Royal Greenwich Through Time
David Ramzan, Amberley, £14.99
I’m writing today’s post with a hangover and it’s all this book’s fault. Well, actually, no, it’s The Phantom Webmaster’s fault. Oh, okay, it’s a bit my fault.
Let me explain. There is a Phantom Post Office Box to which lovely items are sometimes sent to me, and very exciting it is too when that happens. TPW very kindly collects said items and passes them onto me. Trouble is, that whenever we meet alcohol inevitably happens, I end up doing something embarrassing and writing the next morning’s post with a headache. And on a schoolday too. Ouch.
Thing is, when the item turns out to be a new book by David Ramzan, full of jubbly pictures and entertaining captions, a pint of Berocca gets downed in one, the vast amounts of parcel tape get ripped off (and I mean vast – I know the Phantom P.O. box is several postcodes away, but it is still in this dimension…) and I sit, extra-strong coffee in spectral paw, ready to hoover up enjoyment.
And it is enjoyment. Ostensibly a ‘then and now’ book (which reminds me – I must do a few more of those) it consists of two pictures on each page, one an old photo/postcard/engraving, the other a photo of what’s there today. It’s divided into three sections – a sort of overview of the famous historic stuff, which I suspect will appeal mainly to visitors, a middle part which is about people in the community, something Ramzan knows all about, and a final chapter dealing with the river – for work and pleasure.
Each page has a thoughtful (and often diplomatic) caption of, I’d say, about a hundred words, which I assume has been scientifically worked out to be the number of words people will actually read rather than just flick through looking at the pictures.
The pictures that work best are the ones where Ramzan has managed to capture the image from exactly the same angle as the original, for example the splendid photo of the Greenwich Park Conduit on p.15 (the one that is also in John Bold’s Greenwich) which shows how someone shamefully filled in the entrance and the sweet little pond, no doubt for Health and Safety reasons but IMHO a loss to the park as a whole. I also liked the pic on p.29, showing College Approach during the war, complete with scaffolding – white-painted at the bottom for blackouts. The pictures that are inexplicably taken from a different angle (when it wouldn’t have been impossible to get exact shots) are nice, but don’t feel as well ‘tied-in’ with the originals. What I do like though, is the way Ramzan has been imaginative with pictures that don’t naturally fit – for example the cadet sailors at the old naval school are juxtaposed with school children on a day trip to the Maritime Museum; the scary frozen Thames in 1895 balanced with a picture of Ballast Quay last winter.
I missed dates of most of the original pictures. Of course some will not be dated, but the few places where approximations have been made enrich the scene – for example what is probably my favourite page in the book, 33, of some sturdy drinking companions in the 1950s (I particularly enjoyed the fellow on the left in the Christmas jumper and bobble hat), twinned with a snap of Ramzan’s own drinking pals now (as always, Ramzan’s text is best when it takes a personal note – see the ‘then and now’ wedding pics on P.54/55.)
Several pictures tug at the heartstrings of an architecture lover. The splendid dome that used to sit atop Greenwich Town Hall (now Greenwich West Community Centre), lost to a flying bomb in 1939. The Green Man on Blackheath, lost to a horrid block of flats. The splendid Munyard’s Grocery Stores on London Street (Greenwich High Road), lost to the ghastly un-named shopping complex where Somerfield is. The Good Duke Humphrey pub on Trafalgar Road, lost to a car park.
And Crane Street. Oh, Crane Street. Ramzan’s old and new pictures are terrifying – with just a fraction of the lovely old stuff remaining. I would have loved to have wandered down past the old weatherboarded buildings, stopped at the Crown and Sceptre to ‘admire the view’ before hiring one of Corbett’s boats for a little jaunt on the river.
Though perhaps not this morning. For me, another Berocca awaits as I curse myself for that last bottle of wine…
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