Greenwich

History of the local areas

Royal Borough of Greenwich

Royal Greenwich is well-known for its naval and architectural heritage, but did you also know that:

  • The first railway to open in London (1836) ran between London and Greenwich
  • the first golf club in England was set up on Blackheath
  • one of the earliest mulberry trees to come to this country is in Charlton
  • a ferry has operated here since 1308
  • the first telephone cable to be laid under the Atlantic to America was manufactured in Charlton
  • the Blackwall Tunnel was the largest underwater tunnel in the world when it opened in 1897

Modern history

The modern history of Royal Greenwich starts almost a thousand years ago in 1012, when the Vikings murdered Alfege, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in Greenwich. The site is marked by St Alfege Church, designed by the famous architect Hawksmoor.

Royalty favoured the area for centuries. Eltham Palace dates from the 14th century (the Great Hall survives to this day), while the palace at Greenwich dates from the 15th century.

Areas

Plumstead was a prosperous village, dependent on sheep and fruit farming, while Blackheath was a popular resting place for armies and pilgrims and a popular spot for highwaymen. Blackheath achieved notoriety in 1381 when Wat Tyler led more than 100,000 people to gather on the heath to protest against the poll tax.

Greenwich is well known as the home of time - Greenwich Mean Time has been recognised as the standard for the world's time zones from 1884.

Meanwhile, Eltham was home to England's kings for over 200 years, including Edward II and III, Henry IV, V, VI, and VIII. Geoffrey Chaucer is another famous former resident of the area - he was Clerk of Works there.

Industry

The growth of Royal Greenwich as a naval, military and industrial centre began with Henry VIII, born at the palace of Placentia 1491 (now the site of the Old Royal Naval College).

The king established Woolwich Dockyard to build his famous ship 'The Great Harry'. The palace of Placentia was demolished after 1660 to build a Royal Hospital for seamen later the Royal Naval College.

The Royal Arsenal manufactured gunpowder, armaments and munitions for the army and navy while the riverside factories produced gas, cables, soap, linoleum and much more for markets at home and abroad.