Okay – this is an example of a press release being its own worst enemy. It was also the moment when the term ‘pop-up’ became officially overused.
What’s so annoying is that this doesn’t need to call itself anything ‘cool’ to get attention. It’s an absolutely brilliant idea that stands by itself without gimmicks.
Right, so we need to take ourselves back three hundred and eight wibbly-wobbly years to November 1703 and the worst storm the British Isles has ever seen. Entire forests were destroyed, ships were sunk, the Eddystone Lighthouse blown down entirely and John Evelyn’s garden left in a right old mess.
The country was in mourning at the loss of life – and none more than the good citizens of Greenwich, Deptford and Woolwich who had not only seen the products of their shipbuilding labour sent to Davy Jones’s locker, but many of their own, gone for sailors and fishermen.
1707 saw further misery. The Woolwich-built Devonshire was blown up by the dastardly French, losing many local sailors. Then,just two weeks later, Sir Cloudesley Shovell lost, with in minutes, three ships on the rocks in the Scilly Isles. Yet more local bereavement.
It took a further four years of misery before the final insult. At 4.00am on the 29th November 1710, the roof of St Alphege’s church caved in without warning, no doubt aided by the storms, though it would seem a faulty pillar in the middle was the ultimate culprit. Monuments were smashed, graves ruined and the walls broken beyond repair.
It was going to cost six thousand pounds to fix the mess. Greenwich was a poor town ever since being abandoned by the court. There was nothing for it. The people decided to go, cap in hand, to Parliament. What resulted was better than they could have imagined.
February 1711 saw the start of A Case of the Inhabitants of Greenwich, where they lay out their case.
They told Parliament how the wealthy residents of old had pretty much abandoned them when the court moved, and those who remained had places elsewhere and no real love for the town. Nine-tenths of the population lived off the river, and the tradesmen left in the town had been ground down from years of giving credit to the rich guys who’d now scarpered. With the recent shipwrecks there were now over 3,000 widows and children dependent on the Parish. Where were they going to get six grand from?
Parliament listened. And then some. On the 12th June, 1711, Parliament passed an Act for the building of not just one but fifty new churches in London. That only a fraction of that number actually got built should not detract from the vision, though how much the good burghers of Greenwich appreciated the new Coal Tax that was going to pay for it is not recorded.
But – huzzah – St Alphege was to be the first. I’m not going to go into the whole Hawksmoor thing now, because this post isn’t about that, it’s about a fantastic idea for a new walk. The fact that I cannot find any way to deem it ‘pop-up’ ( I just don’t buy any of the arguments on the website, especially the ‘you choose how to follow it’ one – that’s a fancy word for ‘self-guided’) doesn’t take away from the great idea.
Basically, the 1711 is eleven short strolls combined into One Walk to Rule Them All, following, over fifteen and a half miles, only routes available in that year, and encompassing all twelve of the churches built as a result of the Act (well, eleven and a ruin). It was devised by barrister Peter Dodge and it’s in aid of a new ring-fenced fund to preserve the churches as a group – or at least the nine still being used for worship (I don’t know if the other three have to fend for themselves?)
It’s being launched on the 12th June, the exact anniversary of the passing of the Act, after an 8.00am service at St Alphege. No one’s going to marshall it, but presumably there will be a whole bunch of people doing the walk so you can probably just join in with them.
What you’ll need to do is purchase a specially-created, destined-for-instant-collectableship, Guide, which is designed in 18th Century style using the original street names and sounds utterly amazing – it’s only £2.95+ P&P and the money goes to the fund. Bargain – but be quick, there are only going to be 500 of them and Boris is already first in the queue.
So, folks – 12th June in your diaries, now, okay. Though of course, it’s being ‘pop-up’ means you can do it any time you like…