Viking Hunters

If you missed the latest consultation days about the proposed pedestrianisation of the town centre last week, you still have time to have your two penn’orth online at the Council website. Personally, I don’t totally object to the plans. They will inconvenience a few, admittedly,  but not nearly as many as are currently inconvenienced. I know that not everyone agrees with me from the heated language in the air when I went to Devonport House to see what was suggested this time but hey – I think they’ve done their best with a difficult remit and in general I support the idea.

What might be good would be if they had a trial period where they just cone-off the areas suggested, to see how it works before actually committing to the changes – it would be utterly crazy traffic chaos for a bit, but at least not permanent in case it’s a total disaster.

But that’s not what I’m posting about today.

There was another consultation going on at the same time, which didn’t seem to be getting so much attention as the roads (for obvious reasons), but which could have a significant effect on the centre of Greenwich.

It’s about what to do with the (small) pot of cash the council have to try to make Cutty Sark Gardens less of an eyesore. It seems mainly to consist of – well, of putting in some gardens, actually (at the moment it’s the worst misnomer in town – neither Cutty Sark NOR gardens to be seen at Cutty Sark Gardens) which gets two Phantom thumbs-up – anything that will provide green, shade and even a little moving water (couldn’t work out if the water feature was a pond or something more) plus some shelter from the howling gales in winter seems like a good thing to me.

I understand that at least one of the restaurants on the new pier is to be a chain (Zizzi) which is a bit ho-hum but even just finishing that bloomin’ pier now would be a plus.

But what really excited me was chatting to one of the chaps working on the project, where he told me that next month (maybe this month now – we’re in July now) they begin an archaeological dig underneath the car park underneath Cutty Sark Gardens. This came as a big surprise to me – I hadn’t any idea that they were planning anything like that, but presumably it’s a legal obligation or something these days.

I was even more surprised when he told me what they were looking for. Vikings. They may well find things above the Vikings - the ancient high street passes right through the site - but the Holy Grail (or unholy grail, I guess, unless you’re an Odinist) is Dark Age-ery. He told me that there were 45 long-ships moored at Greenwich for a while.


I don’t know whether that number is in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles. Julian Watson tells me he’s not seen the figure before, but confirms the chronicle does imply that the fleet were at Greenwich 1011-1016, though whether that was constant or not isn’t clear. But then the Anglo Saxon Chronicles aren’t known for their crystal clarity. Apparently  they’re pretty vague about Greenwich all-round. It doesn’t even say that Alfege was murdered here but Julian tells me a near contemporary biography of him does. And according to Michael Wood, whose heart, despite his branching out into the likes of India, Shakespeare and Troy, still lies with the Dark Ages,  the the site of the martyrdom would be exact - details like that were really important to people then.

I asked the guy at the consultation what specifically he hoped to find. He smiled and said that as a planner, it would be most convenient to just find a handful of coins or a belt buckle, then quickly cover it all up again. But the twinkle in his eye said that as a Greenwichian, a long boat would be spectacular. I agree. Forty five long-boats might be a bit inconvenient though…

Why isn’t Greenwich Council shouting about this from the rooftops? I’ve heard nothing at all about this dig (and the knock-on effects for the car park, I guess.) The guy told me that the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MOLAS) like working with the council because they do things right now (as opposed to previous decades) so why aren’t they telling us this as a good news story – I mean god knows, they need one.

I can’t find anything about it on the MOLAS website, either, but while I was trying to find out anything at all about this, I did discover a drawing of how they think the Greenwich Tide Mill would have looked…

11 Comments to “Viking Hunters”

  1. OldChina says:

    Wow, fascinating. I knew the name “Greenwych” was Saxon in origin so there would have already been a town here by the time the Vikings turned up, but I never knew in such numbers. I guess it makes sense, the Thames would be the main route into London for any invading force.

    I’m reading Michael Wood’s “In Search Of The Dark Ages” at the moment. In fact, I got him to sign my copy last year when I attended a talk -after hours- one night inside the Tower Of London.

    Did you know “Viking” is actually an adjective? The invaders were called Danes (of course) and they would go “viking” (i.e. raping and pillaging).

    Hope they turn something up on their dig,some Viking paraphanalia would look superb in Discover Greenwich!

  2. I have always been a bit miffed that Michael Wood’s “In Search of the Dark Ages” has never been released on DVD. I didn’t know the adjective-thing. I’m holding out for a longship + helmest and spears and general pillaging kit. The car park could be turned into a lovely underground Viking musuem, now the town centre will be pedestrianised.

    Ahhh. Friday fantasies…

  3. Darryl says:

    I imagine the council’s not shouting from the rooftops because it could all be rather inconvenient.

    Imagine being the one who has to tell the Dear Leader that the Vikings are holding his grand scheme up…

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by IanVisits. IanVisits said: Is there a fleet of Viking longboats buried under Greenwich town centre? [...]

  5. Capability Bowes says:

    Indeed, an archaeological survey is mandatory practically everywhere when new buildings are to be erected. Most of the big building companies pray like mad that they won’t find anything as the slightest shred of proof that the site is of archaeological interest then means that a proper dig must be carried out – meaning that the building works could be delayed by years, if not permanently (good job that farmer at Sutton Hoo wasn’t planning to build an office block in his field). I imagine that the area around the Cutty Sark will be rich in pickings. Get down their with your hammer, sieve and paintbrush, Phant!

    By the way, completely off topic: I think the Phant should run a summer competition like they used to do in the tabloids in the 70s. The Phant puts up a picture and crops out everything but the eyes. Anyone who can identify the Phant from this picture simply has to march up to Phant in the street and say “You’re the Greenwich Phantom and I claim my £10″.

  6. OldChina says:

    Dammit, I mean “viking” is a verb. How embarassing.

    I have mixed feeling’s about the pedestrianisation of the center. My initial reaction was that it’d be amazing and that the center would be a lot more pleasant to walk around but then I’d be worried about the drop in visitor numbers on business.


    Am all for the tarting up of Cutty Sark Gardens though. God knows, it needs it. Sounds as though most of central Greenwich is going to look like a building site for the next couple of years though!

  7. And it isn’t already?

  8. Oh, and I confess I don’t buy hte ‘drop in business’ argument. How many people using the market as a roundabout are actually driving TO Greenwich to buy stuff? I’ll wager not many in comparison to the people driving THROUGH Greenwich and preventing the shoppers from reaching the businesses easily.

  9. EnglishRose says:

    Speaking of matters archaeological, I’ve just had a letter through from Greenwich Community College advertising an ‘Archaeological & Architectural Tour of Greenwich’ on 21st August. It doesn’t say anything about Viking longboats but there’s an archaeological walk in the park with Harvey Sheldon in the morning and an architectural walk around the Old Royal Naval College with Julian Watson in the afternoon. No mention of it on the main GCC website, but it might be worth ringing them direct if anyone’s interested….

  10. frank says:

    Two points on the pedestrianisation. I also thought it a sound proposal but only if they do/achieve many of the second level points that have not yet been agreed. Specifically, a complete revamp, of Norman Road, synchronising the system of lights (preferably without unnecessary pedestrian sequences – ie when no pedestrians are there)and agreement about bus routes and bus termination places.
    The second point, for anyone who wants to object, is that you can choose yes or no to the straightforward proposition “Do you approve of the proposal”. The previous consultation simply asked if you agree with the Council’s objective of making Greenwich a nicer place (or words to that effect.

    Incidentally that consultation had a 72% ‘for’ vote – but only 500 responded out of 8000 sent out.

  11. Otter says:

    Frank: I agree: so far so good but there is a lot of work to be done before it really works.