The Phantom Discovers Greenwich
Nothing like being unfashionably late for a party but at least I brought Gin. Or is it Beer? I could never tell the difference between those two, but I’m delighted to say that just over two years after I visited the pair incarcerated in the Tower of London, and wished to see them back in Greenwich, they have indeed returned.
Sadly they have been separated by heartless museum curators, but maybe the old drinking buddies have already worked out a way to climb out from their glass cases and enjoy a pint or two of Hospital Porter after hours.
It feels a bit like reinventing the wheel to talk about Discover Greenwich when I must be about the last Phantom to visit it, but hey, I’ll do a quick run-through. In months to come, maybe we can use it as a diving board for better stories.
Above, is a (much cleaner than the original, I’m sure) a replica of a Greenwich pensioner’s cabin. You can step right inside and see how they lived, which isn’t unlike what wealthy visitors could do when the poor sods actually lived in them. Just because you were a pensioner didn’t mean you got any privacy.
Next to the cabins there are outfits that modern day tourists can try on. I was most put-out to find that they only had kiddie-sized, so now I’ll never know what it’s like to dress up in a frock coat and tricorn. Hold on…
The models are fun. There are several of them, from Placentia (above) to JASON, the nuclear reactor which may or may not have actually been nuclear. There’s plenty to look at, and while interactive things to flap, press or light up annoy the hell out of me, I’m sure small people will enjoy them. The postcards with suggested walks look worth a try, and yes, I did pay for mine.
In fact, I have to say that this is rapidly becoming my favourite museum in Greenwich. Given the size of the place, they’ve packed in a load of good stuff, and made it accessible, bright and open without dumbing down too much; quite a feat these days.
There has been some serious cash spent on the exhibits – such as the stained glass window that they used as a teaser to get people interested – it really is as lovely in real life as the pictures. The hanging of paintings in the style of the old Painted Hall works well, and the little model of the chapel, hidden behind a teeny curtain, is charming, given the shameful absence of the real thing which now languishes back underneath a car park (though reminding us about the excavation that none of us was allowed to see rubs salt in an already smarting wound.)
Good to see new discoveries, though. The witch bottle that we all goggled at last year, plus its grisly contents, is particularly nicely displayed, as is the delightful small ‘hoard’ of five gold coins. They’re still a little coy about exactly where things were found. It’s probably of less interest to tourists, but as a local I’d like to see a map with exact locations, for pure nosiness.
Something I do absolutely love is the centrepiece which, believe me, is better than this picture of it. It’s a map of the site, which lights up as a series of historic events is mentioned. I had no idea that Ranger’s House is exactly on the Meridian line. I watched the whole thing twice.
I particularly liked the Greenwich memorabilia that’s been produced over the years. Some of it was hospital crocks, but others, like this jug, do appear to be of the “A Present from Greenwich” variety, which reminds us that it’s been a tourist destination since, I guess, the Romans.
Which brings me to the only part of the centre I’m not that keen on. The shop. Now, I know it’s early days, and the emphasis must have been on creating a brilliant exhibit, and they have done that superbly. But the dismal selection of bendy pencils, jazzy rubbers and so-so postcards is poor.
They really need to work on what they’re selling and create some truly fantastic memorabilia. Maybe not everyone would go for a Greenwich Hospital jug, but there are all sorts of funky possibilities with such a rich history, and there is already a wealth of Greenwich and London related books they could stock.
I’m sure Phantom readers could come up with some cracking suggestions for souvenirs that aren’t just tourist tat. I’m even thinking of a few as I write…
So. I wasn’t going to talk much about this place that I’m sure most of you have already visited, and yet I seem to have done it anyway. Still to come is my review of the Old Brewery which most people have also already visited, but that’s for another day.