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…

the attachments to this post:

Royal Greenwich through time
Royal Greenwich through time

11 Comments to “Royal Greenwich Through Time”

  1. OldChina says:

    Sounds like another “must buy” for my bookshelf. I like the then and now images. The retronaut has had some good ones on hs site.

    Speaking of old Greenwich, I was watching the 1968 movie Charge Of The Light Brigade starring John Gielgud the other night and I’m sure Greenwich appears in a sequence. It’s the ORNC and pillared walkways but they’re filthy. Dark with dirt, not all shiney like nowadays. They may have grubbied them up for the shoot, but I don’t think so.

  2. scared of chives says:

    Yes, it is OC – 01:15 into this clip:

    David Hemmings, looking a right tart, was in it too – not the only time he filmed round these parts….

  3. OldChina says:

    Yes, David Hemmings got to flounce around Maryon Park too didn’t he. I’m still in shock as to just how different he looked in later years though.

    Anyway, back on topic.

    TGP are you saying that a flying bomb just knocked off the dome of the Town Hall? Wow.

    I’ll get this book just to see the Green Man pub at the top of Blackheath Hill. How they thought knocking down an 18thC coaching inn to build council flats is beyond me. Although I know a lady who’s lived in those flats since construction and she said the Green Man was a bikers pub in the sixties and the bikers used to annoy the local residents no end, tearing about on their bikes at all hours.

  4. I’ve just sent TGP a photograph of West Greenwich House immediately after the flying bomb incident. If we’re nice to him perhaps he’ll publish it in the future!

  5. Sue says:

    Yes but the wonderful thing about The Green Man is it lives on in local parlance. The 53 bus stop at the top of Blackheath Hill is still referred to as The Green Man.

  6. David Ramzan says:

    Greenwich Phantom, thanks again for reviewing my recent publication, I was just about to send the Phantom website details to the publishers to suggest sending you a copy as they have requested details of any contacts I know of who may be interested in writing a review, but as always you seem to be on the case. I had a wander through Greenwich yesterday to catch up with some old acquaintances, and on route I took a short cut through the College grounds and came across a film set, with billboards exclaiming ‘Blackbeard Productions’ and part of the College building being reverted back into what seemed like the old Tudor Greenwich Palace? I read on the website that it’s a setting for Pirates of the Caribbean?…but why are they transforming the College into a Tudor palace I thought that the palace came down prior to the time of Blackbeard? But then again Hollywood can change history as they see fit and POTP is a fantasy I suppose.

  7. David – indeed – it must be the first time that particular bit of Greenwich has looked like that in what – 300-odd years. If you check the website, there are some up-to-date (ish) pics (right below the unsavoury festival story…)

  8. Dave says:

    I have a pic in another book which shows The Good Duke Humphrey ‘Pub’ (actually a temperence tea and and coffee place with a large hall for meetings etc) on the opposite side of the road to where the car park is now.

    It was replaced by a Fire Station in 1905 which in turn was badly damaged in WW 2

  9. softlad says:

    Something similar I did involving ‘Grandfather’s Greenwich – Photographs from the Spurgeon Collection’ –

  10. Jon says:

    Hi there David – was that the website for Blackbeard Productions Ltd or for the university -I’ve been trying to find a website for the production company but as yet have had no luck tracking it down on google, just an adress in Hammersmith. I’d be greatful of any help/suggestions from anyone?? Many Thanks

  11. [...] Ramzan’s new book, Royal Greenwich Through Time reminded me that we haven’t had one of our own ‘Then and Now’ pics for [...]