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Maritime Greenwich: A World Heritage Site

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Greenwich Town Centre

The Historic Town

Children in Turnpin Lane, Greenwich Market.
View full size imageThe entrance to Greenwich Market. © NMM
The historic centre of Greenwich is Church Street, running from St Alfege Parish Church (1714-30) towards the Thames. A few buildings north of the church date back as far as the 1690s.

Romney Road, between the Old Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum, dates from 1697-99. It was built to replace the road that ran east to Woolwich under the Queen's House. 

Turnpin Lane.
View full size imageTurnpin Lane, Greenwich. © NMM
Its extension toward the Church, with its fine late-Georgian shopping parade (Nelson Road) and the whole of the similar central block around the covered Greenwich Market mostly dates from 1829–31.

This large redevelopment for Greenwich Hospital, the major landowner, was by its Surveyor, Joseph Kay.

It swept away the medieval street pattern of the town, although Turnpin Lane on the south side of the market preserves a medieval street line.

Two paddle steamers at Greenwich Pier.
View full size imagePaddle steamer at Greenwich Pier. © NMM

In the 1840s further clearance of tenements on either side of the now-vanished Fisher Lane created Monument Gardens, between Greenwich Pier (built 1836) and the present Pepys Building (now the Greenwich Gateway Visitor Centre).

The open area between this and the Painted Hall was formerly the site of Greenwich Market. Before that the armoury and friary church of the Tudor palace stood there.

Until the Second World War, Cutty Sark Gardens comprised houses, Billingsgate Wharf and the Ship Hotel, by the pier. After wartime bombing of this area, it was cleared and redeveloped around the Cutty Sark, which was installed in her purpose-built dry-dock in 1954.

Cutty Sark

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark
View full size imageThe tea-clipper Cutty Sark. © NMM
Cutty Sark is the world's last surviving tea-clipper and one of the fastest and most famous. She was built in 1869 of teak on an iron frame by Scott and Linton of Dumbarton, on the Clyde, for John 'White Hat' Willis.

Figure head of the 'Cutty Sark'
View full size imageThe figurehead of the Cutty Sark. © NMM

Unfortunately, that was the year the Suez Canal opened (for steamers only), which meant the end of the high-value sailing trade in tea from China.

Consequently, from 1877, the ship moved into the Australian wool trade. It was in this role that she made her fastest voyages.

In 1885, on her first voyage under Captain Richard Woodget, she first defeated her old tea-trade rival, Thermopylae, by making a passage from Sydney to England in 73 days. That was a whole week faster than the other ship.

Ferreira in the Albion Dock, Surrey Commercial Docks
View full size imageFerreira (Cutty Sark) in the Albion Dock, Rotherhithe. © NMM

From 1895 she had Portuguese owners and sailed to their African territories as the Ferreira. But she was bought back to England in 1922 by Captain Wilfred Dowman. He kept her at Falmouth until she became a training ship for the Thames Nautical Training College at Greenhithe in 1938.

 In 1952 the Cutty Sark Preservation Society (now the Cutty Sark Trust) was formed. After a successful campaign the ship was preserved in her purpose-built dry-dock at Greenwich in 1954. She was restored and opened to the public in 1957, but is now again in need of major restoration work.

 Cutty Sark's official status is as a monument to Britain's merchant seamen from the age of sail. Her presence in Greenwich is the clearest sign of the World Heritage Site's seafaring importance. However, she is perhaps best known now because of her position on the route of the London Marathon.

Greenwich riverside inns

Trafalgar Tavern.
View full size imageTrafalgar Tavern. © NMM

The Trafalgar Tavern, built by Joseph Kay, is east of the Old Royal Naval College and is now the last of the historic riverside inns within the World Heritage Site. Another, just outside and worth the short walk, is the Cutty Sark Tavern on attractive Ballast Quay, east of the 17th-century Trinity Hospital and the 'listed' power station (1902-10).

The Trafalgar was built by Joseph Kay for Greenwich Hospital in 1837 and it replaced the George Inn. Dickens, who knew it, set the wedding breakfast in his novel Our Mutual Friend there. It became famous for political whitebait dinners for the Liberal party in Victorian times.

The Salutation Tavern, Greenwich 1756 (caricature).
View full size imageThe Salutation Tavern, Greenwich (caricature). © NMM

The old Ship Inn – later the Ship Hotel (where the Cutty Sark now sits) was frequented by the Conservatives during the same period.  It was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War.

The vanished Salutation Tavern and the Red Lion in the Dock, both by the modern pier, are now only commemorated in drawings by Rowlandson and others.

St Alfege Church

St Alphege's Church.
View full size imageChurch of St Alfege. © NMM

In 1012, Viking raiders attacked Canterbury, captured Archbishop Alfege and brought him back to their camp at Greenwich. Here he was murdered after a drunken feast and a church was later built as his shrine in this site.

Samuel Pepys 1633-1703.
View full size imageSamuel Pepys (1633-1703). © NMM

Little is known of the early buildings, although the Elizabethan composer Thomas Tallis was buried in the medieval church. In 1660 Samuel Pepys attended and noted in his diary: 'a good sermon, a fine church, and a great company of handsome women'. But in 1710 the roof collapsed in a storm and everything but the tower was demolished.

In 1714 the present church was built in its place, against the medieval tower, by Nicholas Hawksmoor, Clerk of Works to Greenwich Hospital. It was one of the first of '50 new churches' ordered for outer London under an act of Queen Anne in 1711. However, not all of them were built.

South East View of St. Alphege Church, Greenwich.
View full size imageSouth-east view of St Alfege Church, Greenwich. © NMM

In 1730 John James encased the ancient tower with Portland stone and added the spire.

Major-General James Wolfe, victor of the siege of Quebec (1759), and John Julius Angerstein, founder of the National Gallery, are buried in the crypt.

The church was badly damaged by fire bombs in the Second World War but it was well restored by Professor Sir Albert Richardson in the 1950s.

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