Five Foot Walk
This has to be one of the first examples of a pre-Section 106 forcing of institutions or companies to make provision of access to all, and, in many ways set a precedent that continues with the Thames Path (albeit shakily sometimes, with some of the large developments quietly just locking the gates of some parts when the initial fuss has died down. Must do something about that…)
When Christopher Wren designed Greenwich Hospital, finishing the development at the shoreside seemed like a great idea to improve security around the area, but the townsfolk didn’t share his opinion. They used that way all the time and they weren’t happy having any of their routes closed off to them. Hell – even the Queen had had to build her palace with a bridge going over the road a little further south. The people weren’t going to let this valuable communications corridor stop them getting to places.
The authorities can’t have been happy about it. It meant extra work, extra cost and the loss of land. What was worse, whenever the sovereign arrived, there’d be hobbledy-hoi loitering around the King’s Steps.
I often find myself wondering what kind of pressure the people must have put on the Navy to get what they wanted – I mean in those days developers were no more happy to listen to locals than they are now. Whatever it was I’d like a piece of it now. They succeeded, albeit by a squeak.
The authorities gave in in 1731, creating an embankment exactly wide enough to walk down, and nothing else. A little lane, five feet wide, beach one side, the iron railings of the ORNC the other, that in the summer, tourists still shuffle down towards the Trafalgar Tavern, though passage is much easier now that cyclists are redirected through the ORNC (my favourite bit of Greenwich for cycling, smooth and open – and yet I still see idiots crashing their way through the Five Foot Walk on bikes. What gives?)
It’s not very long – just skirting round the ORNC, but it has a real charm, with a great view both sides of it, lovely old railings and weathered stone slab paving. Fabulous worn steps still allow you to get onto Greenwich Beach, though not many people go there these days. Shame, really.
It widens out at each end – east, where of a warm summer’s evening people spill out from the Trafalgar pub to enjoy a pint, as in Benedict’s picture above, or west, sit by Bellot’s Obelisk with a M&S sandwich. It tends to get flooded if there’s rain at Spring Tide (Sarah captured this at an Autumn one). Happily as I look out of the window it’s sunny just now. Phew.