The seat of her majesty the Queen, and of her ancestors from the period of the Conquest. Eton College also is within a short distance.
Greenwich presents a striking appearance from the river, its Hospital forming one of the most prominent attractions of the place. Here was the palace erected by Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, and by him called Placentia; and here were born Henry VIII. and his two daughters, Queens Mary and Elizabeth. Charles II. began the present magnificent edifice, and William III. appropriated it to its present patriotic purpose, since which time successive sovereigns have contributed to enrich it with various additions. As the first generally seen, we shall begin our description with an account of its interior. The Chapel and Picture Gallery are open gratis on Mondays and Fridays; on other days threepence each is charged for admission. It is as well to remind the reader that the Hospital consists of four distinct piles of building, distinguished by the appellations of King Charles’s, King William’s, Queen Mary’s, and Queen Anne’s. King Charles’s and Queen Anne’s are those next the river, and between them is the grand square, 270 feet wide, and the terrace, by the river front, 865 feet in length. Beyond the square are seen the Hall and Chapel, with their noble domes, and the two colonnades, which are backed by the eminence whereon the Observatory stands throned amid a grove of trees. In the centre of the great square is Rysbrach’s statue of George II., carved out of white marble, from a block taken from the French by Sir George Rooke, and which weighed eleven tons. On the west side is King Charles’s building, erected chiefly of Portland stone, in the year 1684. The whole contains about 300 beds, distributed in thirteen wards. Queen Anne’s building, on the east side of the square, corresponding with that on the opposite side, was begun in 1693, and completed in 1726. There are here 24 wards with 437 beds, and several of the officers’ apartments. To the south-west is King William’s building, comprising the great hall, vestibule, and dome, erected between 1698 and 1703, by Sir Christopher Wren. It contains eleven wards and 554 beds. Queen Mary’s building was, with the chapel, not completed till 1752. It contains 13 wards and 1,100 beds. The Painted Hall, a noble structure opposite the chapel, is divided into three rooms, exhibiting, as you enter, statues of Nelson and Duncan, with 28 pictures of various sizes; the chief are Turner’s large picture of “The Battle of Trafalgar,” the “Relief of Gibraltar,” and the “Defeat of the French Fleet under Compte de Grasse.” On the opposite side is Loutherbourg’s picture” of Lord Howe’s victory on the memorable 1st of June, 1794, whilst above are suspended the flags taken in battle. The other pictures up the steps are chronologically arranged, the most prominent being the “Death of Captain Cook,” the “Battle of Camperdown,” “Nelson leaping into the San Josef,” and the “Bombardment of Algiers.” It may not be generally known that every mariner, either in the Royal Navy or merchant service, pays sixpence a month towards the support of this noble institution, which has, of course, besides, a handsome revenue (£130,000) derived from other sources. The pensioners, who are of every rank, from the admiral to the humblest sailor, are qualified for admission by being either maimed or disabled by age. Foreigners who have served two consecutive years in the British, service are equally entitled to the privileges, and the widows of seamen are exclusively appointed nurses. The Hospital was first opened in January, 1705, and now the pensioners provided with food, clothes, lodging, and a small stipend for pocket money, number nearly 2,500. The number of out-pensioners is about 3,000. The “Royal Naval School,” for training the sons of seamen to the naval service, is a most interesting institution, administering the best instruction to now about 450 boys.
The “Royal Observatory,” occupying the most elevated spot in Greenwich Park, was built on the site of the old castle, the foundation stone being laid on the 10th of August, 1675. The first superintendent of this establishment was Flamstead, and he commenced his observations in the following year. It stands about 300 feet-above the level of the river. For the guidance of the shipping the round globe at its summit drops precisely at 1 p.m., to give the exact Greenwich time. The noble park is chiefly planted with elms and chesnut trees, and contains 185 acres. It was walled round with brick in the reign of James I. The views from the summit are very fine, embracing perhaps the finest prospects of London and the Thames, the forests of Hainault and Epping, the heights of Hampstead, and a survey of Kent, Surrey, and Essex, as far as the eye can reach. The flitting of the fawns through the distant glades, the venerable aspect of the trees themselves– — many of them saplings in the tune of Elizabeth — –and the appearance of the veteran pensioners, some without a leg or arm, others hobbling on from the infirmity of wounds or age, and all clad in the old-fashioned blue coats and breeches, with cocked hats, give beauty and animation to a scene which no other country in the world can boast
Around the side of the hill on a fair day or holiday fire crowds of visitors in gay attire, some sitting on the grass discussing the contents of a friendly basket, while the junior members of the party are making the well-known coup-de-main of catching an unwilling maiden in their rapid and reckless descent, and then causing one of these general and irresistible shouts of laughter, denoting how much the discomfiture of the hapless damsel, promotes the fun and hilarity of the spectators, so that the joke is repeated over and over again with unfailing effect, and produces such a picture of joyous life and festivity, that even the “Old Man of the Mountain” would relax his features to a smile, and perhaps be unable to control an indecorous ebullition, of a hearty laugh.
Through the wide open iron gateway, near the keeper’s new lodge, we pass to Blackheath, where Wat Tyler assembled the Kentish rebels in the reign of Richard II., and where Jack Cade and his fellow insurgents are said to have held their midnight meetings in a cavern which still remains, though so choked up as to be considered nearly inaccessible.
On proceeding from the Park towards Blackheath may be seen a group of emancipated youths eager and impatient to mount the donkey-steeds they have just hired, to take possession of and elicit the stubborn and wilful propensities of the race, or to display such feats of horsemanship as shall charm an admiring fair one in the surrounding groups, or more frequently to excite roars of laughter, witticisms, and jokes, when the luckless rider is thrown, and exhibits that peculiar indescribable foolish appearance all persons, simple or gentle, manifest under similar circumstances.
Further on the visitor is certain to observe a dark eyed daughter of Bohemia examining the hand of some fair maid who has escaped from East Cheap or Cheapside on a visit to far-famed Greenwich, to have her fortune told by one of the Gipsies of the heath. Ever and anon one of the ruder sex, facetiously sceptical, but evidently credulous in the occult art of the prophetess, wishes to look into futurity through the Gipsey Sybil, and then return to his avocations to wait the future fate she has predicted.
These are the principal objects of attraction and amusement in Greenwich and its beautiful Park, which have diverted for centuries generation after generation of the good folks of London; and we cannot but hope that the Park and the Heath maybe preserved for ages to come, as an oasis in the desert, when the mighty city has spread its suburbs far beyond it, into the’ hills and dales of the surrounding country.
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The capital of Kent, on the Medway, and in a tract of land of great fertility, among orchards, hop grounds, and woodlands.
This ancient borough town, having been a British town before the Roman invasion, stands in a rich vale on the banks of the Medway.