Archive for the ‘Greenwich Park art’ Category

Tokens of Affection

Friday, August 9th, 2013

(c) The Trustees of the British Museum

Cute, huh?

Greenwich Park wasn’t always open to all. In fact for much of its life it’s been enclosed, open only to the privileged few. Around 1700, you needed a pass to get in, though of course once those gates were locked, unless your house actually backed onto the park you were stuck in or out side.

No nasty bar codes or plastic photo-cards then, though. These were tiny, stamped-metal tokens and cute as buttons. Hell- the super-rich probably could have used them as buttons…

I’d seen the drawings of the little pass-tokens in A D Webster’s 1902 book on the park (he says they’re copper, the British Musuem reckons they’re bronze; take your pick…)

but I guess it hadn’t occurred to me where Webster might have got the tokens from to draw them until the splendid Graham Dolan told me where one was – in the British Museum.

In fact there are two – the vanilla version, plain and oval, and another, curious in that someone’s cunningly set it into the ring of an iron key – though who knows whether it’s a key to the park gates, the person’s front door or their bulging treasure chest.

The key and token were donated to the museum by Montague Guest in 1907, with his entire collection of admission tokens and cards (you’ve got to have a hobby…) but even after writing to the museum I can’t ascertain whether they’re on display in the coins and medals department or tucked away in storage.

Nobody knows exactly when the gates were finally flung open to all and sundry, but Webster reckons there was at least some general access by the time of George IV, grandson of the George who was on the throne when these delightful little trinkets were being flashed by the great and the good to get past the parkies.

Interestingly, neither token in the BM is the one Webster drew from – it’s number 576; the BM tokens are 289 and 488.

Clearly, somewhere then, there are at least 573 other delightful little copper/bronze ovals knocking around – check down the back of your sofas, chaps…

(c)The Trustees of the British Museum

Greenwich Hill 1906

Friday, July 19th, 2013

After the delights of the Maze Hill Photo last Wednesday I couldn’t resist this postcard that local author Graham Dolan sent over to me. If it wasn’t taken at the same photo session, or by the same photographer, it was almost certainly using the same opportunity – the scaffolding around the power station chimneys.

Graham tells me that there was a bit of fibbing going on with the labelling of the card though. Edwardian tourists were variously told that this picture was taken ‘from the air,’ ‘as seen from a balloon,’ as seen from an aeroplane’, ‘a bird’s eye view’ and just plain ‘Greenwich Park’ on the sundry captions – this card by Perkins & Son is of the ‘as seen from an aeroplane’ flavour. I guess no one wanted to admit on a tourist memento that four whopping great industrial chimneys were being plonked in the middle of the classic vista of Greenwich Park (they were originally taller than those we have today.)

It’s another fascinating view – the backs of the houses along Park Vista (most of which survive) the Obsevatory (if you zoom in you’ll see people on top of Flamsteed House- presumably astronomers, since it wasn’t open to the public at the time) a very fuzzy MacCartney House and what look like deer in the foreground (they were still roaming free at that time), but it’s also fun to note that this was a time before the General Wolfe statue.

I find it incredible that that position was left open for so long – the top of Greenwich Hill seems somehow focus-less without it, yet despite a splendid design (by John Webb, if memory serves) for a sort of classical temple-thing at the top of the Giant Steps, which remained a twinkle in Charles II’s eye through the usual lack of funds and even a competition for an eyecatcher in the 18th Century a there was nothing there until the 1930s.

In theory, I guess it’s possible that there were photos taken at all 360° from the power station – after all, it was a golden opportunity for Greenwich’s numerous photographers to get ‘unique’ shots. The phantom mailbox is always open to seeing any more…

Could Do Better

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Okay – so yesterday the first of the horses arrived on Blackheath for the Big Old Games. It’s hard to tell what’s happening/has happened to Greenwich Park in general because it’s all fenced off, but I have confidence that the hoo-ha  created by various people over the last few years will have forced LOCOG to more or less do the right thing by it and that apart from some scary hoof marks in the soft mud (all that rain and giant studs – erk) ultimately the park itself will mostly go back to normal within a couple of years.

I guess its a shame that the same sort of focus wasn’t put on Blackheath (though of course initially we were told the heath wouldn’t be affected. Yeah, right.)  There’s a slag-heap of earth as tall as a coal mine and when I went by the other day the diggers were still adding to it. I’m assumiung slurry tanks for all that poo and wee.

To be honest, though, I’m less worried about the heath – it’s hardly the classic panorama that’s been around for millennia, full of bumps and hollows, scorched bushes and wind-tortured trees (if you want to know what it all used to be like, just take a look at the Dips at the top of Maze Hill)  after having been effectively ‘filled-in’ with bomb-rubble after the last war, but I would like to know that that, too, will be returned to rude flat-green health afterwards

To many, the ideal legacy for the Park and the heath would be – well, nothing, really. For it to go back to how it was, and for as little damage as possible to be done, but we have gained one thing, upon which, frankly, I think we could have done better.

I don’t have a picture of the old Blackheath gates, which were bulldozed so that heavy vehicles could get in and out of the Park more easily, but I didn’t have massive objections to the change – the old gates weren’t that historic and though pretty, not something that couldn’t have been improved upon.

However I don’t consider this:

to be an improvement.

Honestly – we’re getting precious little else in the way of legacy from the games – surely a set of gates to one of the most beautiful and historic parks in the world that were removed so that developers could build stuff could have been replaced with something that looked just a tiny bit less like the checkpoint for a high security prison? All we bloomin’ need are watchtowers and surface to air missiles and the scene will be compl- oh, hang on, we’ve already them.

I absolutely get that it’s an honour to have the games here and that whatever disruption we get over the next few weeks is nothing in comparison to the prestige of having the eye of the world on us. I don’t mind the traffic, the parking issues (especially as Greenwich Council has sent me twice as many parking permits than they said, mwaha,ha). I don’t mind the park being closed and I’m actually quite excited about looking out for the Phantom Webmaster in the opening ceremony.   Greenwich will cope, stuff will get done and it will be an incredible experience.

But really – those gates. Would it have been so hard to get something just a teeny bit prettier, wrought-ironier or squirlier -or even to put the old ones (with temp extensions) back?

German Moore

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010


Following on from yesterday’s post about the Henry Moore missing from Greenwich Park, apparently in the ‘care’ of the HM Foundation, Elaine sent me this pic of another Moore in pride of place on the lawn beside the Art gallery in Bielefeld in Germany. Peeping through is Madeleine, age 6. Her four year old brother Eric’s playing with her in the next pic.

As Elaine points out, “they obviously have a more relaxed attitude towards their art in Bielefeld.” Perhaps they have a more cultured class of thief. I suspect it’s more likely that scrap metal prices aren’t so high.
Of course it may just be that the Henry Moore Foundation haven’t managed to get their sweaty paws on the Bielefeld sculpture yet. Or that the good burghers of Bielefeld didn’t just roll over at the first signs there might be an issue with security.

But it is time to get the Greenwich one back. Seems like there’s a bit of a head of steam building over this – I heard the Friends of Greenwich Park on the Today Programme yesterday demanding it back. Personally, I think if we don’t get it back by 2012, we won’t get it back at all.