A trip to Greenwich

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My first main aim in London was to go on one of the Painted ceiling tours at Greenwich before they ended – a more naval experience than it might appear, because the painted hall was originally intended as a dining room for the sailors of the hospital – but it took so long to finish that they had got used to eating in the undercroft and refused to move up to a great draughty hall (or maybe they didn’t want dozens of peculiar allegorical figures looking down on them while they ate  – I’m not sure I would.

Before going up to the ceiling the tour started at this wall, depicting the new Hanoverian dynasty – according to the guide, the idea was that whatever you might think of George I himself, here presented in idealised fashion, the fact that he already had not just sons but grandsons was a guarantee of stability, lacking through the religious and other struggles of the later Tudors and Stuarts.

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Hanoverian dynasty

The slightly earlier ceiling is an enormous representation of the ‘Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny’, with William and Mary at the centre – in true baroque fashion anything that can possibly be crammed in is, so that it’s full of figures both real and symbolic and bits of imagery.

From up on the platform, of course, you don’t get the overall effect – it’s the details that are interesting, like the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed with his assistant in this corner.

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Flamsteed and assistant

The paper they’re holding gives the date of a solar eclipse which was still in the future when the ceiling was painted – a piece of magic intended to strike awe into French and other foreign visitors.

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Eclipse prediction

The dark circle, however, is varnish covering the signature of a later restorer – these have been found all over the ceiling, including on Queen Mary’s chest!

There is a bit of a seafaring theme to the ceiling, whether to please the sailors or just to mark the importance of naval power, with ships at each end – a Spanish galleon at one, and a British man of war at the other. (This is really a picture that they’d put up to let you get the whole impression, beecase you didn’t get much idea of the ships from directly under them.)

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British ship

I decided that I just had time to nip into the maritime museum – I’m not very sure what this lot are up to, an easter egg hunt, maybe!

Sidney Smith at the left, Saumarez at the front, Pellew at the back, and then someone who doesn’t really belong, I think Robert Peel’s son, at the right.

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Naval heroes pointing

A rather battered looking Nelson was standing on a small column, but I forgot to find out why when I went back to the ground floor.

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A battered Nelson

I just slipped in to look at Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar – I do need to go back some time and do Greenwich properly, because it’s a very long time since I have.

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The Battle of Trafalgar

Outside I found myslf unexpectedly walking through a graveyard, and past a monument to several governors of the hospital, including Hood and Hardy.

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Greenwich cemetery memorial
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Trafalgar Day 2018

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I enjoyed last year’s Trafalgar Day adventures, but it was nice to be back at Tynemouth, on my way home from Wales.

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And since I got back to Edinburgh in daylight, which doesn’t always happen, I wandered along to see the flags on the Nelson monument, although I didn’t climb the hill (having climbed enough hills already).

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A walk along the Thames

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I spent a day in London on my way to the far south last month – partly to go back to Chatham before my ticket ran out, which I didn’t manage (for reasons that will only frustrate me to think about), but I did manage to make it to Greenwich, my other objective, walking along the river from the hostel at Rotherhithe.

The one thing that I do still like about London – having fallen out with the underground, originally the only thing I liked – is the way that little bits of history lie hidden, although around Canada Water they were mainly Victorian. A bit further along the river this little park seemed quite aware of its nautical heritage!

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Nautical park

Surrey Docks Farm was a surprise to me – I wasn’t really expecting to meet ducks and goats on my travels. The farm turned out to be on the site of an 19th century dockyard, building ships including HMS Carcass, from which a young Nelson met a polar bear.

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Shipyard at Surrey Docks Farm

Beyond that the path left the river to bypass building works – a friend who is collecting nautical pub names has got me at it too, but I did like the very vivid sign on this one.

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Ship and Whale pub sign

Back by the river, I found myself walking past a late
Georgian boundary stone, marking the change from St Mary’s Rotherhithe to St Paul’s Deptford, and originally from Surrey to Kent.

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Georgian boundary stone

Once over the Deptford boundary I was in among the surviving older docks – the current Greenland Dock is the oldest on the river, originally built as the Great Howland Dock just before 1700, although greatly enlarged and rebuilt 200 years later. In the 18th century it was heavily used by Greenland whaling ships, giving it its current name.

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The neighbouring South Dock was originally the Georgian East Country Dock, built around 1810.

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Deptford was one of the oldest of the Royal dockyards, founded in 1513 – by the early 18th century it was beginning to be used less as the bigger ships of the day found it more difficult to get so far up the river, but it was still active through the Napoleonic wars, and the neighbouring Victualling yard was going strong for many years afterwards.

The surviving buildings are from the victualling yard, with the main dockyard site inaccessible (and sending the Thames path back on a confusing route inland), but one historic location, at least, does survive – the site of the steps where Drake was knighted by Elizabeth I after circumnavigating the world.

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Drake’s steps

A surviving row of late 18th century officers’ houses lines one side of a square just back from the river.

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Officers’ houses, Deptford

Along the river front are the two great waterfront storehouses, and their associated offices – I love the Georgian doors and windows.

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Warehouse buildings
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Warehouse buildings and offices