Underground Greenwich (17) – Preserving (Or Not) The Conduits Of Greenwich Park
Whether or not you’re into the Olympics in the Park, it’s really worth a read. It’s full of history, insight and wonderful photos, as well as an impassioned plea not to even consider the euphemistic ‘preservation by record’* of this medieval and Tudor warren of conduits, some of which are so beautiful they could have been made as passages the main Greenwich Palace – indeed it’s one of the only bits of the old palace left. I mean – who would think about giving an underground water system Gothic arches these days?
I have worried about this from the very start, even before I knew the full extent and beauty of the passages (as much as anyone can – they have not been fully explored even now) and I am even more concerned that no one seems to be bothering to bring in archaeologists to excavate this vital part of royal history in anything but what seems like piecemeal fashion.
Of course to find the full extent of all the tunnels would create far too much damage to the park, but surely a team should be brought in to discover just how serious a danger the system would be to life and limb, and, vice-versa, how much danger the heavy vehicles needed to create the Olympic course would be to the tunnels.
By rights, any such team should be led by Dr Scheibner and his cohort-in-caving, Dominic Clinton, who, since the conduits have been closed to the public for longer than anyone alive can really remember, probably know most about them.
I don’t get why this isn’t a Number One priority, paid for by the Olympics as part of this legacy we keep being promised. The choice of discovering some really important, unique, medieval palace remains or a few bits of outdoor gym equipment in parks? Hmmm. Tough decision…
I mean this is (for the moment at least, until we mess it up just that little bit too much) A WORLD HERITAGE SITE. Why aren’t LOCOG being forced by UNESCO to do the right-thing-by-heritage here?
In Phantom Fantasy Land, Royal Parks would be excavating, preserving and cleaning those passages easily found without serious further damage, so that sections could be opened to the public for a small fee – like the Catacombs in Paris or the Sottorranea in Naples. Not seriously discussing the possibility of ‘preservation by record’ as a viable way to treat a World Heritage Site.
Whatever your views on the Equestrian Events at Greenwich Park, I urge you to take a peek at Dr Scheibner’s document. It makes compulsive reading for any lover of Greenwich.
*In case you haven’t come across this term before, it means taking photos of, then destroying artifacts – a similar proposal was made for the Durnford Street buildings by Greenwich Hospital Trust with their plans for the redevelopment of the market, happily quashed (unanimously) by Greenwich Council, who found some balls at the eleventh hour.