The case for a 'Royal Borough of Greenwich'

Summary B - Consequences of Greenwich's Royal associations

These are the principal local consequences and other factors deriving from Greenwich's Royal associations.

  1. Many are fairly obvious from the list in Summary A, such as The Royal Observatory, and Queen's House (as part of NMM), and  Royal Park.

  2. Others less so such as the Royal Hospital for Seamen - Greenwich Hospital. The buildings are obvious enough, as the Old Royal Naval College and the decoration of the Painted Hall by James Thornhill is the artistic celebration, par excellence, of the English Protestant succession, and its harvest of national maritime wealth and power, under William and Mary, Anne, George I and (as Prince of Wales) George II - all of whom feature there. However Greenwich Hospital, as a now largely invisible institution, is still deeply involved at Greenwich in its long role of supporting the welfare of seamen, especially of the Royal Navy, their families, the education of their children and encouragement of matters maritime.

    It built most of Greenwich's historic town centre in the 1830s, still owns it, and is now has planning permission for a multi-million pound scheme to revitalize it, to maximize economic benefit for its 'charitable objects' over the next 30 years plus. (These now include student bursaries to the University of Greenwich, housed in the ORNC). In short, this is a Royal Charity, trying to do something sensible that no other player in Greenwich can - and for prescribed 'public benefit' purposes.

  3. Other Royal associations include 'vanished uses' of sites or buildings. Excluding Greenwich Hospital, mentioned above, these include:

    • Greenwich Palace: a major site for the spectacular reception of Royal visitors and embassies under Henry VIII, including the Emperor Charles V in 1520 and 1522 and the French embassy of 1527, which echoed the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Jousting on the Palace Tiltyard - now the NMM north-east lawns - played a great element is these events - so equestrian 'Olympics' at Greenwich is nothing new. The Queen's House and Hospital also have a history of post-Civil War departures and arrivals, including of royal brides (for example Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha to marry Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1736)
    • The (now Old) Royal Naval College, which as 'the Navy's university' occupied the Wren buildings of Greenwich Hospital from 1873 to 1998 and in that time saw many members of the Royal family in many capacities. HRH the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York both attended it. Its particular history, and that of the WHS, is now made clearer to the public in its 'Discover Greenwich' visitor centre, opened in 2010 and including the new Greenwich Tourism Information Centre funded by the Borough.
    • The Royal Observatory - now a museum site, but obviously one celebrating its own history as an active working observatory until just after the Second World War.
    • Montagu House - of which only a rear wall and 'Queen Caroline's Bath' now exist alongside the Ranger's House on the edge of Greenwich Park. It was however the home of Queen Caroline, estranged wife of George IV, who also arrived at Greenwich for her marriage in 1795. (Met by a guard of honour of naval pensioners she asked, in French, 'What, do all men in England lack an arm or a leg?')
  4. Still other sites with Royal associations lie outside the WHS area but within the modern Borough of Greenwich:

    • Eltham Palace dates back to around 1400, though the surviving Great Hall, the oldest intact part dates to the 1470s. Henry V returned here after Agincourt with his prisoners in 1415, having been ceremonially welcomed on Blackheath. Henry VIII spent much of his childhood and was educated there. Many of its outbuildings survive in use, with a major 1930s period house attached to the Hall and open under the care of English Heritage
    • Charlton House, built 1607-10 by Sir Adam Newton, tutor of Frederick Henry, Prince of Wales (son of James I) and reputedly intended as a house for him, though if so his early death prevented this. A unique Jacobean mansion in London, now used by the Borough as a valued community centre.
    • The Royal Dockyards, Woolwich and Deptford (the latter partly now in Lewisham), both founded by Henry VIII in 1512-13, to build Royal Naval ships. Elizabeth I knighted Drake at Deptford after his Golden Hind circumnavigation in 1581 (as HM The Queen knighted Francis Chichester, with the same sword, at the RNC Greenwich after his in 1967). Only a few historic parts remain but the presence of these two dockyards - which largely closed in the 1860s - made Greenwich Hospital the London base for the Royal yachts from the 17th century to the end of the age of sail. Charles II and James, Duke of York, imported yachting from Holland and raced their own early ones on the Thames. The first three Georges used Greenwich as the regular departure point to and from Hanover, and the Royal yachts (of which there were always several) were also used for diplomatic traffic and other VIPs, including the arrival of Royal brides from the continent.
    • The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, begun in 1671, became the main Government armament factory in the 18th century for both Army and Navy and remained so into the 20th century, including both World Wars. George III granted it Royal status in 1805, the year of Trafalgar. The Royal Ordnance Factory of the Arsenal closed in 1967 and the remaining MoD uses in 1994, but its historic buildings have been preserved as part of major redevelopment of the site, including the Royal Artillery Museum ( now 'Firepower') originally opened on Woolwich Common in 1820 in a John Nash 'rotunda' donated by George IV: this was originally erected in St James's Park as part of premature celebration for defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The Royal Military Academy, for training gunners and engineers, was founded in the Arsenal in 1741 but moved up to a surviving historic building (now being converted to housing) on Woolwich Common in 1806: it closed in 1939.
    • The Royal Artillery Regiment was also founded at Woolwich in 1716 and remained based there until 2007 in the historic Royal Artillery Barracks on the Common, now occupied by units of the Royal Horse Artillery. Ironically therefore, for a supposedly 'maritime' borough, it is the Army which still maintains the active service presence, which the Navy gave up in leaving the Royal Naval College in 1998, but it is an equally important and locally valued historical association for the Borough as a whole.

Read the Duke of Edinburgh's letter on Greenwich receiving Royal Borough status