Hidden Victim – or Good Riddance

Today, folks, I bring you some modest little buildings. They’re not the grand stuff of Georgian Greenwich, they’re not fabulous architecture, but I’m arguing that they say just as much about Greenwich’s history as some of the grander places around here.

Something of which we are guilty in this town is that in preserving our pomp, in bigging-up our Royal and nationally-significant history, we overlook what really made Greenwich tick – the ordinary people, the industry and the day-to-day running of the place. In the couple of years I’ve been writing this blog, I have found it far more difficult to find anything out about working or middle class Greenwich – virtually every history book and most of the documents I’ve seen have referred to its glamorous side (with the honorable exception of Mary Mills and the sterling work of the Industrial History Society).

So. Where actually are these buildings? Round the back of the market, slotted in between the 1830s fronts and the hastily-erected 70s nightmares that actually line the business area. I bet you didn’t know it was actually called Durnford Street. They are described as “storage” in the only reference to them in the Greenwich Market Consultation.

“The building to the west of the market will be built further back, into the car park yard beside Durnford Street, which is currently used for storage.”

Now. I’m not arguing that these are gems of architectural history. They’re functional, sturdy (if you ignore the scaffolding, presumably left up because they’re being nixed) and rather pretty – who puts little curly pinnacles and roundy leaded lights with little corbels on a back-building or gives a garage door a little brick arch and curved windows these days? I can hardly stand on a soap box, hand on phantasmagorical heart and say these are either architecturally meritorious or even particularly rare as the country goes. But they are a link with what the market was really about, as opposed to what it will become.

I am sure that the market in its new form will continue to be a draw – and attract thousands of tourists to buy sandals made out of car tyres or rude-shaped candles every weekend. But I somehow mourn the loss (for I am sure that these sweet little outbuildings will be lost, given the plans available and the fact that they’re playing that area down, hoping no one notices, and let’s face it, perhaps no one has…) of harmless buildings that could present a solid link with the Victorian aspect of the market (which will be totally lost – Georgian, and Williamsian (is that how you call it?) yes, Victorian, no) and keep a little of Greenwich’s industrial soul.

More and more in London I see the facades of buildings preserved (because developers are forced to,) painstakingly held up with scaffolding while a modern building is slotted in behind, and I guess it’s a move in the direction towards keeping at least some of our history. I certainly don’t want to live in aspic. But I do wonder whether if that’s exactly what we’re doing with the market – keeping the ‘look’ of the place, with the Georgian facades acting like stage flats but actually chucking out the gritty reality of our past, to be replaced by GreenwichLand Theme Park, forever doomed to play the part of ‘anywhere’ in Hollywood movies?

So – what do you think? Am I being a Sad Old Luddite, clinging onto the past here, spectral nails scraping down the blackboard of change? Or am I not the only one who rather likes this little jumble of Victoriana?


As a PS to this post, Rob has sent me a link to his website, which has a feature by Andrew Gilligan, where he discusses the bloody awful mess that Nelson Road’s turned into recently…


One Comment to “Hidden Victim – or Good Riddance”

  1. Anonymous says:

    the old storage building was for a time used for the market traders to store there items in, unfortuntaly the buliding is falling into dis repair, that is why the scaffolding is up at the rear of it as its falling down, with supports holding up the first floor.
    part of the building was the happy snaps shop on the corner of durnford st which is now gone. the rear of it has just been let to a flower shop so once again you will see the old green gats open again.