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.

4 Comments to “Five Foot Walk”

  1. adrian says:

    I'm also a fan of Five Foot Walk, and took great pleasure in splishing along it at spring tide high water yesterday. This in spite of a concerned-looking Community Support Officer talking frantically into her radio and desperate to take action in light of this hideous breach of the peace. That tide clearly needs an ASBO slapping on it.

    Worth adding to your fine summary that there have been several attempts over the years to widen FFW into a proper esplanade extending as far out into the river as the pier. The most recent in 1961, when the Ministry of Works and Royal Fine Art Commission objected (rightly, I think) on aesthetic grounds. More amusingly, a 1908 proposal was rejected on the grounds that such a thoroughfare would become "the haunt of the 'loafer' class and other undesirable persons". Suppose that'll be me then.

  2. Benedict says:

    I love that walk, I always felt like I was in the middle of a film set…although my morning walk here is pretty spectacular today, I can see all the way across the lake to Rochester.
    I was also wondering when the "Old" got added to the ORNC? For a long time it must just have been RNC…right?

  3. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    I suspect it became the OLD Royal Naval College in 1998 when the navy left.

    All the way across the pond from canada to kent, eh. Now that's what I CALL a view…

  4. Benedict says:

    …your such a wag Phantom…I ment Mr Rochester who is out on the lake in his birch-bark canoe hunting Moose , so he can impress Jane….of course