Testing Missiles in Greenwich Park

…made you look!

Yeah, okay – it wasn’t like, last week or anything, but with all the hoo-ha about rocket launchers being stuck on Blackheath during the games, I was disproportionately amused by a 1667 John Evelyn diary entry where a reigning monarch was merrily setting off cannons in Greenwich Park – with definitely no public consultation.

John Evelyn was a true renaissance man. Like so many 17th Century men (and the occasional woman – the day before the entry below, Evelyn had been at the Royal Society showing ‘divers experiments’ to the Duchess of Newcastle…) he just loved to do new stuff – whether it was discovering interesting plants, procuring inscriptions for Oxford University or designing a garden with a canal and a crypt inside a hill for his mate. So I can understand his wanting to be around when, on the…

…1st June, 1667. I went to Greenwich, where his Majesty was trying divers grenadoes shot out of cannon at the Castlehill, from the house in the park; they broke not till they hit the mark, the forged ones broke not at all, but the cast ones very well.

I can only speculate on the target – but I wonder if it could have been poor old Duke Humphrey’s tower, which currently more or less stood (mainly less) where Charles was to build the Royal Observatory eight years later.

They were firing the cannons on Castle Hill – where Charles was currently toying with the idea of creating a new Versailles with giant steps leading to a rather splendid loggia he couldn’t afford. Humph’s tower was not only old fashioned and in the way, but would have been in pretty rubbish condition after the Civil War; perfect for target practice. The rubble from the tower was eventually sold off to pay for the Observatory – perhaps Charles II’s playing with grenades was the straw that broke the tower’s back and broke that rubble into nice, easily manageable chunks for later.

The other part of Evelyn’s diary entry for that day is even more intriguing, though. I have absolutely no idea what this means or what on earth he could be talking about:

At the same time, a ring was shown to the King, pretended to be a projection of mercury, and malleable, and said by the gentlemen to be fixed by the juice of a plant.

Suggestions as to what this malleable mercury ring that needed the juice of a plant to ‘fix it’ could be, below, please…


5 Comments to “Testing Missiles in Greenwich Park”

  1. JOF says:

    Made you look, made you stare,
    Made you cut the barber’s hair.
    Cut it long, cut it short,
    Cut it with a knife and fork.

    Sorry Phantom, but your opening line transported me straight back to a primary school game of, oh dear, around 50 years ago. 1 Point out imaginary object to companion; 2 companion looks for imaginary object; 3 recite above rhyme triumphantly at companion. What can I say – we didn’t have Play Station or Xbox.

  2. Benedict says:

    Maybe the Malleable Mercury Projection was an early version of this…..
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-17677727

  3. Adam says:

    Projection in this context is the process of turning a base metal into gold… apparently easily done by using some sort of plant extract to act as your philosopher’s stone! In reality, probably an amalgam of gold and mercury squidged into the shape of a ring…

  4. Meirion says:

    Adam might be right – Charlie boy was famously into mercury and may have died because of experiments he carried out with the quicksilver messenger metal at the Royal Society – although that was 18 years later

  5. Mary says:

    Somewhere – if I dig through my nightmare of old notes – is a reference to 19th century steam gun testing in pits alongside Blackheath Hill.