Archive for the ‘Places of Interest’ Category

Greenwich Then and Now (6)

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

We haven’t had one of these for ages, so I thought it was about time we looked at another old postcard. This one was sent exactly 99 years ago today – 26th Jan 1913. I’d tell you the contents, but I’ve deemed them not for general consumption as I don’t condone casual racism even if it was written nearly a century ago. It’s a real shame as it’s all in copperplate writing and nicely presented – but hey that’s how it is. Like turds, you can’t polish prejudice.

But hey – to the front, which I don’t think is offensive to anyone. It’s taken from the top of Crooms Hill and is a general shot down towards what is, nowadays, Our Lady Star of the Sea but, if the caption is to be believed was just ‘Lady Star of the Sea’ then.

And actually, apart from a bit of building, the view hasn’t changed that much. I think I may have got the point a little wrong when I took this (why didn’t I just take the postcard with me?) and taken it a little too high up the hill, choosing the wrong building on the right to line it up with. It all looks a bit far away, now I put them together.

Ah well, No one’s perfect…

Greenwich National School of Industry and Excellence for Girls

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

I’ve been meaning to talk about this at-first-rather-dull-looking building for some time. It is, of course, the church hall of St Alfege, and anyone who’s been inside will recognise the classic traditional British church hall as seen up and down the country. Slightly scruffy cream walls? Check. Low stage, filled with sundry stored stuff? Check. Old fashioned loos? Check. Noticeboard for sundry Stuff Going On? Check. Comforting, lingering aroma of tea urn and custard creams? Check.

But unlike most church halls, this one has a whole previous history of its own, and much as with the delightful transformation of the Old Brewery (not much younger) into – well, a brewery, actually, the old place is just being used again for purposes not a million miles from its original concept.

We need to go back much further than 1815, though, when the building was first opened, to find its source.

1640, actually, when a dashing Cavalier (‘wrong but romantic,’ if I recall, from my copy of 1066 And All That…)  John Roan (yeah, him – we’ll actually get to him one day…) was caught red handed recruiting soldiers for the King’s Army by Oliver Cromwell’s lot (‘right but rotten…’), flung in jail and ’stripped of all he had and in great necessity and want, ready to starve’. His brother refused to have anything to do with him, so it was up to his mate Richard Wakeham, to bust him out of stir (well, okay, ‘obtain his release…’)

When he died, he didn’t forget Wakeham, and being childless himself, he left his cash to his wife and Wakeham’s daughters, and to set up a fund to educate poor children of Greenwich.

Of course, ‘children’ in those days meant ‘boys’ and although the fund snowballed into a charity that every Greenwich person of quality wanted to be seen to support, the school that was set up in Roan’s name was very much single-sex.

It took until 1814 for the vicar, George Matthew, presumably bearing in mind Roan’s bequest to Wakeham’s daughters, suggested the radical idea of educating poor girls too. I guess it’s a sign of the go-for-it  times that it only took a year to find £130 from the Roan Estate and open the National School of Industry and Excellence for Girls – what was to eventually become the Roan School for Girls.

If you look a little closer at the church hall, it begins to become clearer that at least part of it is is Georgian. Plain Georgian, I’ll agree – no Regency stucco or elegant columns here – but honest, solid Georgian nonetheless.

Obviously no one expected girls to be able to understand complicated things like boys could, which is where the ‘industry and excellence’ bit comes in. Poor girls were taught the sort of things they needed to work for a living – which in this case, mainly meant needlework. I am told that that’s the reason why there are so many large windows in the place – to allow natural light to enter.

The Roan Schools went from strength to strength. Sheer numbers soon outgrew the original building, and were moved to new premises. By 1653 there were 630 boys and girls being educated by Roan.

The building, being so close to the church, made an ideal church hall, and thus it has been ever since, serving the parish when needed and being hired out at other times.

And now, they have a new hirer. Sewing Time will be there every Tuesday, teaching if not the same, very similar skills – sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery – to all comers (men included this time) on a pay as you go club every Tuesday.

So the wheel turns. It just leaves me with one question.


Local – of course. But what part of the Greenwich National School of Industry and Excellence for Girls was national?

Greenwich District Hospital

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

I am an insomniac. It’s not that I can’t get to sleep, just that most every night I wake up at about 3.00am having had some dream (not exciting enough to be a nightmare, just something odd) and then spend the next two hours with it running through my head. It’s a real pain in the proverbial, and it means I’m nearly always tired in the morning, but it is often responsible for posts here, so I guess it’s not all bad.

Last night’s nuit-blanche wasn’t one of my better ones. I woke up having spent my dream wandering through the labyrinthine corridors of the old Greenwich District Hospital. Why, I have no idea – it’s not like it had any more in the way of labyrinthine corridors than any other hospital and I’ve got myself lost at QEH far worse.

But who can explain dreams? I’m sure Mr Freud would be very interested that mine started out with the hospital open and working and, by the time I got deep inside it was closed and I was alone in the empty building, with only yellowed net curtains billowing from open windows, rusting trolleys and broken oxygen tanks to keep me company.

When I woke up and got to the dull bit – the bit where I spend two hours thinking about bloomin’ Greenwich District Hospital – two things occurred to me. First, that it’s going to be – perhaps already is – a building that the majority of people in Greenwich will know nothing about very soon – it lasted only a very short while in the grand scheme of things and, I suspect, eventually the Heart of East Greenwich, when it finally begins (whenever that may be), will be known as the development built on the site of the old Union Workhouse, not a hospital that lived less that thirty years. It will effectively disappear from history.

The second thing that hit me was – brilliant! I can share with you my favourite-ever Greenwich Christmas card (see above.)

Actually, it’s a good thing I have that or I wouldn’t be able to illustrate this post – I never took a photo of the place – aw-c’mon – why would I? I never even got a pic of Philippa Threlfall’s  mural that’s now in Sinister Glenister Gardens though our very own Darryl over at 853 has a wonderful set of pics from the hospital’s sad (though short), dead days here. I don’t know of any photos of it when it was actually a hospital.

The great thing about Pevsner’s London South edition not having been updated for some time is that old buildings now demolished are still in it and it was the only book I managed to find anything about the old hospital.

It was the product of a rash of post-war hospital building and Pevsner quite liked it, mainly because it was only three storeys high and generally stayed out of sight (the poor old Vanbrugh Health Centre, one of my favourite modern buildings, and also living on borrowed time, doesn’t get off so lightly.)

It was planned in 1961 and because the site wasn’t big enough for what they needed (800 beds in under 8 acres) they first hived off all the awkward external services to  a central supply unit in Hither Green and, second, got W. E. Tatton-Brown, the chief architect for the Department of Health and Social Security, and the man ultimately answerable for one of Greenwich’s least-loved buildings, to house everything in one giant shell in what Pevsner calls ‘an experimental compact design’- wards on the outside to catch the light; consulting rooms and operating theatres in the middle, all artificially-ventilated.

It was completed in 1976. And although it wasn’t the prettiest building in Greenwich it did have one BIG thing in its favour. Convenience. Anyone who’s had to get the 386 and then sit there for what feels like four hours as it trundles round every housing estate in the borough (just when you know Queen Elizabeth Hospital is just round the  corner to the left, off veers the 386 to the right to bimble its way round yet another set of houses…) will know that if you don’t have a car QEH is an utter bugger to get to.

And it did have modern (for the time) equipment. I remember having one of those funky new microscopic cameras-on-a-string shoved down my throat to try to find out why I’d lost my voice, and being all-agog at what today is pretty standard kit. BTW at least some of the consulting rooms were on the outside as the room I was in had a window. Blimey – how the hell do I remember that - when I can’t remember what I did yesterday? Actually, that might have something to do with the snowballs I was drinking in a non-ironic way last night – I love ‘em…

But I’m digressing again.

It all closed in 2001. The Council, presumably fearing mass-squattage, only took a couple of years to demolish. It’s spent a lot longer as an empty site than it did as a closed hospital. This year marks the tenth anniversary of our losing an important amenity and gaining eight acres of unused soil.



Fishers Alley

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

I’m reading the quintessential novel of Victorian Greenwich, Poor Jack, by Captain Marryat, better known for Mr Midshipman Easy and The Children of the New Forest, but popular enough at the time.

I’m going to talk about the novel itself when I’m finished; I’m only half way through it, but it paints a fascinating picture of Greenwich in the late 18th Century, with a cast of varyingly low-life Greenwich characters from mudlarks hanging about under the windows of Thames taverns waiting for well-heeled patrons to toss pennies into the river and watch them dive, to peg-leg pensioners telling tales of whaling derring-do, ex-pirates posing as Nile veterans to miserly marine storekeepers who turn out to be ex-fences. Marryat’s novel is one of the only descriptions of the actual town I have found. Most accounts centre on the big buildings, the royal history.

Writing in 1840, Marryat has his narrator live through some of the biggest alterations the town ever saw. Old Jack himself says

“Such a change has taken place since I can first recollect Greenwich that it will be somewhat difficult for me to make the reader aware of my localities. Narrow Streets have been pulled down, handsome buildings erected – new hotels in lieu of small inns – gay shops have now usurped those which were furnished only with articles necessary for the outfit of the seamen. Formerly, long stages with a basket to hold six behind, and dillies which plied at the Elephant & Castle, were the usual land conveyances – now they have made place for railroads and omnibuses. Formerly, the wherry conveyed the mariner and his wife with his sea chest down to the landing place – now steam boats pour out their hundreds at a trip.

Even the view from Greenwich is much changed, here and there broken in on by the high towers for shot and other manufactories, or some large building which rises boldly in the distance…

I got my first-edition leather-bound copy cheap off Greenwich market because it’s missing half its illustrations – a victim, presumably, of evil characters who vandalise books and sell their ill-gotten results as ‘original prints’ – but don’t get me started on those particular individuals. In this case, I did actually manage to get a cheap book; others that don’t look so quaintly archaic just get tossed once their pictures have been stripped.

But there are a few illustrations left, and the ones that interest me most are, of course, of Greenwich. And the bit that I’m most curious about is the alley where Jack lives for much of his childhood.

Fisher’s Alley (sometimes called Fisher’s Lane) was part of the old medieval street plan that was swept away as part of the 1830s redevelopment of Greenwich Town centre, where the market and posh streets like Nelson Road were built. The only bit that is anything like the old system used to be is Turnpin Lane, which, for some odd reason remained when everything else bit the dust.

The lane full of grotty fishermen’s tenenments ran, as far as I can tell, along the river front round about where the Pepys Building (visitor centre) is now, though a little further north.

I’ve enlarged this map from the excellent Ideal Homes site, and I’ve put an arrow where I think it would have been, based on the illustration in Poor Jack and Marryat’s descriptions of the place. I am ready to stand corrected as, to be honest, I’m not really sure.

I find the line-drawing at the top of the post particularly interesting because it shows the ‘real’ bit of working-class Greenwich with the incongruous grandeur of Greenwich Hospital right bang next door to it. No wonder the lives of ordinary people were so bound up with those of the pensioners.

Fisher’s Alley was just up the way from Billingsgate (nothing to do with the City Billingsate market) and Ship Dock. Fishermen worked up and down the area, and the alley would have housed at least some of them. I can’t tell whether the houses would have backed onto the water, like the buildings on present day Crane Street or whether the Five Foot Walk would have been between them – the map could go either way.

However it was, it would have been grubby, crowded and tumbledown. Jack describes it as

“a very narrow street and what was said in a room on one side of it can be heard on the other’.  His terrifying mother puts a board up by the door to prevent her toddler from crawling out (he’s at the front left of the drawing), and he says ‘I used to hang over the baord and listen: there were drunken men and drunken women, and occasionally scolding and fighting.

To earn money to live, his mother (who got her own husband press-ganged into the navy, so don’t feel too sorry for her…) tries to rent out rooms in their filthy hovel, hanging around by the door like curry vendors on Brick Lane, trying to entice sailors to take a bed for the night: ‘Walk in Gentlemen; I’ve a nice clean room and boiling hot water.” She doesn’t get many takers, and if she does, they don’t last long because she’s so rude to them.

And that’s pretty much all I can find about the old lane. I guess it was one of dozens, some of which look fabulously dodgy. Who writes about single streets? Who keeps descriptions of ‘normal life’? ‘Everybody’ knows about it, what’s the point? But 150 years later not a trace of Fishers Alley remains.

The lane didn’t go in the 1830s when the rest of Greenwich was prettified, but it lasted only a very short time after Marryat’s book came out. If Poor Jack had returned even ten years later, he’d have found Monument Gardens instead.

Donkey Man

Friday, November 11th, 2011

What kind of character has his nick-name carved above his own on his gravestone? I didn’t even want to know how B.J.N. Ketteringham, MMR, got his pet moniker, but I thought it was pretty clear that when he died, not five months before the end of World War I, his friends wanted the world to know the name he was known and loved by.

Well, that’s what I thought. I think a lot of things.

Sharmani first told me about the monument to Donkey Man some months ago, and I had originally imagined he might be a rakish old Greenwich pensioner about whom we could have some fun one day. But I when I actually sought it out, I found his simple grave in the South West-ish part of East Greenwich Pleasaunce deeply moving. He’s with several others from the first World War (not far from Anthony Sampayo) in a part of the cemetery that is very cosmopolitan indeed.

From sundry veterans’ forums I found Donkey Man’s whole name – Bertie John Nugent Ketteringham, 92723, was in the Mercantile Marine Reserve, and was Australian, from South Brisbane, son of William T. and Margaret M. Ketteringham, of Ferndale Rd, Annersley. He died of pneumonia, which is yet another pause for thought. I always tend to think of anyone who fell in the first World War as being a lion, charging out of the trenches on donkeys’ orders and being gunned down by the Hun, but this tells a completely different tale. One where, way out at sea somewhere god-knows-where, men are dying from disease, too.

And even that isn’t right. Nothing seems to be what it seems in this post. Donkey Man actually died at Greenwich Seaman’s Hospital, after being moved from Chatham, though where he contracted the pneumonia is anyone’s guess. He’d only signed up on 1st January that year.

HMS Eaglet is on the grave stone – but I found most about him on a completely different ship, HMS Teakol. HMS Teakol was sold to Eagle Oil, which might explain the name – but that wasn’t until 1920, so that couldn’t be right either.

HMS Eaglet itself is actually a training ship for reservists – which is probably what Ketteringham was doing on board, and possibly what it was doing in Greenwich. Today’s incarnation is not the same ship that served in the Great War, that version was destroyed in a fire in 1926 and there have been a couple of others since then. But our Eaglet (called HMS Eagle at the time; its name wasn’t actually changed until 1919, to mark it different from a new ship of the same name, which means that Ketteringham’s headstone wasn’t installed until at least a year after his death) was a frigate, mobilised in 1914 as part of the Royal Naval Division, and served at Gallipoli, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

At this point I guess I have to let you down. Donkey Man wasn’t a nickname, or not a personal one, anyway. It’s a generic term for the guy who looked after the engines on a ship. For a moment, when I discovered this, I was ever so slightly disappointed. But only for a moment. For me, it only opened up a whole bunch of other questions about B J N Ketteringham.

I find myself wondering what a 32/3 year-old Australian was doing signing up in 1918. I guess he couldn’t see that the end of the war was just months away, and he felt he needed to do his bit. He would have known about his countrymen’s fate over the past years, and he did it anyway. He travelled thousands of miles to serve. I think of what he must have thought as he set out. I think of Margaret and William, back in Ferndale Road, I think of what Bertram imagined he was getting into, and how it actually turned out. That it would appear he didn’t see one of the Big Battles in no way makes our own Greenwich Donkey Man any less worth remembering today.

Rotunda Update

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Sorry, folks, as you may have noticed from lack of posts last week I’ve been a bit distracted. I hope to resume service as soon as possible. I AM aware of all the things that need to go into the Parish News – some of which were for this weekend – sorry to anyone whose event has been and gone. I’ll try to update asap, but things may take a while to readjust.

In the meanwhile lots of people have been asking about what to do about the Rotunda’s predicament and I thought I’d let you know what two people have already done – and give you another address.

Capability Bowes has written to, among others, the Georgian Group. They have replied, saying they’ll look into it – but the more emails/good old fashioned letters they receive, the more priority it will get. He has also written to the Folly Fellowship (which has a fantastic collection of photos on its website).

Paul has taken a different tack and written to Save Britain’s Heritage Buildings at Risk Casework Officer, Rhiannon Tracy, who has said she’ll be looking into it too.

But ultimately this is MOD property and people have been asking me for the address to whom they should write to bring this matter to the attention of people there. Well – Secretary of State for Defense is at

Ministerial Correspondence Unit
Level 5 Zone A
Main Building
Horse Guards Avenue

I would suggest you could write to Nick Raynsford who’d have to pass it onto Liam Fox, but he’s probably already got his eye on bulldozing the lot and sticking a tower block on it. No – actually, that’s unfair. He probably would be into saving it as it needs a load of remedial building work. So yeah – write to him, too…

If anyone wants to get together and co-ordinate attacks, I’ll be happy to pass on details to each other – just tell me if you’re happy to have your details shared with others.

Rotunda Still In Peril

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

After last week’s little frisson of excitement that in the reworking of the army barracks at Woolwich for the soon-to-be-arriving King’s Troop Royal Artillery the beautiful but sadly falling -apart Georgian Rotunda would be renovated and loved again I’m afraid that I have some rather sad news for you.

After our discussion last week, Paul actually wrote to the architects, Scott Brownrigg, to see whether this extraordinary Georgian confection was included in their designs or just a pretty backdrop for them (well done Paul – thanks…). He pointed out that it was an asset that would make everything not only look better, but was desirable to keep in at least reasonable shape.

He received a reply from them a day or so ago:

“Dear Sir
Thanks for your email, I am afraid that your assumption is correct the Rotunda is not part of the King’s troop relocation scheme.

All we know is that the building is still under military ownership.”

Well, at least we know where it all stands. I know that money is tight just now, but this is a sublime, unique building by a famous architect. Surely it deserves a better fate than this?

I still feel that it would make a good events venue that, once it was brought back to a reasonable state, would pay for itself in hire fees, much as the Cutty Sark is hoping to do next year.

Its one crime is that it’s not in a posh area. If this was Godalming or Henley, the Rotunda would never have suffered a fate like this. It would have been lovingly restored, dressed in white ribbons and pink roses every weekend for fluffy brides and squiffy bridesmaides, been the setting for several international smash-hit Richard Curtis rom-coms and occasionally been the backdrop for well-heeled amateur theatrical productions of Shakespeare’s comedies. As it is, it’s gated off, surrounded by the detritus of military hardware and falling to bits.

There is an unpalatable but radical idea that I don’t actually condone but this morning I feel like paying devil’s advocate. Hang on, I’m going to don my tin helmet and dig myself a trench…

The Rotunda wasn’t always here. It started out in King George’s back garden in the centre of town.

I would hate to see it moved from its present position, but I would hate more to see it crumble and collapse completely. Would moving it to save it be such a terrible idea?

Right.  I’m just going to take cover before the firing begins.

Hope for the Rotunda?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Paul’s just reminded me about a discussion we had back in 2009 (well, part of it’s there, anyway – the usual problem – all the comments pre-2010 are sadly lost…) about how the Rotunda at Woolwich could be saved.

The basics are thus:  a bizarre, tent-like structure by the Prince Regent’s favourite architect, John Nash, was originally built as a tent in George’s back garden at Carlton House for a grand ball to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon (now that’s what I call style…)  but it was so loved by all and sundry that Nash built a brick wall round it and covered the canvas roof with lead – today’s equivalent would be to put a big aluminum lid over the Dome. It was a bit in the way in George’s back garden though, so it was moved to Woolwich, where for many years it was a museum. Then Firepower came along and the place was abandoned.

I once met the major in charge of looking after it – a decent chap saddled with excellent listed historical buildings, no budget to look after them – and a growing collection of  ’important’ military regalia that people kept ‘donating’ to the museum because they didn’t want to give it all house-room. He told me it cost sixty-odd grand just to stop the Rotunda collapsing into dust – that was in 2009 – and he just didn’t have the cash.

I started to really fear for the building – but a link Paul’s sent me to some very sketchy (literally – the pictures, one of which I’ve pinched for the top of this post, are lovely) page on the website of  Scott Brownrigg, the architects in charge of creating the new home for the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery, who are moving from St John’s Wood to Woolwich (no prizes for guessing why) has cheered me up a little.

Here’s a PDF of the proposals which recognise the importance of the Rotunda, and include a ‘forming up area and ménage’ adjacent to it. Not being of a horsey-bent, I’m assuming that’s some kind of parade-ground-y-type thing where splendidly-uniformed chevaliers swagger around on horseback – presumably quite an eyeful if we’re allowed to see it. It also implies that it’s this area English Heritage have asked to be kept open (I think they mean ‘clear’ rather than necessarily open to the public)  - which means the rather welcome demolition of  ’particularly low merit’ buildings surrounding it.

All this sounds pretty okay to me. I can’t say I’m wild about the new buildings – the stables remind me of chicken sheds and the rest of the constructions smack of a visitors centre in a national park – but they’re not offensive and I’m intrigued that the whole shebang runs on pellets made from horse manure, a fuel of which they’ll have such a ready supply they’ll be able to sell it off to anyone who wants to run their gaff on dung. Given the recent hikes in gas and electricity charges recently that sounds almost attractive.

The only thing I can’t find in the proposals is any ring-fenced cash for renovation and upkeep of the Rotunda itself. I truly hope that’s been thought of. It would be reassuring to know that the major’s been allocated some money to spend on this Grade II* listed Georgian gem.

Boarded Up

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Sorry to bring you grim news in two days, but here’s what Westcombe Park Police Station currently looks like, courtesy of Adam. The officers in Greenwich nick have all been told to budge up to make room for their oriental buddies, leaving the building stripped naked for the developer’s knife.

All we can hope for is that adapting this very sweet little building into ‘character flats’ (i.e. the outside saved, anything inside ripped out and replaced with bland, though TBH since it was a police station it’s probably never been that exciting inside) is more attractive financially than razing it to rubble and replacing it with a tower block…

The Blue Lamp Extinguished

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Valley Girl saw this curious ad in the commercial property section of the News Shopper this week. I had no idea that Westcombe Park Police station was ‘former’ – last time I was round there there were still cars parked round the back – though I can see why it would be attractive to a developer for, presumably, the traditional apartment-building route.

The ad points out that it’s a period development (if memory serves, it’s about a hundred years old, the same age as the Park Row Police Station, trashed by the Luftwaffe in 1944) and that any development hinges on planning permission  but that, on the bright side, the building is neither nationally nor locally listed so frankly, boys, it’s fair game.

In some respects I can understand this being made into flats. I mean it’s not like it’s been a ‘proper’ police station for years – it’s not somewhere the public could pop in to report a missing cat or a lost wallet to the local bobby. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen that front door open. And it’s in pretty poor nick. If someone was to take it on as what it is – a lovely building – and create it into decent, liveable flats, that’s progress.

I would be v. keen to keep the ‘police” trappings such as the carved name above the door, the phone box, the delightful flowering cherry (not partcularly police, but fab all the same) and the wonderful blue lamp (though I guess the blue ‘police’ bit would have to go – let’s hope they would replace it with some other coloured glass, preferably not red…) but remember – the sales pitch is very much ‘this is not listed, you can do what you like with it as long as you can get planning permission,’ which, of course means that the council refuses, it goes to appeal and Bristol pisses all over the council –  Big Society in action – not that I’m bitter over the market or anything.

I can’t imagine that ‘extensive’ car park remaining as such. Why keep a facility when there’s profit to be made? There’s always the street. That’s nice and empty…

I guess that just how many flats they can shoehorn onto the car park footprint will be down to whether they’re allowed to build above the roofline or not.

I know. Let’s have a sweepstake to guess how many ‘luxury’ flats end up being built over the car park area. I’m going to be conservative and say twenty. Winner gets to be very smug indeed and say ‘I told you so.’