) They’ve had a quiet little ‘official’ ceremony at the town hall with a minimum of fuss and relatives, then, on another day, they’ve created their own little unofficial vows ceremony for the people that matter somewhere lovely (usually woods or Neolithic forts, though of course the latter is in short supply around here…) before moving on to yet another venue for the big kneesup.

Hmm. Somewhere near the river. One of these days the Cutty Sark will be available again (though a word to the wise – don’t book a peripatetic jazz band with a sousaphone if you’re going below decks, ok?) but until then the others know how to charge. The Trafalgar will be way over budget – the Admiral’s House is slighty better, I understand, but they make you have Leith’s catering and judging from the just-about-ok meals I’ve had in the King William Restaurant it’s nothing to write home about. The Silver Sturgeon is a fine ship for your boat idea; I believe the company has some smaller vessels that may not be quite as prohibitively expensive.

I’m beginning to see a gap in the market. If only I had the cash…

Maybe the good burghers of Greenwich can come up with better suggestions than me.

Do let me know what you come up with. I would genuinely like to know…

The Phantom Titters…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I’m sorry – but is mine the only puerile mind that finds this image snigger-worthy?

I’m not really sure why – maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the cannon-in-a-condom with Sir Walter looking on in frank admiration, maybe it’s just been a long day…
Thinking about it, it’s all a bit – ahem, masculine around there, isn’t it. We have two obelisks, a cannon, Sir Walter Raleigh and a host of virile sea-captains looking down on it all. We don’t even have a bare-breasted Nannie clutching a piece of horse’s tail to counterbalance the male-female off-kilterness at the moment.
Still, I guess the cannon-that-was-lost is now found and they want to look after it, and good for them.
More news of long-lost local obscene-art that should be returned to its rightful home soon…

General Change…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

David’s getting into a bit of a lather about the Wimpy Bar – and its surroundings.

is it true it is about to close and become a bloody chicken shop oh please say no and the video shop a pond shop oh please say no all the shops empty from the college what si happening to greenwich and could you please tell me what is going on where burger king was major works therealso the state of the st alfeges park the fences torn down the rubbish it s a mess.

Phew. The Phantom doesn’t really know what to say except, perhaps, suggesting a cup of tea and a sit down before reading on…

I don’t know about the Wimpy Bar per se. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it go – it must be one of the few left standing…

It’s certainly a marvellous throwback to the 1970s – when, standing proud in its Britishness, it may have served burgers – but you were never allowed to let it go to your head. You’d be forced to remember you were British, for God’s sake. and you had some values… Waitress service – and you’ll eat that burger with a knife and fork, young Phantom. And don’t forget to ask permission before you leave the table…

I really don’t know what’s happening with that funny little shopping centre – it’s getting sadder and sadder looking – we’ve been discussing it recently. I have indeed heard that the ex-video store will be a pound shop, but maybe better a pound shop than a dead shop? Personally, I’d like to see the whole lot flattened and rebuilt with something a bit less brutalist – they could still keep the Somerfield and the flats and the funny little shops – just in something that doesn’t look so depressing. I was reading about the mass demolition of old places in the 70s last night – presumably that nasty shopping centre was one of the proud results.

While I may have issues with some of the things the Greenwich Society do these days, without them and their efforts in the 1970s, the whole of Greenwich would have looked like that. They prevented a four-lane motorway from driving straight through the Queen’s House and developments like that monstrous shopping centre from replacing the market. And for that I doff my spectral cap.

I was rather surprised to find St Alfege’s cemetery chained and locked yesterday – I don’t know what’s going on there. Anyone know how long it’s been like that?

And David’s question – what’s happening to Greenwich?

I suspect Greenwich is happening to Greenwich.

I don’t know. I got up all happy and cheery this sunny Tuesday morning and now on a right downer. Cheer me up with something good, eh, folks…


Greenwich From The Air…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
You may remember my mentioning my friend Ian who’s a helicopter pilot – he was able to clear up the mystery of why there are always so many helicopters over Greenwich.

Although some of them are police guys tracking felons from the dodgier areas of town, and others are transport monitors checking out the state of the Blackwall Tunnel (and of course the really noisy Chinooks are MOD and can do what they damn please…) most of them are just circling round in a holding pattern, waiting for permission to enter central London airspace.

He promised me some photographs next time he was over Greenwich (and with a passenger – let’s face it, I would have worried if he’d taken snaps himself)and he’s come through with some doozies.

There are more, but for some reason (as with yesterday’s pics of Nelson’s funeral barge) they are refusing to load. I suspect it’s a Blogger problem. Ho hum…