Greenwich Barge House
Ok, guys. I need your help here. I was reading a book last week, from 1975, which kept referring to the wonders to be found in ‘The Greenwich Barge House.’
The Greenwich Barge House. Which was, apparently, the home of all kinds of wonders in the ’70s. The book talks about its housing ‘an enchanting little model of the eighteenth-century ceremonial barge of the Shipwrights’ Company,’ which has a Noah’s Ark theme (apparently the Company’s motto is “Within The Ark Safe Forever.) On the roof of the cabin. gilded animals march along, two, by two.
The Barge House also housed examples of the wherries – ‘long, narrow and shallow in build – in which the Watermen plied for hire from the riverside stairs.’
We could do with one or two of those in a few months time. Stevie tells me that Pedalpower, the magazine of Greenwich cyclists, is bracing itself for a proposed eighteen-month closure of the foot tunnel. Personally, I find that hard to believe – I mean – how long does it take to replace a few tiles and add a cycle lane? Except that Tony of the London Cycle Campaign tells me they’re not putting lanes in, but barriers to stop cyclists. Now I’m all of a pickle – I have no idea what’s going on. And it opens a whole nestful of vipers where cyclists flame pedestrians and vice versa and this is a post about barges.
I reckon we’ve been given an outrageous closure time so that when we get a revised time that’s only bad, we’re all grateful. The foot tunnel is an official highway, and as such I suspect that we may well be entitled to a Barge Replacement Service. It will probably just be a shuttle on the DLR, but there’s no harm in asking for a nice boat ride. It could be manned by a waterman in traditional garb – scarlet knee-length skirted-tunic uniform with stockings and buckled shoes – that would cheer things up…
But back to the Greenwich Barge House. The great barges of the Livery companies (which date back to the times when the Lord Mayor’s Parade took place as much on the river as along the streets) are long gone, but I did at least manage to track down this model of the one with the animals on it at the NMM. I had a look, and couldn’t find it actually on show, but then very little ever seems to be on display at the NMM. I’ve never seen such a museum full of nothing.
I’ve had even less luck finding Greenwich Barge House itself. It was definitely around in 1975, as my book’s author is keen to tell me about the enlarged engraving of The Stationers’ barge on the wall of the entrance hall – again – now in the NMM’s hidden collection. I’m prepared to believe that it went when the peninsula was flattened to make way for the Dome – after all the Peninsula seems the likeliest place for such a place to be – but looking at Peter Kent’s drawing on the front of Mary Mills’s Greenwich Marsh – The 300 Years before the Dome, I can’t see where it could have been. Simon Jenkins says it was next to the Maritime Museum – but I can’t work out where it could have been there, either, given what’s there now.
Anyone got any clues – or even heard of the Greenwich Barge House?