Greenwich Station

Above: The elegant exterior of the ticket hall at Greenwich Station.

Greenwich Station is situated towards the western side of Greenwich, only a short distance from the River Ravensbourne. In 1836 the first part of the London and Greenwich Railway – London’s first passenger railway – opened between London Bridge Station and Deptford Station. Given the name of the railway, you might have thought that the last sentence would have ended by saying that the railway extended to Greenwich but that was not the case.

The London and Greenwich Railway was constructed on a brick viaduct, running east from London Bridge Station, via Spa Road Station (beside St James’s Road) to Deptford Station. Because most of the land was flat and in use as farmland, the viaduct was almost a straight line. If you are wondering why the railway was not just laid on the flat land, instead of having to construct the viaduct, the reason was that it was feared a few animals, like cows, might stray onto the line. The viaduct carried two lines – one up and one down. At London Bridge Station there were just two platforms, serving each of the lines.

Although intended to reach Greenwich Station, which is only about a mile further east of Deptford Station, the viaduct had to cross the River Ravensbourne. Constructing a bridge over the river would have presented no problems but the design was more complex and that was what held up the line reaching Greenwich. The part of the River Ravensbourne that needed to be crossed was the most northerly part, known as Deptford Creek. The Creek is tidal and, at high tide, it is relatively deep. It is also quite wide which meant that Thames sailing barges could use the Creek, proceeding south as far as Deptford Bridge.

Thames sailing barges have a tall main mast and, because they had been using the Creek for several centuries, they had right of way. Any bridge crossing the Creek was required to be high enough for a sailing barge to pass through. The railway on the viaduct was not sufficiently high and so the only alternative solution was to build a lifting bridge. This proved to be rather complicated and, therefore, it held up extending the railway line to Greenwich Station.

Eventually, the bridge was completed and a temporary station at Greenwich was opened on Christmas Eve (24 December) 1838. The London and Greenwich Railway had at last been completed. Two years later a handsome station building was designed by George Smith and opened in 1840, making it one of the oldest station buildings in the world.

The lifting bridge over Deptford Creek was made of iron and had a central section that carried the two railway lines. In order to open the bridge, bolts had to be removed from the two railway lines so that the bridge section could be raised high enough for a sailing barge to pass underneath. The bridge was then lowered and the bolts securing the movable part of the track were replaced. The whole procedure probably took between 30 minutes and an hour to complete.

You may be surprised to hear that the requirement to lift the bridge is enshrined in an Act of Parliament that is still in force today. Hardly any Thames sailing barges exist today but, very occasionally, a sailing barge passes through and the railway engineers have to comply with the regulations. The present bridge is not the original one but it works in exactly the same way as the first one and the procedure is still just as cumbersome.

Above: Looking west at the platforms of Greenwich Station. The lifting bridge crossing the River Ravensbourne (looking rather like scaffolding) is just to the right of centre. On the far left, it is just possible to see the DLR tracks rising steeply from the Greenwich DLR platforms.

Once the line from London Bridge Station to Greenwich Station had been completed, which is only about three miles in length, plans were made to extend the line further east, with the hope of one day of reaching the coast of England, at Dover. While constructing the railway line further east was only a matter of acquiring more land and laying out the tracks, there was another problem to overcome. The line further east needed to cross Greenwich Park. This was not only a royal park but it contained the Royal Observatory which stood on a hill, just a short distance from the proposed route of the line. At the time, delicate instruments were housed at the Royal Observatory, taking magnetic measurements. It was considered that the iron railway lines for the eastern extension might have an adverse effect on those measurements. Objections to the line held up its extension for several decades and it was not until 1 February 1878 that the extended line was opened, continuing eastwards via a cut-and-cover tunnel under Greenwich Park, towards Maze Hill. The line is still in use to this day.

When the eastern extension was completed, the original terminus at Greenwich Station had to be moved to allow for a slight realignment of the track. The line between Deptford Creek and Greenwich Station was altered slightly to feed into the new line under Greenwich Park. This also required the rebuilding of Greenwich Station at a slightly different position. This means that the elegant buildings at Greenwich Station are on a slightly different site from those in 1840 and that they date from the rebuilding in the 1870s.

In 1999 the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) opened a new extension to Lewisham. There are now two platforms for the Greenwich DLR Station which interchange with the other two platforms of Greenwich Station.

In summary, there were four stations on the original London and Greenwich Railway. (1) London Bridge Station was opened in 1836 as the London terminus. After being completely rebuilt, it was officially reopened on 9 May 2018. (2) Spa Road Station was also opened in 1836 but closed in 1915. Its platforms remain beside the modern railway tracks. (3) Deptford Station was opened in 1836. After being given a makeover, it was officially reopened in 2012. Its platforms are on their original site when opened in 1836. (4) Greenwich Station was first opened to passengers in 1838. The station buildings were completed in 1840 but moved to a new site in 1878. The platforms have not been moved since 1878 but two additional lines have been added for the DLR.


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Wolfe, James (Statue)

Above: Statue of Wolfe in Greenwich Park. He looks north towards the Thames. Canary Wharf Tower is the backdrop to this picture.

James Wolfe is someone who is very much connected with Greenwich. This connection often comes as a surprise because of his part in the taking of Quebec in 1759 which earned him lasting fame. Wolfe was born at the vicarage in the village of Westerham, in Kent, in 1727. His father was Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Edward Wolfe, a veteran soldier of Irish origin. Wolfe’s childhood home in Westerham, known in his lifetime as Spiers, is now a National Trust property under the name Quebec House.

Around 1738, the family moved to Greenwich, living at the top of Croom’s Hill in a large house beside the western side of Greenwich Park. The house where he lived – Macartney House – has an English Heritage blue plaque with his name on it. From his earliest years, Wolfe was destined for a military career, entering his father’s 1st Marine regiment as a volunteer at the age of thirteen. From that time he was involved in military matters.

Wolfe came to the notice of William Pitt (Elder) who chose him to lead the British assault on Quebec City. Pitt was a member of the British cabinet and its informal leader from 1756 to 1761 (with a brief interlude in 1757), during the Seven Years’ War. Wolfe laid siege to Quebec. He then led 4,400 men in small boats on a very bold and risky amphibious landing at the base of the cliffs west of Quebec along the St Lawrence River. His army, with two small cannons, scaled the 200-metre cliff from the river below early in the morning of 13 September 1759. They surprised the French under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm, who thought the cliff would be unclimbable and had set his defences accordingly. After a short encounter, at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the French were defeated. When Wolfe began to move forward. He was shot three times, once in the arm, once in the shoulder and finally in the chest.

Wolfe’s body was brought back to England on HMS Royal William. It was interred in the family vault in the church of St Alphege, Greenwich – buried alongside his father who had died in March 1759. Major-General James Wolfe was Britain’s most celebrated military hero of the 18th century. His victory over the French at Quebec in 1759 resulted in the unification of Canada and the American colonies under the British crown.

It was not until the 20th century that a statue of Wolfe – a bronze by R Tait McKenzie – was unveiled on 5 June 1930. The statue on a tall stone plinth stands at the top of a hill in Greenwich Park, near the Observatory and overlooking the Thames. On the south side of the plinth is an inscription stating that the statue was a gift from Canada.

A school, with two sites in Randall Place and also in Royal Hill, is named after him – James Wolfe Primary School with a Centre for the Deaf. A nearby road is named General Wolfe Road after the famous hero.


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Enderby’s Wharf

Above: Enderby’s Wharf in August 1963. The cable-laying ship ‘Mercury’ is moored alongside being loaded with a new cable being made in the nearby factory.

Over the centuries, a large number of wharves have been developed along the banks of the Thames. They were not numbered but, instead, each one was known by a name. Very often the wharf simply took on the name of the owner. When the ownership changed, the name sometimes changed as well. Other wharves were named after a location – like St John’s Wharf, in Wapping, which took its name from being close to the parish church of the same name – but such naming was less common.

Enderby’s Wharf, on the Greenwich riverfront, which is part of the Greenwich Penninsula, was named after Samuel Enderby who owned the wharf and of the successive generations who continued the business. Even after the Enderby family ceased to own the wharf it continued with the same name and it retains that name to this day.

Samuel Enderby & Sons was a whaling and sealing company, founded about 1775 by Samuel Enderby I (1717–1797). By 1785, Samuel Enderby & Sons controlled seventeen ships engaged in this business of whaling mainly in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica but also in the Arctic.

The site was first acquired by Samuel Enderby II, with Morden College assisting in the acquisition of the Naval Ammunition wharf. Before he became an Admiral, Henry Vansitart carried out the initial wharf building along the riverfront. It was Samuel Enderby III who initially developed the site along with brothers Charles and George, who acquired the site for a rope-works.

On the death of Samuel Enderby II (1756-1829), the company was left to three of the five sons –Charles (1797-1876), Henry (1800-76) and George (1802-91). In 1830, Charles became a founding member of the Royal Geographical Society, later serving on its Council on several occasions between 1842 and 1847.

In 1830 the three brothers purchased the site on the Greenwich Peninsula, where they built a rope and sail manufacturing factory known as the Enderby Hemp and Rope Works. This was quite successful and brought over 250 jobs to the area. However, on 8 March 1845, the factory was destroyed by fire. The site was eventually sold in 1857 and, although it continued to be known as Enderby Wharf (and still is today) all connection with the Enderby family at that time.

They were the first company to fit out sailing ships for whaling in the Antarctic. Enderby Land, a projecting land mass in Antarctica, south of the Indian Ocean, is named after the family. While on the subject of names, there is an Enderby Street – just inland from Ballast Quay – as a reminder of this interesting family.

Later History

In late 1849 the house and surrounding Enderby Hemp and Rope Works site were both put up for sale. However, new owners were not found until 1857. George Elliot had met Richard Glass and in 1854 they set up Glass, Elliot and Co at the adjacent Morden Wharf. In 1857 they expanded from the Morden Wharf site next door and Enderby House became their management offices and boardroom. W T Henley’s Telegraph Works Co were nearby and in 1857 he moved his company to North Woolwich.

As well as jointly making the short-lived first transatlantic telegraph cable, Glass, Elliot & Co supplied many early telegraph cables – including the Corsica-Sardinia, Lowestoft-Zandvoort, Malta-Alexandria and Sicily-Algeria cables. During the 1860s Glass, Elliot & Co and the Gutta Percha Company were absorbed into the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) which manufactured a second transatlantic telegraph cable at Enderby’s Wharf. This was successfully laid by the SS Great Eastern. The company went on to manufacture many transatlantic cables for use in Australia, New Zealand, India and Hong Kong.

In 1935 the site came into the ownership of the newly formed company, Submarine Cables Ltd. During the Second World War, some of the cross-channel D-Day equipment was made at the wharf – including the Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO). After ownership by BICC and AEI, it passed to Standard Telephones & Cables (STC) in 1970. Manufacture of submarine cables on the site ended in 1975, being transferred to Southampton, and work concentrated on the manufacture of optical repeaters and amplifiers. The site subsequently passed to Northern Telecom and then, in 1994, to Alcatel. In 2006 Alcatel merged with the US company Lucent to create Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (ASN). In 2008 Alcatel-Lucent sold off a large part of its site to Barratt Developments for a housing estate, which will also be called Enderby Wharf.

Enderby House

Enderby House was the original office building on the old site. It was built for Charles Enderby (1797-1876) between June 1845 and April 1846 and he lived there until August 1849. Under STC ownership, in June 1973 it was granted Grade II listed status by English Heritage. When STC owned the factory, the house was still being used as the management offices and boardroom. In 2008 Alcatel-Lucent sold off a large part of their site to Barratt Developments for a housing estate, including Enderby House.

The house stands empty at the time of writing. No commercial use has yet been identified for the building. In September 2014 the Enderby Group was set up by a number of people from the local area – including some with telecommunications connections and others with industrial archaeological experience – to work on a long-term use for the historic Enderby House.

Enderby’s Wharf (Development)

The name Enderby’s Wharf is, at the time of writing, taking on a new meaning as a large piece of land beside the Thames is being cleared to make way for yet another boring housing development, designed by HLM Architects. According to HLM there will be ‘approximately 1,000 new homes, offices, a nursery, a skills centre and retail units.

As if by stealth, the whole history of the wharves in Greenwich is slowly being air-brushed out of history. No developer is interested in preserving the history of a site when good money is to be made by filling the area with profitable housing but more could have been done by Greenwich Council to safeguard the site’s history. It was the Council which gave permission to the builders in the first place.


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Cutty Sark (Ship)

Above: View of the ‘Cutty Sark’ before it was raised by three metres (after 2006).

This fine tea clipper was launched in November 1869 at Dumbarton on the Clyde. The name is Scottish for ‘a piece of cloth’. It was designed for life on the high seas, on the China run, bringing tea back to England. The opening of the Suez Canal that year made it possible for steamships to complete the journey more quickly than sailing ships which came back around the Cape of Good Hope – the rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. The ‘Cutty Sark’ changed to a route carrying wool from Australia. On this run, the ‘Cutty Sark’ set up a record speed of 363 miles (581 km) in 24 hours.

After languishing in various docks in London, the vessel was moved in 1954 into a permanent dry dock at Greenwich – on the site of the old Ship Inn which had been destroyed in the bombing during the Second World War. A dock was constructed and the ‘Cutty Sark’ was floated into it on a high tide. The dock was then sealed off from the Thames and pumped dry. After erecting the masts and installing the rigging and suitable artefacts for exhibition, the ship became a tourist attraction as a museum. Access to the interior and the decks was of great interest. In addition, it was possible to descend into the dry dock and see the exterior of the ship.

Above: The ship’s figurehead with a piece of cloth in the hand.

In 2006 work started on restoring the ‘Cutty Sark’. Being in a dry dock for so many decades had taken its toll on the structure and much of the wood was completely rotten. A large amount of the iron framework had also rusted away and had to be restored. Many fittings on the ship were taken to Chatham Dockyard while the repairs were carried out. In 2007 a disastrous fire broke out on board, causing considerable damage. Because a large amount of the ship had been removed to Chatham Dockyard, that was safe from the conflagration. The ship was restored and reopened to the public on 25 April 2012. The total cost of the restoration was in excess of £30 million. On 19 October 2014, the ship was damaged for a second time by a much smaller fire.

The ship is in the care of the ‘Cutty Sark’ Trust who decided to raise the ship three metres and add a glass canopy around the exterior of the hull. This was much criticised by many historic authorities and it is not liked by many members of the public. The raising the ship provided additional corporate entertainment facilities which have brought in funds needed for the ship’s continual maintenance. However, it is often said that the need for lucrative entertainment space was the overriding factor in the new presentation of the vessel. The glass around the exterior obscures much of the elegant bow from view.

As well as the ship called the ‘Cutty Sark’, further east there is a pub called the Cutty Sark Tavern. Although the pub is older than the sailing ship, its original name – the Green Man – was changed to the new name after the ship was installed in the dry dock next to the Thames.

The raising of the ship to a higher position, along with its new glass ‘casing’, is not considered to be a success by everyone. In its lower position, the ship was at a ‘normal’ height of a floating vessel and it related to its surroundings. In the new raised position, the glass casing tends to obscure the fine lines of the bow. Being raised, the ship resembles an oversize model of a vessel on a very large mantlepiece – losing the reality of a ship in a dock.


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Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich

Above: Looking east at the front of the Trafalgar Tavern.

Before explaining the history of the tavern, it should be mentioned that Greenwich became a sort of ‘seaside resort’ for Victorians on Bank Holidays. Until the early 19th century, various Saint’s Days were often declared public holidays but they were not always recognised nationally. Until 1834, the Bank of England observed about 33 Saints’ Days and religious festivals as holidays but in that year this was reduced to four. The first official bank holidays were the four days named in the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 – Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. Christmas Day had always been a public holiday.

When the Act came into general use, Easter Monday, Whit Monday and the August Monday became traditional days for working people to ‘let their hair down’ and have a good day out in the good weather. Working people did not enjoy a couple of weeks paid leave for a long holiday. That came much later. The Bank Holidays were seen a ‘mini holiday’. In Victorian times, large paddle steamers conveyed crowds of pleasure seekers down the Thames to places like Gravesend, Southend and even Margate. Those living in London who did not intend to go so far, often opted for a day out at Greenwich. People arrived in their droves which led to large pubs being built, to cater to their needs.

On the riverfront, where the tea clipper called the ‘Cutty Sark’ is now situated, was a very large pub called the Ship Tavern, with origins going back to 1649. It was last rebuilt about 1880 but it was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War and never restored.

Standing further east, the Trafalgar Tavern was just as famous. It was last rebuilt in 1837, in an elegant Regency style, on the site of the George Tavern, by Joseph Kay. He was the architect for the Greenwich Hospital Estate. It is one of the largest pubs anywhere in London. The Tavern was immortalised by Charles Dickens in ‘Our Mutual Friend’, first published in 1865.

Outside the Tavern is a statue of Horatio Nelson that was unveiled in 2008, sculpted by a local artist, Lesley Pover. It was commissioned by the owner of the Tavern – the entrepreneur Frank Dowling. Pover was provided with a studio behind the Tavern in which to work, which took two years to complete. She had access to Nelson’s life mask and also to original archives in the National Maritime Museum, at Greenwich. By the way, the Battle of Trafalgar was fought on 21 October 1805. During the battle, Nelson was shot by a French musketeer and died shortly before the battle ended.

Above: Trafalgar Tavern from the river with the backdrop of the trees in Greenwich Park in the distance.

When Bank Holidays were established, Greenwich and Greenwich Park became a playground for the masses for just one day. Of course, having a ‘pint’ to drink and finding some winkles to eat were all part of the day out and both the Ship Tavern and the Trafalgar Tavern were among the many places that provided food in abundance.

The Trafalgar Tavern was also noted for its Whitebait suppers, accompanied by iced punch or champagne and usually followed by hangovers. The supper was held for the Liberals, the last of which was in 1883 when the outgoing Cabinet of Gladstone’s ministers dined together. At Greenwich, the Trafalgar Tavern was the Liberal venue and the Ship Tavern was the haunt of the Tories.

The Trafalgar Tavern closed in 1915 and in the late 1930s there were plans to demolish it. The building remained until the 1960s and was eventually restored and reopened in 1965. Since that time it has gone from strength to strength and is one of the popular riverside hostelries at Greenwich. The address is Park Row, SE10. The Grade II listed building stands at the river-end of Park Row, just east of the Royal Naval College. The principal rooms are named after Nelson and his associates. The cast-iron balconies, overhanging the river, imitate the ship’s gallery of a man-o-war.


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Greenwich Palace

Above: A 17th-century painting (probably made shortly before the Tudor palace was demolished). The view looks NW from a hill in Greenwich Park. The River Thames is beside the buildings of the old palace and, in the far distance (just right of centre) is shown the City of London.

The early history of the land on which Greenwich Palace stood goes back to the Manor of East Greenwich, first recorded in AD 918. In that year the Manor was given by Elstrudis, the daughter of King Alfred, to the great Abbey of St Peter, in Ghent. The Manor was confiscated from the Abbey of Ghent in 1414 when all alien priories were suppressed by Henry V due to the war with France. The land was granted to the Carthusian Priory of Shene. It was probably in the same year that Henry V gave the land to Thomas Beaufort, the youngest son of John of Gaunt by his third wife Katherine Swinford, who later became the Duke of Exeter. Beaufort died in 1426 and the land returned to the Crown.

Bella Court

The origins of Greenwich Palace start in 1427 when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, obtained the freehold of some land in the Manor to be near the young king, Henry VI, and his court at Eltham and because he liked the situation. Humphrey built a house, of modest size, close to the Thames, calling it ‘Bella Court’. He was granted a licence by Henry VI to enclose 200 acres (81 hectares) of land and stock it with deer. This boundary of the land is almost identical with the modern boundary of Greenwich Park. The western boundary was (and still is) Croom’s Hill.

It was always Humphrey’s ambition to be near the court at Eltham Palace. Since Eltham lay near the Dover Road, Humphrey obtained the site at Greenwich which was near the same road that provided easy access to Eltham Palace. He hoped that the King would visit him on his way to Eltham Palace but that never happened. Humphrey died in 1447 and the land, with Bella Court, reverted to the Crown. The manor has remained in royal hands ever since – apart from State ownership during the time of the Commonwealth.


From around 1455 the house was lived in by Margaret of Anjou, consort of Henry VI, who called it ‘Plaisance’ or ‘Placentia’ – meaning a pleasant place.

Greenwich Palace

In 1461 Placentia passed to Edward VI who, during his reign of 22 years, greatly enlarged and improved the buildings such that they became called a ‘Palace’. From that time onwards, the buildings became a favourite for Tudor royalty. Henry VIII was born at the palace on 28 June 1491. His parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, liked living there. In 1509 Henry VIII became king and seven weeks later was married on 11 June at the palace to Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. She was his brother Arthur’s widow. Arthur had died in 1502. Henry’s daughter, who became Mary I, was born on 18 February 1516 at the palace. Elizabeth I was born there on 7 September 1533, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, giving her father little pleasure since he was hoping for a son.

The death warrant for Anne Boleyn, who was executed on 19 May 1536, was signed by Henry VIII at the palace. Around this time Henry VIII enlarged the palace with a Banqueting Hall, an armoury, and also a tiltyard – to host jousting tournaments. The tiltyard was on the west side of the palace. It is shown on Wyngaede’s panorama of 1543. In addition, there was a tennis court and a chapel.

Henry VIII was married to Anne of Cleves at the Palace on 6 January 1540. She was his fourth wife but they were only married for six months. On the 8 August 1540, Henry VIII married Catherine Howard, his fifth wife. Edward VI died at the Palace in 1553. The end of the Tudor reign came in 1605 when Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace.

In 1604 an undercroft at Greenwich Palace, described as ‘a great wide and longe vaulte from the pond in the garden to the Thames’, was constructed ‘for the cleansing of manie vaultes and sinckes to keep the house sweete and cleane’. Being so close to the river, the accumulated neglect of proper drainage endangered some structures. The extreme damp, together with possible subsidence in the old foundations led James I to insert a ‘sellar’ under the Great Banqueting Hall of the Tudor palace. The hall was built of wood. The work involved taking out the floor and digging new foundations

In 1613 James I gave Greenwich Palace to his queen, Anne of Denmark. She had the Queen’s House constructed to the south of the Palace buildings. The use of the palace declined and in 1664 Charles II had the old buildings demolished to make way for a new palace but it was never to be lived in by royalty again – becoming instead the Royal Naval Hospital, a home for retired naval men.

Above: Large stone plaque marking the site of the Tudor palace whose red-brick foundations remain under the lawns beside the Thames.

When compared with the present buildings, the old palace was a very small place. Excavations during the 1970s revealed some of the foundations of the palace under the formal lawns beside the river. Further excavations since that time, in 2017, uncovered two rooms from the Tudor Palace – in the undercroft beneath the present Painted Hall. The chambers are set back from the river and one has a floor of lead-glazed tiles; they are thought to be from the palace’s service range, possibly where the kitchens, bakehouse, brewhouse, and laundry were.

Being titled ‘Greenwich Palace’ this article will not contain details of the buildings that followed. However, it may be useful to mention that the buildings that replaced the Palace were intended to be another much grander palace. After construction, the royalty decided not to use them and they became a home for retired seamen, called the Royal Naval Hospital. The buildings were later used as the Royal Naval College and, later still, the buildings became part of the large campus of Greenwich University.


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Greenwich Overview

Above: Some of the many elegant houses still to be seen in Croom’s Hill today.

This land described here describes only the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. The original settlement called Greenwich was on land beside the Thames. The first recorded mention was in AD 918. Its name derives from two syllables which mean ‘green settlement’ or ‘green village’. The second syllable of the name ‘wich’ derives from an Old English word ‘wic’ which originally came from the Latin word ‘vicus’ – meaning a small civilian settlement outside a Roman fort. Today, place names in Britain ending in ‘wich’ and ‘wick’ often derive from ‘wic’. It would seem that Greenwich has enjoyed being a ‘green or rural settlement’ for over a thousand years.

Although many of the streets of Greenwich are today choked with traffic, the old village was relatively rural until the 19th century. The original village of Greenwich was essentially the long narrow thoroughfare called Croom’s Hill and its northerly continuation known as Greenwich Church Street which ends today at the ship called the ‘Cutty Sark. Any feeling of Greenwich Church Street being a village street has become almost obliterated by the ‘dreaded’ one-way system.

The village of Greenwich was essentially a place where sea-captains and the admirals lived. This was in contrast to the numerous narrow streets of Deptford, where the many workers in the Royal Naval Dockyard and the Royal Victualling Yard were living. When they closed down in the 1950s and 1960s, Deptford still had many small factories in the area. They have now closed down as well and Deptford has become gentrified. Apart from the high profile tourist attractions of Greenwich – like the old Royal Naval College – there is little difference between those who live in Deptford and those who live in Greenwich. Most of the working residents are more likely to take the DLR train to Canary Wharf for their place of work than to have local employment.

Before moving into Victorian times, it should be mentioned that there is a ‘West Greenwich’, and an ‘East Greenwich’ and a ‘North Greenwich’. Land west of the River Ravensbourne was known as West Greenwich. Land on the east side was known as East Greenwich. These two names derived from two manors with exactly the same names. The third name – North Greenwich – is a name that has more recently been applied to the Greenwich Penninsula which is a ‘finger’ of land in the NE of the old Metropolitan Borough.

Above: An outline map of the London Borough of Greenwich (now called the Royal Borough of Greenwich) with a YELLOW dotted line indicating where the old Metropolitan Borough boundary between Greenwich and Woolwich was (until 1965). The northern part of the River Ravensbourne can be seen (towards the west of Greenwich). CLICK TO SEE THE MAP IN LARGE FORMAT.

Right up until Victorian times the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich was essentially still farmland that was gradually eroded by industrial sites being established mainly on land near the Thames. Along the western boundary was a very large common which has always been known as Blackheath. Only a small part of that common lies within the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich (now part of the London Borough of Greenwich). The larger part of the common lies within the old Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham (now part of the London Borough of Lewisham). While mentioning the open common called Blackheath, there is also the village called Blackheath and that too lies within the London Borough of Lewisham.

The only other early settlement in the old Metropolitan Borough was Charlton, first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086). The name means ‘farmer’s town or settlement’. This was not a place near the Thames but rather one that developed into a village on a high promontory of land well inland from the river. The village has a road running through it called ‘The Village’. It became – and still is today – a small village with a church and a large house nearby, originally the manor house. It was acquired at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536) and rebuilt as a grand Jacobean mansion called Charlton House. It is surrounded by its original gardens which are now a large public park.

Adjacent to Charlton is an area of land called Kidbrooke. It takes its name from the Kyd Brook – a tiny watercourse running from Orpington through Pett’s Wood to Lewisham, where it joins the River Quaggy. The Quaggy is a tributary of the River Ravensbourne and they meet very close to Lewisham Station. Kidbrooke never was a hamlet and has no real centre. The very large housing development, called the Ferrier Estate (built 1968) was demolished in 2012 and the new housing is known, confusingly, as Kidbrooke Village.

The old A2 – which essentially follows the original line of a Roman road – runs through the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. The route of the Roman road led SE off Borough High Street (on the line of another Roman road) and followed today’s Old Kent Road and New Cross Road. The route then entered the old boundary of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich, crossing the River Ravensbourne by a ford. Being an unusually ‘deep ford’, the description gave the place called Deptford its name. While on the subject, part of Deptford, on the west side of the River Ravensbourne, is also actually part of Greenwich. The actual line of the original Roman road has been lost through much of Greenwich and its known route has only been confirmed for certain along Shooter’s Hill Road – to the east of Blackheath. Through Greenwich, the line of the Roman road is generally assumed to be Blackheath Road, Blackheath Hill and the part of Shooter’s Hill Road running across Blackheath. This part of the original Roman road has never been found by archaeologists.

The riverfront of the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich was in two parts. (1) The part near the original village which is today famous for the old tea clipper called the ‘Cutty Sark’ and the old buildings which were once the Royal Naval College. (2) The rest of the riverside was characterised by boat building, barge repair and industrial sites – along with a vast gas works and an equally large power station. Most of that gradually declined during the 1970s and 1980s, leaving mainly derelict land which is, at the time of writing, being redeveloped into bland faceless apartment blocks which are erasing all traces of the industrial history from the past. The large ‘finger’ of land, on the eastern side of the old Metropolitan Borough, became known as ‘North Greenwich’ and is also called the Greenwich Penninsula. After being the site for many industrial uses from Victorian times onwards, it was almost completely derelict just before the dawn of the new millennium. A huge ‘Millennium Dome’ was erected on part of the site, housing an exhibition to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000. This has found a new use as the ‘O2 Arena’ which is in use for many public events. All around the O2 Arena are new apartment blocks as well as a large retail park – served by roads leading from the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road as well as the newly constructed North Greenwich Underground Station.

To the east of the ‘finger’ of land is an important sand, gravel and aggregates wharf that is very much in use due to the frantic building work that is always part of the ‘scene’ in Central London. That wharf is served by vessels that bring aggregates to the site on the river. It is also served by a single railway line that is used by freight trains to convey the aggregates to other parts of London. The wharf is now the only working link with the riverside’s industrial past.

Taking a look at the map, it will be seen that the River Ravensbourne and its mouth – known as Deptford Creek – forms part of the western boundary but also flows through the part of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich where it reaches the Thames. This means that a small part of the land that called Deptford was actually in the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich and is now within the boundary of the London Borough of Greenwich. For example, all of Creek Road – on both sides of Deptford Creek – lies within the old and new borough boundaries. The east side of Watergate Street is the most westerly part of Deptford to be within the old and new boundaries. The fact that parts of Deptford have always been administered by Greenwich comes as a surprise to many Londoners.


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