Underground Greenwich (9) The Conduit House

Amazingly, for a building supposedly built by one of our great architects, there’s very little to be found out about the Conduit House in Greenwich Park (sometimes called the Standard Reservoir), or that I can find, anyway. I took this pic before the place was suddenly transformed into Santa’s Grotto on Monday, but normally this is a good time of year to see the building as the trees around it are bare and you can cop as good a look as you’ll ever get until they start opening it to the public (not likely in the near future, I suspect…)

It was built in the early 18th Century – probably around 1710, and was just one of several conduit heads that were built to channel water to the new Hospital – the tunnels and chambers are all underground. It’s a fairly workaday building for Hawksmoor, who was Deputy Surveyor at the time. So workaday that it’s not mentioned at all in the only book I have about the guy – the Thames & Hudson classic by Kerry Downes. And it’s only ‘supposed’ to have been actually designed by Hawksmoor.
I reckon it must have been, though. Take this picture of the Carrmire Gate at Castle Howard, definitely built by Hawksmoor a few years later. Take away the wall and the ornamental pyramids, put a house behind it – and voila – almost the same design. Where the cars go at Castle Howard, the front door is at Greenwich. But the capital, the arch, and the simple decoration are the same. Hawksmoor used the same themes again and again.

Inside, apparently, there’s a big room, underneath which the business went on – a big old reservoir that sent out tunnels full of water to the hospital. I remember one reader telling me that it was used by the authorities during WWII as an air raid shelter, though unless the reservoir itself had been drained and they sheltered down in the actual tanks I can’t see that the building would have been any safer than anywhere else in Greenwich.

I have no idea what’s in there now. I have never seen the door open.

I include the dull-looking picture below for the other little constructions that are just about visible in it. I’m guessing they mark air holes for the tunnels that wriggle through Greenwich Park like worms. Or these little brick-built tower-y things must have something to do with the secretive Victorian reservoir a little further up the hill. But that’s for another day…

One Comment to “Underground Greenwich (9) The Conduit House”

  1. [...] immediately behind it. Now I think that that’s what I’ve always thought was the Conduit House, the dour little Hawksmoor building halfway up the hill. This one (as photographed by [...]