The Royal Road To Greenwich
Since we’re about to become a Royal Borough, I thought it might be a good time to chivvy up calls for the old Royal Road to Greenwich to be upgraded. Of course, as far as I know it was only actually ridden along by royalty once, but there’s a good excuse for that – it’s the river Thames.
Henry always had his barge waiting outside his palace – much as we might keep a car outside our houses. The equivalent of taxi drivers frequently crop up in the palace accounts – often for trivial stuff – to collect some books from town or a forgotten hat. But it wasn’t just the toffs that used the royal road – servants, goods and provisions plied their way up the river (it’s no coincidence that all the major palaces are on the river – Greenwich, the Tower of London, Westminster, Hampton Court…)
The greatest non-monarch to be taken along the river was of course, Admiral Nelson, though he was in no fit state to enjoy it himself. His funeral procession from Greenwich to St Paul’s Cathedral was re-enacted on the bicentenary of his death back in 2005.
I was part of the crowd for that one, standing, freezing outside, watching poor, sweating rowers in 19th century costume freeze too, while dignitaries took their time indoors. It was a lovely event, marred by the inconsideration of the bigwigs (a party of schoolchildren in front of me froze too – then missed the main event entirely as their teacher gave up and took them home just half an hour before it all actually happened), but I can’t help feeling that exactly the same thoughtlessness would have happened 200 years ago too, so maybe they were being ‘authentic.’
The river now is quieter than it’s ever been – but that doesn’t mean it’s empty. There’s always something going along there – but given the congestion on the rest of the roads, it could be better used.
Of course the inconvenient bend around the Isle of Dogs slows it down, but it’s still a fast and comfy way into town – you always get a seat, even in rush hour – and a view – unless the river mist/spray is particularly skanky that day.
One of the few things that Greenwich Council have done in the past few years that I have wholeheartedly supported was their Clipper Campaign, which lobbied for more frequent services, a guarantee to continue the boat onto Woolwich and Oyster Cards to be usable on the river buses.
I notice that since Oyster cards HAVE been allowed on the Clippers, and subsidy is in place for Woolwich until the year after the Olympics (curious, that one, eh…) the council is so busy boasting about how successful they’ve been, they’ve quietly forgotten the third part of the campaign, the 10-minute service. Still, I guess two out of three isn’t bad. Maybe we’ll get it for two weeks in 2012.
Oh, I forgot to mention the one time a monarch actually rode up the Thames. In 1536 (the same year that had earlier seen Anne Boleyn hauled up the river to the Tower) the river froze so hard that Hall’s Chronicle tells us “the king’s majesty, with his beautiful spouse, Queen Jane, rode throughout the City of London to Greenwich.”
Puts our recently little cold snaps into some kind of perspective, eh…