Greenwich Park, Its History and Associations
I realised the other day when I was writing about the little Greenwich Park entrance tokens that I’ve not actually ever talked specifically about the seminal Greenwich Park book (I could have sworn I did but then my brain’s not all there just now and there are nearly 2600 posts in the archives to wade through, gulp…)
AD Webster was the superindentent of the park in Late Victorian/early Edwardian times/ and part of a doughty group of antiquarians very active in investigating Greenwich’s past – I note in the foreward that he thanks a Mr. H. Richardson – I assume that he is this Henry Richardson who wrote another Greenwich history nearly seventy years beforehand and who would have been 91 by this point. The book is published by Richardson’s Greenwich press.
The splendidly bearded chap in the picture is probably Webster – he and a lady friend are inspecting the Roman excavations in the park in the very year his book was published.
Like several of the publications from that period, the book grew out of a talk he gave to the Blackheath Natural History Society and, for my money, it’s still the best (though not the prettiest – that honour has to go to Anthony Quiney‘s photographic record of a year in Greenwich Park.)
It covers everything from history to archaeology, tittle-tattle to flora and fauna, folklore to underground passages. The latter are slightly better described than in John Stone’s pamphlet from a few years later, though still not as well as I’d like.
Our problem is that in the early years of the last century, the underground passages were, if not officially open to all (though some of them seem to have been) not closed. So the writers of the time assumed their readers had already explored underground and didn’t describe them as exhaustively as I’d have liked.
Now, I only know of two people who have explored underground Greenwich to any great extent in very recent times so most of us either rely on Dominic and Per – or go to 100 year-old sources such as Webster and Stone, who at least seem to have a new nugget of something every time I re-read – this time I noticed a reference to a passage that opened with ‘wide stone steps’ at Queen Elizabeth’s Oak. I knew about a load of underground tunnels in the park but hadn’t registered that one. Neat.
And that’s why I think it’s worth seeking this book out. It’s not actually that hard to find because although at one point it became quite rare, it was reprinted in 1971 which watered down the market and made it accessible again. You’ll not have too much trouble finding it at Amazon Marketplace, ebay, Abebooks etc.
They’re both good editions and although it’s always nice to have an original, there’s no great reason to buy the older book over the new – you won’t justify your cash. They’re both hardback, good quality and have the same number of illustrations – both photos and drawings. The only difference I can see is that the map inside the cover of the original has the park coloured in in green, the 1971 version’s completely black & white.
If you’re building a library of Greenwich books, I’d recommend this as one of the must-haves. Look to pay around £20 for an original and around a tenner for the reprint. I’d go for the reprint. If you’re not feeling flush just now, it is available as a PDF courtesy of Toronto University.
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