Archive for August, 2012

Devonport Pathological Laboratory

Friday, August 31st, 2012

AKA The Cooper Building AKA Greenwich University Students Union

Yes, young freshers, your friendly students’ union block used to be (cue creepy organ music) the old mortuary and path lab for Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital and comes complete, according to Shaun, with sinister basement and a Phantom of its own.

Annoyingly for me, I can’t find any references to said Phantom in any of my local ghost/occult books but apparently they had to cart 1247 skulls and 58 boxes of bones down to East Greenwich to build the lab and Devonport House next door, so take your pick. Whether it’s Peg-Leg Pete or Captain Birdseye, I’m sure we all have a pet dead sailor we imagine when we think of the corpses buried in the Pleasaunce. (Ah. Just me, then…) One of them apparently, forgot to take his ectoplasm with him.

But I digress. The Pathalogical and Bacteriological Department was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1923. He also drew up plans for the nurses’ home next door, which couldn’t be named after him as his mate Lord Devonport, who got him both jobs, called dibs. It was bang up to date, including a small museum (oh, for the days when you built a museum in a path lab) a library and even a special motor garage for visiting doctors’ cars, but the project had to be put on hold until 1925 while sundry seamen’s bones were disinterred.

There’s a good architectural description of the building in John Bold’s giant book, Greenwich, An Architectural History of the Royal Hospital for Seamen and the Queen’s House so I won’t reinvent the wheel here, but he does say that it was designed to complement the church next door; a shame since St Mary’s was demolished seven years after Cooper’s path lab was finished.

Not being a student, and not being able to pass for one either, I’ve never been inside, but Shaun tells me it’s rather beautiful,  with a marble hall, an elegant staircase echoing that of the nurses’ home next door, and a tiled crucifix in the floor under some rather unlovely carpet tiles. He also tells me that the old cellar still contains cupboards with case numbers for body parts on them.

Actually, John Bold says the mortuary was in the side bits and the cellar contained the disturbing-sounding ‘heating chamber’ but perhaps that’s what they want us to think… Even Bold puts the words ‘heating chamber’ in inverted commas. Obviously was really where they burned the bodies. Just look at that chimney. Mwahahaha…

Thing is, I’ve never seen inside so I’ll never know, unless there are any students reading this (unlikely, I know) or someone who doesn’t mind pretending to be one, snakebite in one hand, camera in the other. I’d love some shots of the interior.

The White Dog of Crooms Hill

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Okay – so now I’ve been asked three times in as many days who the strange white dog who sits in the greenery halfway up Crooms Hill is.  I think the sudden interest is that with the St Marys Gate entrance to the park being closed just now there is a constant stream of people being forced to climb the usually quiet Crooms Hill to the next available entrance (my favourite, actually, up by the White House, via that dear little country lane.)

Annette describes her as being like an unusually coloured Alsatian/a not especially fluffy Husky, and on Sunday afternoon was sitting quietly behind the railings allowing visitors to photograph her. She doesn’t appear to be a typical guard dog.

I’ve heard of this dog before, and even vaguely remember the sign – it’s not new – but have never seen the dog – and frankly, I forgot all about her. I went up there yesterday to find evidence, but only discovered the delightfully enigmatic sign that her humans, presumably frustrated at sundry calls from the RSPCA demanding to know about the ‘poor neglected doggy’, have erected.

It’s clearly her little patch, and I’m guessing that since she’s inside the railings she doesn’t live at any of the Crooms Hill addresses at all, but at somewhere that backs onto the park, such as MaCartney House. I don’t know her name, or anything about her, but perhaps someone else does.

She must be quite a sight – everyone who’s written to me so far has intimated that seeing her affected them somehow. Perhaps it’s the unusual colouring.  Annette says it was a very strange sight going past- rather like a Victorian sideshow of a mermaid or something. Chris agrees, saying  it was quite eerie, in a silly way, though Jo points out that it’s just another one of those weird things you see in Greenwich. 

It puts me in mind of the cat who used to hang out around William IV’s statue – I think his/her humans were at Sabo’s newsagent – you know the one with the comedy small ads – if memory serves.

I did check in my nutty books about occult and supernatural stuff around here that there aren’t any ‘white dog’ ghost-type traditions round here and you’ll all heave a sigh of relief to know that I didn’t find any. The dog is most definitely real, you’re not imagining her ;-) But who is she?

A spot of crowd-sourcery needed, please…

Morden Art

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Okay – no prizes for guessing this building belongs to Morden College (sorry about the fuzziness). Why a lion? I have no idea – my only guess is that a turkey would have provoked sniggers among puerile Phantoms. I had a quick look in a couple of Morden College history books with no joy, but Neil Rhind’s bringing out the third in his Blackheath books at some point and I daresay the answer will have nothing to do with gobbling holiday meat.

I’ve often thought of doing a ‘collect ‘em all’, I-Spy-style trail around Greenwich and Blackheath on the various properties that bear the mark of one of the area’s biggest landowners (it’s a slightly weird thought that so much of central Greenwich is actually carved up between two charities). You’d certainly cover a fair amount of ground if you wanted to walk them all in a day.

Most of the proprietorial plaques you’ll find around town take the form of a black circle with a white lion (occasionally painted over) like this:

but I don’t know of another place where the College has built its badge into the very brickwork of one of its portfolio properties.

So folks – where is it? I’ll add a slightly wider angle later today (with, ahem, no accidental clues this time…)


Yes – of course, Dave, you’re right. But I bet not everyone notices the top of a building that looks so dull on the ground floor. Here’s a shot of the whole thing.

It is, like several buildings down Traf Road, quite a handsome fellow if you care to look up.


Tough Greenwich Mermaid

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I always find the first day back after the August bank holiday really depressing – I guess it’s the whole childhood back-to-school thing – the sun’s still shining gloriously but I’m stuck at my desk with a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t really know how to do. So I thought I’d give you a bit of a teaser so that if, like me, you’re doing anything at all to procrastinate just that little bit longer, you can muse over just where this little bit of Greenwich Art might be.

When I first looked at her, I thought she was wearing battle helmet but now I’m not so sure and I’m thinking old-lady felt hat with feathers with cute 1920s bob. Beneath her, swim three fish; above her shoulder to the left there’s a small shoal.

And that’s all I’m saying for now. I’ll update at midday with an extra clue. Meanwhile – any idea about where she is?


Okay, here’s an expanded photo:

Answers at 3.00pm

UPDATE – earlier than it should be thanks to school-phantom-error, pointed out by Benedict…

It’s actually on the Azof Street side of that extraordinary Victorian confection, Rothbury Hall, and I’m guessing it’s the work of the resident arts group, Emergency Exit, about whom I know less than I should.

A little while ago, the Rothbury Hall Trust, part of the Heritage of London Trust, was given some money to restore one of the windows, and there was talk of the trust buying the building to secure its future (and, I presume, release some cash for Greenwich Council). I have been promised news on that (looking forward to hearing from you, Bob) and I promise to pass on all the news that’s fit to print when I get it…

Alphabet of Greenwich – H

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

We haven’t had one of these for ages and since it’s the bank holiday this weekend and Phantomising will be minimal,  let’s have a bit of fun.

You know the drill.

As many Greenwich things…

….beginning with the letter H…

…that we can come up with together.

Happy Holiday, folks…



Seaside in the Park

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

I found this picture in the 1902 classic Greenwich Park, it’s History and Associations, by A. D.  Webster and looking at it for more than a second (which is what I’ve done in the past), it suddenly clicked where and what this is.

It’s the prototype for the children’s playground, down in the north-east corner.

Seasides were all the rage in Victorian/ Edwardian times, of course, but most of Greenwich’s poorer inhabitants didn’t get to Broadstairs or Margate on a regular basis. There was Greenwich Beach, of course:

which was a lot more popular at pretty much any time in the last 150 years than it is now – odd, given the river’s much cleaner now than it has been at any point in that time and access is easy. My personal explanation for this is that people tend to think it must be out of bounds or, probably more likely, don’t think about it at all.

I can understand why Edwardian parents didn’t really want their kiddies playing on Greenwich Beach itself in their starched collars and white petticoats, so it must have been a bit of a godsend when ‘a dirty and untidy corner’ of the park was turned into ‘a valuable and much appreciated play-place’, ‘where children may play on the clean sand without fear of molestation.’

Funny how a random picture makes things you never thought about  before fall into place.

For my money though, the beach is still a funner place to play.

Greenwich’s Ticking Obesity Time Bomb

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012


Meet the next candidate for a lurid Channel 4 ‘documentary’ about the spiralling epidemic of obesity in inner city areas. The Fattest Squirrel in England, the trailer will gloat, cycling footage of firemen winching him out of his tree so he can visit the animal hospital for his diabetic jab.

I’m wagering this chap hasn’t been feeding solely on a diet of slimline acorns. Just click on the image and check out that wobbly belly; that podgy neckline.  I promise you this photo has not been ‘shopped.

I found him lurking around the bins in the upper part of the park where I suspect he has been indulging in that age-old pan-handling wheeze of posing for photos in return for fast food scraps. Being a cold-hearted Phantom I didn’t crack despite some ‘big-eyes’ acting and his waddling up the path after me  looking hard-done-by. The ‘poor, starving wildlife’ routine loses something when your tummy, however cutely fluffy, gets in the way of walking, let alone scampering.

But it did get me to thinking about how the wildlife of our park is changing. You can’t take a walk through – well any area of Greenwich, now – without hearing the squeaking (and seeing flashes of green) of parakeets, and urban foxes serenade our sleepless nights with mating cries that sound like small children being murdered. A few decades ago a distant sighting of either of these creatures would be a talking point. Now it’s everyday. And much of it is down to us.

I found the entire remains of a chicken carcass + orange all-purpose fast food packaging outside the back door the other day. I don’t eat the stuff, so I can only assume that a fox found it in a bin or, worse, just dumped on the street, and brought over to Phantom Towers for a midnight picnic.

Not that humans feeding rubbish to animals, wittingly or otherwise, is a totally new thing. In the early years of the last century deer roamed freely throughout the park, and had done so since at least 1510. It was mainly to stop day-trippers feeding them a diet of gooseberry tart, orange peel, cloth, paper and mutton bones that they lost their liberty.

There’s no way Tubby Tufty here is going to get fenced in, but it’s just possible that if we keep either directly feeding him and his mates or leaving leftover KFC crap in the bins for him to find, one day, after that final, fateful waffer-thin French fry, Greenwich might boast the world’s first Squirrel Creosote.


Greenwich Pest House

Monday, August 20th, 2012


Over the weekend, I was reading the appendices to the sizzlingly-titled 1816 Legacies, Gifts, Rents etc., Appertaining to the Church and Poor of the Parish of St Alphege in the County of Kent and was intrigued by a couple of lines I found in the section which grumps, at length, about all the encroachments on sundry church-owned land:

A small encroachment also, on the said Blcakheath, near the Pest-House, containing four perches of land, now in the occupation of Stephen Benning, valued at per ann. 034.

The Pest-House, as aforesaid, erected (as the jurors are informed by King Charles the First on the said waste, called Blackheath, and now employed for the use of the poor; wherefore the jurours have not valued it. 

All those three acres, with a dwelling house and garden, part of a field called Paine’s Field, near the Hobby Stables, now, or late in the tenure of Richard Tookefield, which the said Jurors present to be unjustly concealed from the Crown , and valued at per annum 900.

My first question was ‘what on earth is a pest-house? My second, of course, was ‘where was Greenwich’s very own local version of this repulsive-sounding erection?’

The answer, after I’d stopped imagining all sorts of repellent things, was pretty obvious – it was the place where individuals of the Parish were sent if they were found to be suffering from communicable diseases. In Victorian times there was even a pest-house charity that built almshouses, some of the pretty ones still exist but I’m thinking the Greenwich one would have been much less pretty.

I’m guessing that since it was built by Charles I (probably not with his own fair hands) said communicable disease would have been plague. This in turn made me wonder whether the deceased inhabitants of this grim place might be responsible for the beginnings of whisperings about plague victims being buried on Blackheath. It doesn’t take many retellings to turn a handful of bubonic peasants being quietly disposed of on the Heath into mass graves.

Just a thought.

Whichever, I did actually managed to find an old map with the Pest House marked. It’s pinched from the reverse of the free map that came with Neil Rhind’s The Heath and is reproduced v. badly at the top of this post. The Pest-House itself seems to be a little drawing on the map, but I can’t get the quality up high enough to really see:

I can’t quite work out from this map where this would be now. I’m thinking somewhere around Hyde Vale. Any ideas?

Oh and while I’m cheaply crowd-sourcing, any guesses as to what Hobby Stables were?


I have just had a splendid little email from the ever-reliable Julian Watson, who has forwarded me an article written by Frances Ward, back in 1982. I can’t reproduce it here, but if you want to find it, it’s in the Transactions of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society, vol.9 no. 4,.

Julian says:

Accounts for the building of the Pest House in 1635, a particularly bad plague year, are preserved in the GHC…The Pest-House was on the site of the later parish workhouse (1764 I think) in Maidenstone Hill. The entrance to that workhouse, which was superseded by the grim 1840 building on the ‘Heart of Greenwich’ site, was in Blissett Street.

It was made of brick and wood, with two doors, an outer and inner. The outer door was, somewhat scarily, heavily fitted with locks and hinges. No one was getting out of there outside a wooden box.

Frances Ward says there aren’t any records of exactly how many people were ‘cared for’ in the house, but judging from the accounts, she thinks there wouldn’t have been very many at all. Their goods were all burned.

Julian’s also cleared up the Hobby Stables thing.

The Hobby Stables belonged to Greenwich Palace. Hobby Horses were either lively horses or small horses. Thanks to Julian Bowsher we now know that Henry VIII refurbished the ancient and important Old Court House on Ballast Quay for Ann Boleyn so that, before they were married, she was within easy walking distance from the palace (cue Sid James and Barbara Windsor, yak, yak, yak). I assume that the Hobby Stables would then have been reserved for her use as they were just to the south of Old Court. The main royal stables were in the northern end of what is now King William Walk, not far from the river.

Winking Through the Chink

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Thou Wall, O Wall, O sweet and lovely Wall,
Show me thy chink to blink through with mine eyne!

With all the hoo-ha about the Olympics it’s been very easy to miss the other thing that has been happening quietly in a once-forgotten part of Greenwich Park.

Michael took the photo above a little while before the games, through a gap in the  wall, that will soon have a rather snazzy gate in it. There’s a path leading to it now, and you can sneak a peek through the fence (Michael clearly poked his camera through the holes to get this pic) and see what they’re doing to the old well.

In fact it’s coming on apace – here’s a picture Jeremy took last week, through the same chink in the wall:

Dunno about you but it’s not quite what I was expecting, (I think I had an actual little orchard in my mind and this is looking rather ‘produced’) but it looks fun and I’m assuming they’re basing it on what was there once.

I saw a copy of the Friends of Greenwich Park Newsletter (I forget where, and I can’t find it again for you as they only put the front page on the website) where they had two drawings, one of the design for a new wrought iron gate (with a deer on it, if memory serves) which I quite liked and the Friends really liked, the other for a fancy wrought iron cover for the well-head, which I liked, but the Friends sent back for redesign.

Michael asked me if I know when it’s going to be open. Of course I don’t. I’ve no idea. But it’s looking pretty finished now – it can’t be long.

Anyone here know?

PS I’ve just realised that I’m guilty of assuming that everyone’s an old Phantonian and knows what we’re talking about. We’ve talked about the Dwarf Orchard on so many occasions I didn’t bother to say what it is.

Basically, it’s in the North East corner of the park, running parallel to Park Vista. You’ve almost certainly walked past it and not even been aware it’s there as there’s a high wall running along it on both sides – the street and the park, and it’s easy to assume that the two walls are one. In fact there’s a sliver of land in between them that used to be part of the formal gardens of the palace. For many, many years it was completely forgotten, and left to get totally overgrown and full of weed trees, but over the past few years it’s been quietly coming back to life – the original secret garden. It has an old well, some of the original plantings and an ancient Mulberry that’s survived 300-odd years. I can’t wait to see it.

Don’t All Rush…

Friday, August 17th, 2012

…but when I went to the Bob Hope exhibition at the Greenwich Heritage Centre a couple of days ago, I spotted a ‘bargain basket’ of old Greenwich leaflets, brochures, pamphlets etc, including one from 1947, a transaction of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society’s findings in the Blackheath Cavern when it was investigated as a possible air raid shelter in 1939. Most of the leaflets are a bargain 50p each but that particular hen’s tooth is six quid.

Just thought you’d like to know.