“I’m sorry I’m late mummy but I found two greyhounds in the woods and when they didn’t chase a hare I tied them to a bush and I beat them and then they turned into a woman and a boy and the woman put a bridle in the boy’s mouth and then he turned into a horse and they made me go to the forest and watch witches dancing and then they ate my homework.”
In 1634 no one had actually caught onto ye olde shaggy-dog-tale wheeze from small boys trying to get out of chores. When young Edmund Robinson came up with this howler for bringing the cows in late, it seemed perfectly reasonable. It was far more likely that sixty Lancastrian women had made pacts with the Devil than a small boy would ever tell a porky pie to cover up a simple mistake.
When witches were uncovered in the 17th Century, they seldom fell alone. In a matter of weeks it was the talk of the entire nation. Sir William Pelham wrote to his pal Viscount Conway:
“The greatest news from the country is of a huge pack of witches which are lately discovered in Lancashire whereof nineteen are condemned and that there are at least sixty already discovered and yet daily there are more revealed.”
Once rumour got a hold, it went berserk. “It is suspected,” he continued, “that they had a hand in raising the great storm wherein His Majesty was in such danger in Scotland. “
It didn’t help that at least one of the women was quite happy to admit she was a witch – and rather proud of the fact. Margaret Johnson had been given a hard time by her neighbours and when she men a man in black on the highway, offering to swap her soul for her heart’s desire, it seemed like a good trade.
According to my old mate the Reverend L’Strange, the stranger “called himself Mamilion and generally ‘took liberties’ with her.” After a while, he took to appearing in the form of common domestic animals and sucked her blood. She was adamant she’d never hurt anyone.
Everyone else denied the charges. The finger-pointers clutched at straws – one guy accused poor Mary Spenser of having a bucket as a familiar, which would run after her.
I can just hear the frustration in her voice as she patiently explained that sometimes when going for water, she’d amuse herself by rolling the pail down the hill and running beside it.
But it was no good. Once the rumours took hold, no one was safe.
So what has this all got to do with Greenwich?
We tend to forget that in Charles I’s time, the town was still an important administrative centre. The ‘witches,’ who had by this time dwindled to four (presumably not even Seventeenth Century country bigots bought the bucket-story…) were brought to London for trial, and put up in the Ship Hotel by the river.
There have been several Ship Hotels in Greenwich, mainly famous for serving Whitebait to Tories (or maybe Whigs, I can never remember which way round it was…) The last one was bombed to buggery in WWII. I’ll get onto the Ship and its various guises some other day.
After staying at the tavern, the ‘witches’ were thoroughly examined by seven surgeons and ten certificated midwives, under the supervision of William Harvey (yeah, the same guy who discovered the blood-circulation thing…)
This Seventeenth Century medical and scientific elite was unimpressed with the yokels who’d sent these poor women all the way to London and, between them found nothing unnatural at all about them.
To Margaret Johnson’s presumed annoyance, the best evidence of the Devil they found on her was a couple of ‘teat-like marks’ – which they dismissed as being pretty normal, really.
At which point young Edmund Robinson was dragged forward by the ear, and, kicking his heels, he admitted he’d made the whole thing up. History doesn’t tell us what happened to the little tyke (or, indeed, the innocent women) but I’m guessing the Naughty Step was occupied for some time…
I know – this doesn’t look very lane-y at all – something that Joe agreed when he sent me this pic. And in many ways I don’t really know how to describe Langton Way – it’s not a ‘made’ road (of course by that I mean it’s not properly tarmac-ed, not that it’s been ignored by the Mafia…) it has no footpaths and there’s much greenery involved. It’s also tucked away behind Shooters Hill Road and both ends of it look very countrified. It doesn’t give the impression of a ‘planned’ street, rather a back lane that has grown.
I’m guessing that 99% of the houses/cottages along it used to be people’s back gardens, sold off over the years as building plots. I would also guess any remaining full-length gardens have their days very definitely numbered.
Some of the places were clearly built a long time ago, perhaps they are old outbuildings or small servants’ cottages. Others are much more recent; some are still going up – Joe was most impressed with the local – or perhaps less so – scaffolding company:
N.B. If you’re thinking of calling them, do bear in mind that it’s a Tatooine dialling code and calls may cost more than advertised from a mobile…
Part of what makes the lane charming is the differences in architectural style, ranging from really rather lovely, through cool and innovative to frankly horrid.
It’s a nice walk-through on a sunny day – probably better as a walk than a drive – the road is very uneven. I wouldn’t mind betting that’s exactly how the residents like it – while it’s a truly bumpy ride, it’s never going to be much of a rat-run alternative to the parallel A2.
I like Langton Way well enough, but I can’t help rather wishing it still looked like the neighbour that bisects it. I’m surprised (but delighted) more building hasn’t gone on along Angerstein Lane.
Hell – there are even some original Victorian/Edwardian outbuildings along there, which I hadn’t noticed before as they’re opposite one of my favourite front gardens and I’m usually rubbernecking the other side of the road, but clocked last time I went along there.
Are these carriage houses and/or stables – or, perhaps, early motor vehicle garages? I particularly like the very high arched bit in the middle – a tack room, maybe? Pigeon loft? I’ve no idea, but I love it.
Whatever they are, I’m delighted that they remain more or less as they were built down this leafiest of leafy lanes, quietly reminding us of Greenwich gone by…
Sarah is looking for someone to fit a catflap in her front door, and has asked if I know anyone to do that.
I’m guessing that what she needs is a general all-purpose handyman-type (unless there are any specialist cat-flap-fitters out there…) and to be honest, I’ve never found one that I’d trust to cut a big hole in someone’s front door.
So – any suggestions?
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Take the guy who bombarded me a couple of months ago with accusations that I was a covert operation by Greenwich Council to infiltrate the internet with propaganda (I know. Don’t even go there…)
The gentleman in question pelted me with messages, challenging me to email him if I wasn’t Greenwich Council. Since I don’t knowingly get into conversation with nutters, I ignored him. After about half an hour, I got a whole pile of other accusations, amounting to the reason why I didn’t reply to him was that I was too busy enjoying fat meals in my council palace at taxpayers’ expense to take any notice of him.
I am slightly embarrassed to admit it was at this point I did rise to the bait, asking the guy if he was totally mad.
Oh-oh. Red-rag-to-the-proverbial time. He revealed what he really wanted to talk about – UFOs. Only on the internet, eh…
But then I started thinking. Why not see if anyone’s seen anything extra-torrential on Blackheath recently? Or at all? So, today, folks, let’s talk UFOs.
Firstly, I have to say that trying to research Greenwich UFOs isn’t easy on the wonderweb, partially because all the sightings of every UFO ever seem to be given at a specific point of “Greenwich Mean Time,” presumably to add some kind of erzatz authenticity to the event. It’s nice to know we’re mentioned so much, but there’s one hell of a load of irrelevant stuff out there.
The second problem I had was that many sightings seem to have been at Greenwich, CTT, or East Greenwich, R.I. Of course I should have predicted that – all aliens automatically aim straight for the United States.
The internet comes into its own when you type those three little letters into a search engine. Websites that have never heard of the concept of paragraphs, punctuation or of leaving any kind of empty space on a screen, whose favourite font size is very small are wonderful places to remind you that in comparison you are reasonably sane.
Before I get to the UFOs of Greenwich, England, I’d like to share with you a couple of things I discovered whilst searching…
1. The Roswell sites were not random – they predict the return of the Mayan Serpent god Quetzacoatle in 2012, coincidentally the very same moment when the sun will rise from the mouth of the worm Ouroboros on the December solstice, leading to catastrophic change. The site is unclear as to whose solstice this involves, so whether it’s in Oceania somewhere and we die in our beds, or have a US style solstice and get a few more hours of Earth as we know it, is open to interpretation, but it’s nice to know we’ll still have the summer Olympics.
2. Megaliths don’t queue up in boring old ley lines – they can all be related to each other by drawing two pentagrams, one over the other within the equator, anchoring one on zero longitude at Greenwich, the other on Giza. Fab, eh…
But onto the UFOs. I’ve separated them out from the sightings of weird ghosts, strange creatures and other phenomena or we’ll be here all day. I’ll come back to them another time when I’ve had a nice cup of tea and a sit down. There are quite a few of them, especially beasties.
The first sighting I can find is in 1783, when stunned Greenwich farmers saw a brightly lit object hovering in the night sky. According to the site I read it on, (which I forgot to note down and now, of course, will never find again…) “They were even more amazed when the object seemed to release many smaller luminous craft which floated around the larger craft. After a time, all seemed to disappear in an instant…”
The ‘best’ Greenwich sighting was over a hundred years later – and by a real astronomer, Edward Walter Maunder. A couple of hours after sunset, on Nov 17 1882, he and some colleagues all saw “an airship” suddenly appear, moving steadily across the sky. They described it as spindle/shuttle/cigar shape and they agreed it was neither a cloud nor a meteor.
“It appeared to be a definite body, nothing could well be more unlike the rush of a great meteor or fireball than the steady,” wrote Maunder. Unsurprisingly he found its greenish light “extraordinary and alarming,” and was probably relieved when it just as suddenly disappeared.
Everything seems to go quiet for another century or so, when it all began to kick off again in the 1970s (I can’t find anything local for that golden age of UFO-ery, the 1950s, but will be delighted to hear about any I’ve missed… )This time it was – and remains today – a favourite of the local newspapers.
According to UFOINFO, on September 8, 1974, “a bright, sulphurous light was seen over Plumstead Common at 11:25 p.m. It hovered, then shot off at great speed.”
“The next day, September 9, 1974, “at mid-morning, the same, or a similar, object was seen at Eltham, a fantastically bright glare, moving slowly.”
“The next day, September 9, 1974, “at mid-morning, the same, or a similar, object was seen at Eltham, a fantastically bright glare, moving slowly.”
Today, most ‘sightings’ can be found gleefully reported in specialist periodicals such as the News Shopper – among which can be found splendid reports like this
I’m sure I’ve left some out, but frankly I’ve fried my brain enough on this one. You want to find more sightings? Go ahead (and let me know, eh…)
I leave you with NMM’s final word on the matter – and a rare sighting from Stephen in Greenwich Park:
So – I was just about to review Paul and suddenly realised I had no book to read. A cardinal sin, that needed immediate rectification.
While, it seems, virtually the whole of South London was visiting Nunhead Cemetery’s Open Day last week, I was trudging in the opposite direction.
That’s not to say I don’t want to visit Nunhead – I really, really do, but the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries of London need, for me, at least, to be visited in relative silence and solitude, sans book stalls, tea-urns and face-painters and, according the the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery the graveyard is open every day of the week. So I’ll go, alone, another day, but at two quid a head to join the Friends I may sign up anyway. It’s not a case of being antisocial – just of seeing something at its most atmospheric…
But back to my own trip. I went to Charlton Cemetery. It’s not one of the “great” cemeteries of London, and as far as I can see it doesn’t have any organised ‘Friends’ but it had plenty that both fascinated and moved me. I turned left and walked clockwise – and some day I’ll get onto some of the quirkier graves and memorials, but today I want to concentrate on the very last tomb I enjoyed that day (though of course it would have been the first if I’d turned right…)
A large Classical canopy, complete with columns and capitals covering a sleeping young woman’s effigy, dressed in a flowing stone gown, covered with a carved shroud, ivy and sadness, peacefully mouldering away under years of dirt and acid rain, it’s a monument worthy of any of the great cemeteries, and the only true ‘mausoleum’ tomb in the place. As far as I can see, it’s also the only one that covers a family vault.
The mystery is that, frankly, I can’t read the inscription. Pollution and not a few accidents have seen the stone worn or broken away from its brick base then clumsily repaired. Perhaps stories of buried treasure circulated among the local youth, or something, and it was broken into.
Certainly, in the place where it feels like the entrance is supposed to be there’s just grass now, though I suspect there were once stone steps leading down under the tomb – there’s a grassy bit just in front of it. Against one of the sides, leans a stone slab – though again, whether it was an entrance or is just a bit of monument that fell off is difficult to tell.
Absolutely nothing. I tried books, papers and, of course, the Internet. Besides, this was very definitely a young woman. She didn’t look like a William…
After a LOT of faffery, I finally found London Necropolis , a photography site that explores all of London’s cemeteries, and also includes a handy glossary of tombstone symbolism . Mrs Necropolis (I believe her name is actually Polly) names our sad stone girl as Jemima Ayley, a fact discovered by checking out Hugh Meller’s London Cemeteries – a book I clearly need to get…
According to Hugh Meller, the vault below is twenty-two feet deep and houses a table and chair, for use by mourning relatives – or, presumably, friends of Nobody Owens.
Meller also says that the precise minute of Jemima’s death in 1860 is recorded in the faded inscription on the side and he tells us that her sister died on the very same day in Norfolk. Sadly, since the book was published in 1981, pollution has hit hard – I can hardly make out a single word of the carvings.
In fact that’s all I know about Jemima Ayley. In vain have I searched for the family – to be able to afford a tomb like this they must have had a fair amount of cash – and therefore, one might have thought, been prominent in Greenwich/Charlton/Woolwich Society, but I have found nothing.
Does anyone know anything about this family or young Jemima Ayley?
“Be not afraid of Greenwich, some are born Greenwich, some achieve Greenwich and others have Greenwich thrust upon them…” *
Sue and I have been discussing ways to tell if someone is a true Greenwichian or a happy incomer who has found Paradise in the Land of a Thousand Domes…
I guess you could say you were Greenwichian if you were born within the sound of St Alfege’s Bells, but they don’t ring very often. It would be most inconvenient to be born at a time there’s no campanological practice. Christ Church’s always-slightly-late chimes, then? Hmm. Maybe.
Sue reckons there’s an easy way to tell a Born-Greenwichian. She says:
“Locals (including me) call it “Grinnidge” but immigrants to the fair borough and the people who make the announcements on the train and the DLR pronounce it “Grenitch”.
I am in accord. My elderly uncle always used to call it Grinnidge. (He also had a sweet tooth and enjoyed a nice slab of ‘nuggit’ from time to time.) I, neither to my shame nor otherwise, have always called it Grenitch (and enjoyed the occasional nugget of noogar.) Both are wrong, considering its spelling – even my pagan pals don’t call it green-witch.
“The other thing about the local accent is the aaaaas. My north London friend is fascinated by the number of “as” I can place in the middle of a word. He says it sounds like hay without the h.”
Interesting that many Greenwichian accents seem to owe more to rural Kent than Sarf London. Some people say they can tell the difference between accents from Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich etc. I confess I wouldn’t be able to but Sue says that a few trips to the terraces at The Valley should help me out. And I do intend to put my aversion to all kinds of sport to one side next season and actually attend a Charlton match, just so I can say I’ve done it. Oh – and listen to all those different accents, of course.
Thing is, I’m not totally convinced that you actually need to be born in Greenwich to be a true Greenwichian. In fact it’s entirely possible you don’t even need to live here. Like the rest of London, Greenwich is now a cosmopolitan place. Being born here is cool – but that isn’t the only way. I am coming to the opinion that Greenwich, like New York, is a State of Mind. You merely have to allow Greenwich into your heart (ooh – that sounds a bit creepy and evangelical…nah, I’ll let it go…) to be a True Greenwichian.
So today, I would like suggestions for what makes someone ‘a true Greenwichian.’ And, indeed, ideas for a Person-of-Greenwich noun less wanky than ‘Greenwichian…’
* from the First Folio edition of “Twelfth Night.” Censored by the Lord Chamberlain as being ‘offensive to people not from Greenwich,’ it was replaced in later editions by the synonym “greatness.”
I keep forgetting that I acquired a whole bunch of aerial photos taken last year on the Zepplin rides. There are some amazing shots, I must use more of them…
I wasn’t really sure whether to make this an Underground Greenwich entry – or an Alternative Dome, but looking at it from above, it just has to be the latter, even though it’s as hidden and inpenetrable as any of Greenwich’s other underground stuff. But serene, secret and secluded as it may be now, building this almost-unknown dome brought on one of Greenwich Park’s first-ever environmental protests…
Greenwich Hospital had spent a lot of time and cash enlarging and improving the maze of underground conduits that weave their way through the Park, but they had their eye on making it even bigger – not least because as well as supplying Deptford Dockyard and the hospital itself, the surplus water could be flogged off to local residents.
That the spot they chose for an open reservoir in 1844 was home to a small colony of Anglo Saxon tumuli didn’t bother the admirals in charge one jot, and they had already turfed-up several ancient burial mounds before a newly-politicised public got wind of it.
The very early Victorian age was beginning to realise the importance of conservation – almost contemporary to the destruction of this most ancient part of the park was raging another dispute, over the arrival of the railways. The fury over the Anglo-Saxon graves was both organised and angry. Greenwich’s 19th-Century Swampy, one ‘Simon Sensitive,’ was appalled and made the campaign public, writing to the Pictorial Times.
The protesters got themselves a stay of execution – and they saved the burial mounds (albeit in a very damaged form.) But Simon Sensitive and his friends may have won the battle to save the burial mounds but they’d lost the war not to have a waterworks built in a Royal Park. It was constructed a year later, a few yards from the original site
According to the very-wonderful John Bold, it cost £3,069, and was designed by Sir William Thomas Denison, Superintendent at Portsmouth Dockyard, under the watchful eye of the Admiralty Works Department. And I guess it looked a lot worse then than it does now – probably a complete eyesore. The armed services are not known for aesthetics in design. The new tank held 1, 125,000 gallons of water, was partially dug-out, partially built-up and measured 160 feet across its base. “The crowning outrage is now being effected,” Simon Sensitive wrote. “I am ashamed, I am grieved, I am indescribably distressed…”
The frustrating thing is, that after all that fuss it only lasted 26 years. The hospital closed in 1871. Kent Waterworks covered the reservoir with a turf roof, and screened it with bushes. I don’t know whether it was drained at the same time or later, but it’s empty now.
I like to think that Simon Sensitive would be calmed by what the reservoir looks like now – almost impossible to see except from the air. But I do find myself thinking about that space from time to time. I can’t decide whether it needs to remain as it is, or whether this giant, low-ceilinged, brick-pillared empty space could be used imaginatively.
Probably a bit low for a performance space (the pillars are 8ft high) unless it was re-opened as an open-air theatre, but perhaps an art gallery? Aquarium? Museum? Funky restaurant? Or perhaps re-opened as a nature reserve?
What do you think? Has enough damage been done, and should we let sleeping dogs lie – or could this be a really interesting, useful space, out of sight of most park users these days and full of possiblities?
Mezzanine Level, National Maritime Museum
Last week I promised Pram-o-philes somewhere where you can easily manoeuvre a pushchair, meet up with other parents and spread out, knowing your little bundle of joy is absolutely safe. And here it is. Despite its being on the first floor, Paul at the NMM is a parent’s paradise.
The mezzanine is a wide, virtually empty area that for some time has puzzled me as to its purpose, its exhibit-to-available-space ratio being – well – sparse.
But whatever the failure to put much to actually look at in this part of the museum, this area provides a perfect spread-out space for your entire post-natal group to ascend the great glass elevator and meet, whatever the weather, in a bright, dry environment with halfway decent coffee, slightly overpriced sweet-treats and no sharp edges.
Service on the day I went was, frankly, hap-hazard, probably a combination of busy-ness and, perhaps, a bit of a language issue. I had a cup of coffee, which they got right second time around, and a half-warmed-through quiche which tasted perfectly fine if a little undecided as to whether or not it should have been reheated. Although this is Paul, and therefore never generally a bad option, the very fact that the chain seems to be becoming as ubiquitous as Starbucks has seen service slip since the cafe’s finding its way to our shores.
I was the sole lone-customer on the day I went. There was one other group – some bemused French tourists – but everyone else seemed to be part of one of several baby/toddler get-togethers. I wondered whether by the end of the day, they would have formed one huge posse, but I confess that it was all a little bit much for me (besides – staying would have run the risk of my looking like some dodgy pervert hanging round. It’s the cloak and mask that does it…) – I finished my coffee and left the small people to explore the further reaches of Fluffy Rug Land.
So – not one for pram-o-phobes (especially since the glass roof’s acoustics are perfect scream-o-conductors…) But if you have lots of pushchair pals, a wriggly two year-old and the desire for not-bad-coffee, this is a fine destination.
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