Our Greenwich trip started at the Gloucester Road tube station. I get so much enjoyment from the old signage. Occasionally, though, I wonder whether people turn up here looking for the Metropolitan Railway.
To get things started, we were off to Canary Wharf, that great Canadian development. It seems to be doing OK now. At least, I hope so. Way back when, it was such a ghost town, slow to get off the ground.
The Docklands Light Railway from there is a driverless train and the best way to ride it is to get the front seat if you can. Pretend to drive and see if you can keep it on the tracks. So far I am 2 for 2 on this trip.
I’m not exactly sure whether getting off at Island Garden was something we did on purpose but it worked out well because this is the view. That symmetrical establishment across the River Thames is the Old Royal Naval College.
There we were, looking at the place we were aiming for. As you can see, there is a fairly substantial stretch of water between us and our objective. Oh dear. Whatever would we do?
I’ve known for a long time that there is a foot tunnel under the River Thames at Greenwich. I also thought it would be dark and scary and horrible to pass through alone, but I’ve always wanted to try. Having The Geologist here with me presented the opportunity.
This is the beginning. Lovely building! I never realized that’s what this was. I thought it was, I don’t know, a Victorian pumping station or police call box, or maybe a luxury flat. Nope. This is the end of the tunnel. In we went.
It was clean, well-lit, and felt very safe indeed.
At the other end there were several Very Interesting Things.
This one was quite unexpected: a memorial with New Zealand on it. I know you can’t read it from this picture (sorry), so here is what the inscription says:
“This monument is erected by the surviving officers and men to the memory of their comrades who fell in action in New Zealand during the years 1863-1864.”
The New Zealand wars weren’t limited to these two years, they went on for decades. This particular memorial is in Greenwich because it commemorates the navy.
Perhaps better known is the person in the next statue, Sir Walter Raleigh. The other day when we went to the Tower of London, I wrote about how he was imprisoned there for 13 years and soon after getting out, he took Pocahontas to the Tower to visit a friend who was in there for 18.
Raleigh was wealthy and financed expeditions to Virginia and what is now North Carolina. This statue, unveiled in 1959, commemorates 350 years since the founding of the Commonwealth of Viriginia.
It wasn’t meant for Greenwich. It was supposed to go up in front of the National Gallery, at Trafalgar Square.
To put Raleigh in that spot, they were going to move King James II. That didn’t happen.
They unveiled Raleigh in 1959 on Raleigh Green. I had no idea Raleigh Green (a) existed and (b) is where it is. It’s a green part of Whitehall where there are big statues.
And poor little Raleigh was too small to stay.
Despite 15 years of attempting to get him moved to the green near St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, nothing happened. He’s buried beneath St. Margaret’s but the bureaucracy was too much; no permission to put his statue there was forthcoming.
Instead, Raleigh was shipped off to Greenwich. This little bit of discussion from the House of Lords on November 12, 2001 explains the move to Greenwich and has a little levity for good measure.
Another familiar face at Greenwich was Admiral Sir Cuthbert Collingwood. The name always catches my eye because I come from the town of Collingwood. (Yes, I am aware there’s more than one but there is only one that matters.) It was named for the Admiral. He took command at the Battle of Trafalgar after the death of Nelson. That’s not his only achievement, it’s just the one with the most name recognition.
Add this to the Collingwood collection.
Next stop was an obelisk erected by the English to honour a French man. How unusual, given that the admirals up the street put so much energy into fighting the French.
Different times, different friends.
The inscription says:
“To the intrepid young BELLOT of the French Navy who in the endeavour to rescue FRANKLIN shared the fate and the glory of that illustrious navigator. From his British admirers. 1853.”
Joseph Réné Bellot was only 27 when he disappeared through the Arctic ice. It was his second expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, whose ships we now know were locked in the ice years before in their attempt to find the Northwest Passage. Franklin’s fate was a mystery for years but it turns out he died in 1847.
The snippets of Bellot’s life I’ve seen online indicate that he was intelligent, brave, and compassionate. So far my favourite fact is that he made an artificial leg for an Inuit man.
The obelisk at Greenwich was paid for by a collection that raised £2,000. Of this, £500 went to the memorial and the balance to care for his sisters.
Walking a little more along the river, we came to the water gate in front of the Old Royal Naval College. The circle on the pavement says this is where the Tudor Palace of Greenwich used to stand. King Henry VIII and his two feuding daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were born here.
We turn 180 degrees and there’s one more statue. Wearing fetching Roman attire, this is the second German king of England from Hanover, George II. He was the son of King George I, the original German king imported to fill the gap when Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, died. There were about 50 Catholics ahead of him in line but disqualified by their religion.
You don’t hear much about King George II, but one thing it’s occasionally handy to know is that he wasn’t the father of the next king, King George III.
George II didn’t get along with his father, King George I, nor with his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Frederick wasn’t thrilled to be under his father’s thumb. It’s complicated. In any event, he died suddenly at age 44, leaving a wife (Princess Augusta) and nine legitimate children.
One of the nine was the boy who became King George III.
The reason we went to Greenwich wasn’t to do with the Georges. We went to visit the National Maritime Museum.
When we got there, we had a look at the ostentatious gilded Royal Barge of Prince Frederick, who was a big spender in his day.
All this regalness made me hungry. We had a delicious lunch in the restaurant upstairs at the museum. I would like you to know I used a real moo cow creamer.
And then on to the main event, the Emma Hamilton exhibit.
There were no pictures allowed inside so you will just have to take my word for it: this is a rich and detailed show with a vast assortment of art and artefacts. If you can see it, please do.
Emma, Lady Hamilton, is famous as the mistress of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, and the mother of their child Horatia Nelson. They were the celebrity power couple of the early 1800s. (Nelson died at Trafalgar in 1805 after saving The World As They Knew It.) Emma was the most beautiful woman of her day, in a day when beauty was currency for a girl with nothing.
As the exhibit shows, Emma was much more than a passive accoutrement. Her greatest achievement in the public sphere was as an effective diplomat for England in the court of Naples when it mattered.
Emma was intelligent, brave, and compassionate, just like the sailor Bellot. And where is her memorial? Nowhere. She was Nelson’s mistress; he had a wife whom he abandoned for her. She was a nobody from the moment Nelson died. She died nine years later, penniless in Calais, exiled by her own debts.
Since I have a picture of Emma, here’s one of Horatio.
All the time we were indoors enjoying the Emma Hamilton exhibit, the rain was falling and we didn’t know it.
We did, however, find out.
The conditions weren’t that bad. The wind was nothing and the rain was falling straight down (not horizontally). I was able to take a couple of night pictures, including this one of the end of the foot tunnel and the ship Cutty Sark, such a beauty.
Long day, then we had a long bus ride, by choice. I was hoping for some sightseeing but the windows were steamed up so there wasn’t much viewing, just a nice warm rest on the bus.