Greenwich, London is an area of London just south-east of the City of London. It’s first mentioned in a Saxon charter in 918 as “Grenowic” or “green settlement.” As London grew and prospered, Greenwich eventually became an area dedicated to maritime pursuits, eventually becoming the home of the Royal Navy College and the Royal Observatory. This history is on display at the National Maritime Museum, but that is not the only interesting aspect of the area. Join us as we examine ten interesting facts about Greenwich, the Royal Borough, and the UNESCO World Heritage site that are worth a visit.
Speaking of which, Maritime Greenwich is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, having been designated as such in 1997. The committee made the decision based on the unique Palladian architecture in the area, including the works of both Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones, as well as its importance to maritime history. Several of the area’s most important landmarks can be found within the site, including Greenwich Park, the Cutty Sark, the Old Royal Navy College, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, and the Royal Observatory. The UNESCO inscription was instrumental to Greenwich being named a Royal Borough in the 2010s and this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Walking Under Water
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel that connects Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs is 1,215 feet long and 50 feet at its deepest point under the River Thames. This impressive walkway sees over 1.5 million pedestrians each year.
The buildings of the Old Royal Navy College doubled for Washington, D.C. in the film Patriot Games. This isn’t the only time the ORNC has featured in a film as it also served as the location for the climatic battle in Thor: The Dark World.
Well, maybe not that secret, but there are three tunnels running under Greenwich Park that most people don’t know about. The tunnels were actually built as water mains to carry groundwater to the Royal Hospital (now the National Maritime Museum). The tunnels used to be open to the public until they were closed in 1917 and there’s a belief that they were looked at during World War II as a potential air raid shelter.
Greenwich Park also had its own railway station, built by London Chatham and Dover Railway to rival the station run by the South Eastern Railway nearby. The LCD station closed in 1917 after operating for thirty years, mostly due to its lack of popularity. The other station remains open and is part of the London Underground.
King Henry VIII was born at the Palace of Placentia which existed where the Old Royal Navy College stands today. His daughters, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were also born in Greenwich.
It’s About Time
The Royal Observatory was instrumental in how we keep track of time. Before the Observatory, there was no standardized method of measuring time, which could be very, very confusing. Standardised time was essential for navigation so that mariners were able to measure their distance from the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. Ships synchronized their chronometers to Greenwich (different from the ship’s clock) and the time zones of Greenwich Mean Time (now known as Universal Time) were set up along the lines of longitude. In the 19th Century, mariners the world over came to rely on Greenwich on their own chronometers and helped GMT to become a universal standard for decades.
The Last One
The Cutty Sark is one of the last intact clipper ships in the world. The ship was raised up when the museum was built so visitors can walk under the hull and see the underside that made it so fast.
The O2, formerly known as the Millennium Dome, is actually the largest single-roof dome in the world. It doesn’t count on many lists of the world’s largest domes as it isn’t self-supporting. Its diameter is 365 meters, and its twelve towers each represent a month of the year. The canopy itself actually weighs less than all the air within the building.
We’re Definitely Fans
The London Fan Museum is located in Greenwich. You might not think that it could have much in it, but the museum’s collection includes over 3,500 fans, the oldest of which dates to the 11th Century.