Archive for December, 2009

So – How Was it For You?

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

I wasn’t planning to write this week, but since I’ve been forced to sort out a horrible mess (thanks to spammers who hijacked the blog and put long lists of their sordid wares at the end of a good forty posts, pleasing me not one jot) I thought I’d ask you how you think Greenwich did in the last year.
I guess we’ve had some good and bad things. For me, much of Greenwich has seemed in limbo in 2009 while everything’s cranked up for The Year Everything Will Be Wonderful, which, apparently, is 2012.

This has seen building sites agogo, dead shops, broken ships, swathes of the ORNC closed, the pier a total mess, poor old King Billy rudely disturbed in his quiet not-quite-ex churchyard and the death of the Village Market.

We lost Beehive Cafe too – one of the best reasons to hang around in Greenwich – and though you can still get London Coffee Roasters coffee in Nevada Street Deli if you can find somewhere to sit, I miss the jolly Antipodeans who served me in the place that had nowhere to sit. Less mourned was The Old Friends, though several of us will be sad to see the building itself go. I never loved the pub, but had always hoped that someone would do the late-Victorian building up and make a go of it.

And in some of the saddest news of all, we lost two cyclists and gained two ghost bikes this year, one of them just a couple of weeks ago.

But we’ve had good stuff too. I mean – c’mon – tell me that snow in February wasn’t brilliant (and so much more fun than the slippy icy stuff we got just before Christmas.) The horrid plans for Greenwich Market were scuppered by a council who finally found some gumption. The Dwarf Orchard showed signs of being kissed by a handsome prince and turning into a beautiful secret garden (doncha just love mixed fairytale metaphors…)and David Herbert in Creek Road got his house back at last.

The Climate Camp came – and went – just a few hours after they left you’d never have known they were ever there at all. Sadly, I suspect we’ll have the same net result from Copenhagen.

Even shorter-lived was the East Greenwich Pleasaunce Farmers Market. Best we can hope for there, I suspect, is a compromise Halstow Road school playground. Which wouldn’t be so bad, at that…

Comings and goings continue around the peninsula. The last really big industrial plant, Syrol, closed, with the loss of local jobs and the gain of some fresh air, but a little further up the way, Meantime Brewery was preparing to move its works rather closer to the Meridian – with the gain of local jobs and the loss of fresh air (unless, like me, you rather like the smell of hops, in which case you’re in luck…)

So – a mixed year at best for Greenwich. What were your best and worst bits of living here in 2009?

Ding Dong Merrily On High

Friday, December 25th, 2009


Merry Christmas, Phantom Friends! I’m going to be taking a break from the blog after this post for a couple of days, enjoying the many delights of the season, but I wanted to get you mulling over the wine on a fun little poll while I’m away – on the festive joys of the many bells of Greenwich.

There are at least four peals in the town centre and I thought we could discuss our favourites.

I’ve been collecting them over the past week or so, standing around in a suspicious manner with my Walkman in sub-zero conditions waiting to catch them ringing (I had a couple of false attempts – it’s only when you’re actually trying to record them that you realise that they’re not always in sync either with their own clocks or , indeed, anyone else’s…) and thanks to the Phantom Webmaster, I’ve got some recordings to play you here. The poll will be at the end.





Let’s start with Christ Church, out on Trafalgar Road, and work our way in.

I’m pretty sure these bells are recordings, though they’re nice and clear and still a welcome sound – loud enough to be heard from a fair old distance. The old clock used to be kept in a glass window in the Forum, but the mechanisms disappeared a couple of years ago – I understand it was given away, which is a real shame. The window looks very empty now.



Moving along, the melancholy chimes of Trinity Almshouses on the river. I’m always reminded of the bells in Mission chapels in Hollywood westerns by this eerie little sound, or perhaps of ships’ bells on foggy nights – appropriate, I guess, being a cough and a spit from the Thames.


The next bell is probably the loudest of the lot – and not where I expected it to be. The chapel of St Peter and St Paul – better known as the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, has a magnificent bell-tower, but as I recorded the bells on Sunday morning, at around ten to eleven, calling the faithful to church, I realised that the bell being rung – I could even see it vibrating – was in one of the little Hawksmoor towers; the one closest to the church, not the domed bell tower.


It rings for about 15 minutes on Sunday mornings and on the hour the rest of the time. A clear clang, it gives a wonderfully timeless feel to the ORNC – especially if you’re the only one around…

Last, but not least, the parish church itself, St Alfeges.


This was the one that gave me the biggest headache to record – and I’m not even convinced that I’ve got it now. It’s the most elaborate of the peals – playing the Westminster Chimes before the hour-markers – but the whole thing is so quiet that it almost feels as though it’s coming from another church, even though I was right underneath the bell tower as I recorded it. It’s almost as if they’ve been muffled or something. Maybe so as not to disturb the neighbours. The other odd thing is that the Westminster Chimes seem to be out of sync – we get the three-quarter, followed by the first, then the second, then the third again – then instead of playing the last bit, it goes straight to the bongs.

I know that it still has all 10 bells and there are real bellringers – though I guess it’s mostly automatic nowadays. I’m told part of the mechanism is the medieval original, but I don’t know much more. Maybe someone can tell me if this (very bad – sorry I had a lot of extraneous noise and I had to turn the levels up to get the bells) recording is actually of St Alfege’s bells. Even having stood beneath them I’m still not sure.

And so to the poll…

Which of these bells is YOUR favourite? Vote here.

If you fancy hearing a really festive peal, get all the recordings playing at once.

Thank you for keeping me company during 2009, for all your questions, tips, news and comments – stay warm, safe and happy over the festive period, eh…

Merry Christmas, One and All!

White Winter Greenwich Hymnal

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I’ve been itching to share this this wonderful, wintry compilation made by what is probably our youngest regular Phantomite, fifteen year-old Seamus, but I’ve been holding out for the magic of Christmas Eve. It follows on from his other fabulous compilation back in November.

Seamus is hoping that anyone who contributed snow pics to the blog earlier this year won’t mind that he’s included one or two of them here – I for one, think it’s brilliant and watched it about 6 times just the morning he sent it to me – I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll do the same – once just isn’t enough.

I’ve been told that some people can’t see the image. I’ve dickered with it, and it should work now, but if you’re having trouble find it on YouTube here.

The soundtrack, by the way, is the enchanting White Winter Hymnal by the Fleet Foxes, which has been my number one winter listen this year. In fact I love it so much, I’ve also included the original stop-motion video by Sean Pecknold, that’s also just pure magic…

White Winter Hymnal from Grandchildren on Vimeo.

Merry Christmas Eve, Phantom friends…

Advent Windows (24)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Cast Away the Dreams of Darkness, the theme of this year’s whole Advent Window season, will reach its zenith at St Alfege Church today…

Thank you to everyone for entertaining a very Christmassy-feeling Phantom…

Jesters, Welshmen and Cole-Eting Felows…

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Today I whisk you back to the Merrie Courts of Olde Greenwich, a time when they knew how to have fun. Henry VIII, especially, had a veritable Blackadder-worthy list of entertainments, from a ‘Walshman that maketh rymes’ and a chap who ‘joculed before the king,’ ‘popyngais’ and ‘one that tumbled before the king’ to ‘a felow eting of coles,’ which, yickky as it might be, probably didn’t divert the king for very long…

Of course, the Christmas season didn’t start until midnight on the 24th – and Christmas day itself was very solemn – it was the twelve days afterwards that brought the fun and games – and it wasn’t until Twelfth Night when the presents were handed out. By the time Epiphany Eve came round everyone was ready for a bit of a kneesup.

Henry loved a comely dancing wench. He often had them at his feasts and rewarded them handsomely. One ‘young damoysell that daunceth’ got £30 for her efforts. Another litelle mayden’ who clearly wasn’t quite so agile only received £12 – but compare that with the poor old Welsh poet or the bloke that ate the coal, who got just 6s 8d each for their (probably literal) pains.

Among the racket made by all the sackbutts, bagpipes, organs, trumpets, tabors, harps, lutes – name the instrument, Henry had it – the most famous of all his entertainments has to have been the fools.

There were two different kinds. The ‘natural fool’ was either physically deformed (and therefore assumed to be mentally deficient too) mentally handicapped or otherwise ‘insane.’ They were usually sold off by their families, who couldn’t afford the extra mouths to feed, and were bought and sold among posh people as chattels. Dwarfs were particularly popular as palace pets, but some ‘giants’ were also allowed, and they were dressed up, primped and preened like the human equivalent of lap-dogs.

The ‘artificial fool’ wasn’t ‘mad’ (though they often looked a bit odd.) Their USP was acrobatics or clowning around, comedy routines or joke telling – more the sort of thing we think of when conjuring a medieval jester in our minds. Both varieties were indulged to make the kind of rude remarks that no one else at court would be allowed to do.

There are lots of records of fools at Greenwich (I’m talking medieval here, though I can think of a few prize clowns nowadays…) Sexton, Dick, and ‘Dego, the Spanish Fole’ all passed through the town. Patch, a natural fool, had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey but the cardinal gave him to Henry as a gift after his fall from favour. I suspect Patch himself wasn’t best pleased at being carted about like that, but at least he would have had enough to eat – fools always enjoyed a prominent place at their masters’ tables…

Greenwich’s most famous Tudor fool was Will Somers, the king’s favourite jester. Despite his pronounced stoop, which he played up to make people laugh even more, Somers was an artificial fool (he’s in the picture below, trying to think of something clever to say about the king’s harp playing) and he took an active part in the politics of the day as well as capering about, dancing, improvising rhymes, telling gags, making terrible puns and having riddle-contests with the king – which he didn’t always let Henry win.

Somers was, apparently, the only guy who could cheer up the old king when his gouty leg hurt but his jokes sometimes put other people’s feet right in it, – like the time he got Cardinal Wolsey into trouble by making a joke about the cardinal’s ‘unnecessary’ extravagance. He had a bit of a cruel streak too. He upstaged other jesters, making them look bad, if he thought they might be making people laugh too much – but on the other hand, I understand he had an almost Robin-Hood like generosity, which made him a local hero. Not that I can find any evidence of this, save allusions to it in my rather romantic mate, the Rev LeStrange’s, book.

The one fool for whom I’ve tried really hard to find a link to Greenwich and singularly failed is Sir Jeffrey Hudson, AKA Lord Minimus, Queen Henrietta Maria’s proportionate dwarf, who had an incredible life – not least because he was always fed up with being only known for his height.

He found himself joining up in the army, wandering round Europe, and duelling, for which he was dismissed from court. He was captured by Barberry pirates, became a slave and ended up as labourer for 25 years. But in all this, and despite Henrietta Maria being a resident of Greenwich, I can’t see that he ever even visited the town – he would have been in his ‘wandering’ years when she was here.

But, as the jesters of old would have said, hey, nonny. We have plenty of our own fools. And remember – they’re not just for Christmas…

Advent Windows (23)

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009


Through A Glass Darkly will be unveiled at 58 Royal Hill, SE10 8RT, at 7:00pm, with entertainment and hospitality.

“Lightning, from a dark place, tries to strike and, through broken glass, you see the light of dawn.” This one’s best seen by night.

Greenwich Weathervanes (1)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

First of a new occasional series today. Considering we’re getting a big dollop of pretty much every kind of weather available just now (sun, fog, rain, snow, ice and wind – and that was just yesterday) it seems appropriate to start looking at Greenwich’s many weathervanes.

This is one of the most splendid, at the Old Royal Observatory. Inside, the South Building’s been turned into a rather fabulous visitor space. Where the old support piles for the heavy equipment used to be, a fantastic spiral staircase winds its way up and underneath sits the Planetarium with its strange-shaped ‘dome,’ but outside, I’m very glad to see that not only was the beautiful building preserved, but restored.

And on top sits this rather wonderful ship-shape weathervane, whose picture I took with a better camera in better times.


The ship is, according to the NMM website, Henri Grace a Dieu – or the Great Harry to you and me. Henry VIII’s flagship was placed atop the dome to indicate the importance of Greenwich to Britain’s naval heritage, but I don’t know how old it is or who made it.

As usual, I’m sure someone here will know…

Advent Windows (22)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Before the Dawn, by St Alfege Sunday School, can be found at 17 Point Hill, SE10 8QW, from today. The opening ceremony is between 3:30pm-4.30pm with the obligatory snacks and drinks…all are welcome.

“It’s an ordinary night – a bit boring. Shepherds are looking after their sheep, waiting for the dawn. Suddenly there are lights in the sky, angels telling them to go and seek out the dark little stable where something amazing is happening.”

Greenwich’s Third Ghost Bike

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Sue’s sent me the saddest photo I’ve seen this Christmas time. It’s the ghost bike for Stella, who died after that accident at the junction of Vanbrugh Hill/Woolwich Road a week or so ago.

My thoughts are with her family – Christmas time has to be the worst time of all to lose someone. I know I sound like a right old fusspot today, worrying about black ice and snow – but please, lovely Phantom Cyclists – take care. Don’t become a ghost, okay?

Mind How You Go

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Blimey. I’ve just got back from a slip-slidin’ trip across the park, where the snow is melting but there’s still just about enough for a few brave souls with tea trays to try tobogganing down the slopes.

The paths down the bottom aren’t too bad but up at the top it’s all compacted ice and really slippery. I didn’t go a pearler but it was only because I walked flat-footed and very slowly, whilst being cackled-at by a whole tree-full of ring-necked parrots. They’ll be laughing the other side of their beaks next month when anyone will be allowed to shoot them (though the question will be, of course, with what? Spud guns? Pea-shooters? As far as I know real guns are still illegal, even in South East London…)

A load of the pavements, too, are really icy – some on main roads.

I notice it’s all turned to rain now – particularly yucky – but tonight they’re promising sub-zero temperatures again tonight – so I’m guessing we’ll have a lovely black-ice alert tomorrow.

Take care, guys…