Autumn 2004


Commodore’s Bit
AGM & Prize Giving
Annual Dinner
Athens Olympics
Back-tracking History
Bewl Visit
Bodgett Bodges On
Dinghy Show
For Sale
Italian Evening
Maritime Greenwich
Mid Thames Trophy
Sailing Sec’s Report
Simple Things
Social Calendar
Summer Serenade
Working Party

Maritime Greenwich - 17th July 2004 - George Bray

It was one of those days - the forecast promised everything from rain to brilliant sunshine so after much debate we decided to travel light without any wet gear. The meeting place was Tower Hill underground and we had guessed wrong, it was raining.

Now the concourse at Tower Hill is not large by any standard and it seemed that half of tourist London was milling around and the chances of finding the rest of our group, let alone our guide seemed pretty remote.

Gradually, various groups were corralled and shepherded away and friendly faces emerged from the throng followed eventually by our professional guide and a young visitor from New York who joined us and we all trundled down to Tower Pier where the crew just about got us onboard before they cast off.

Our own guide is banned from doing her spiel on the boats - the launch crew do the honours pointing out places of interest. It's a great place to start: with the Tower on the north bank, HMS Belfast moored on the south and then to pass under the main span of Tower Bridge.

On the way down river we passed St.Katharines dock, now a marina, many conversions of old warehouses now lived in by the upwardly mobile, the Prospect of Whitby which is the oldest pub on the river and which faces the newest on the Surrey bank, Execution Dock where in olden times, pirates were either hung or strapped to a wooden pile at low tide and three full tides were allowed to pass over them - apparently there were not many survivors from either method. At the headquarters of the River Police at Wapping, they could no doubt suggest a few names for similar treatment.

The River Police predate Robert Peel's Met Police by some 20 years and were formed to curb theft from ships and docks - times don't change overmuch.

The boats crew made no comment when we went along Galleons Reach, the scene of the biggest pleasure boat disaster on the Thames in the 1 870s when the Princess Alice sank with over 600 fatalities - presumably any comment would be bad for trade..

After half an hour, we arrived at Greenwich, and guess what, it was raining. Nevertheless our guide gave us a very good background to Greenwich - it has much to offer.

The pier is overshadowed by the "Cutty Sark" one of the last of the tea and wool clippers that used to race from China and Australia to gain the best market price for their cargoes. Sadly, though in dry dock, it needs a lot of money spent to preserve it for the future.

It shares the pier with" Gypsy Moth V "sailed singlehanded round the world by Francis Chichester in the Sixties.

On top of the hill is the Royal Observatory founded there in 1640 by Flamstead, the first Royal Astronomer, when the smog in London became so bad as to obscure all stellar sights. All longitude measurements are taken from the nought meridian and you can stand astride it, one foot east and one foot west.

Above the Observatory is a pole with a large red painted globe upon it. At one o'clock this is raised to the top and dropped so that all passing mariners can set their chronometers accurately. Unfortunately, when we were there, the only passing vessels were a very small launch and a rowing four.

Below is the National Maritime Museum - well worth an hour or two - and a very interesting and varied covered market.

By now, the sun had put in an appearance and we trundled off to the Royal Naval College (formerly Hospital) now open to the public. This is an interesting place originally designed by Christopher Wren to be a large building on the river frontage. Queen Charlotte who lived in the Queens House a little up the hill, complained that her view of the river would be obscured. Wren had a simple solution, he split the building into two wings 100 yards part - what it is to have influence!.

The buildings have two masterpieces, the Painted Hall and the Chapel.

The Painted hall was the work of James Thornhill who contracted to complete all the murals on the ceiling at 3 a square yard and the walls at 1. However it took him over twelve years and he considered himself underpaid and the last mural has a self portrait in one corner with his hands held out for more pay.

The Chapel is equally wonderfully decorated with a compass in the marble floor with the naval fouled anchor pointing north. After Trafalgar, Nelson lay in state here before his burial in St Pauls.

At 1.30 we were all toured out and the party split up looking for victuals and many finished up in the Eel, Pie and Mash shop where pie and mash for a couple of quid was good value, though I didn't see many takers for Eels, and afterwards we all went our own ways

Whatever your interest Greenwich has a good deal to recommend it. It is easy to get to either by boat or by the Docklands Light Railway and is well worth a visit.