1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Greenwich
GREENWICH, a south-eastern metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded N. by the river Thames, E. by Woolwich, S. by Lewisham and W. by Deptford. Pop. (1901) 95,770. Area, 3851.7 acres. It has a river-frontage of 4½ m., the Thames making two deep bends, enclosing the Isle of Dogs on the north and a similar peninsula on the Greenwich side. Greenwich is connected with Poplar on the north shore by the Greenwich tunnel (1902), for foot-passengers, to the Isle of Dogs (Cubitt Town), and by the Blackwall Tunnel (1897) for street traffic, crossing to a point between the East and West India Docks (see Poplar). The main thoroughfares from W. to E. are Woolwich and Shooter’s Hill Roads, the second representing the old high road through Kent, the Roman Watling Street. Greenwich is first noticed in the reign of Ethelred, when it was a station of the Danish fleet (1011-1014).
The most noteworthy buildings are the hospital and the observatory. Greenwich Hospital, as it is still called, became in 1873 a Royal Naval College. Upon it or its site centre nearly all the historical associations of the place. The noble buildings, contrasting strangely with the wharves adjacent and opposite to it, make a striking picture, standing on the low river-bank with a background formed by the wooded elevation of Greenwich Park. They occupy the site of an ancient royal palace called Greenwich House, which was a favourite royal residence as early as 1300, but was granted by Henry V. to Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter, from whom it passed to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, who largely improved the property and named it Placentia. It did not revert to the crown till his death in 1447. It was the birthplace of Henry VIII., Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and here Edward VI. died. The building was enlarged by Edward IV., by Henry VIII., who made it one of his chief residences, by James I. and by Charles I., who erected the “Queen’s House” for Henrietta Maria. The tenure of land from the crown “as of the manor of East Greenwich” became at this time a recognized formula, and occurs in a succession of American colonial charters from those of Virginia in 1606, 1609 and 1612 to that of New Jersey in 1674. Along with other royal palaces Greenwich was at the Revolution appropriated by the Protector, but it reverted to the crown on the restoration of Charles II., by whom it was pulled down, and the west wing of the present hospital was erected as part of an extensive design which was not further carried out. In its unfinished state it was assigned by the patent of William and Mary to certain of the great officers of state, as commissioners for its conversion into a hospital for seamen; and it was opened as such in 1705. The building consists of four blocks. Behind a terrace 860 ft. in length, stretching along the river side, are the buildings erected in the time of Charles II. from Inigo Jones’s designs, and in that of Queen Anne from designs by Sir Christopher Wren; and behind these buildings are on the west those of King William and on the east those of Queen Mary, both from Wren’s designs. In the King William range is the painted hall. Here in 1806 the remains of Nelson lay in state before their burial in St Paul’s Cathedral. Its walls and ceiling were painted by Sir James Thornhill with various emblematic devices, and it is hung with portraits of the most distinguished admirals and paintings of the chief naval battles of England. In the Queen Anne range is the Royal Naval Museum, containing models, relics of Nelson and of Franklin, and other objects. In the centre of the principal quadrangle of the hospital there is a statue of George II. by Rysbrack, sculptured out of a single block of marble taken from the French by Admiral Sir George Rooke. In the upper quadrangle is a bust of Nelson by Chantrey, and there are various other memorials and relics. The oldest part of the building was in some measure rebuilt in 1811, and the present chapel was erected to replace one destroyed by fire in 1779. The endowments of the hospital were increased at various periods from bequests and forfeited estates. Formerly 2700 retired seamen were boarded within it, and 5000 or 6000 others, called out-pensioners, received stipends at various rates out of its funds; but in 1865 an act was passed empowering the Admiralty to grant liberal pensions in lieu of food and lodging to such of the inmates as were willing to quit the hospital, and in 1869 another act was passed making their leaving on these conditions compulsory. It was then devoted to the accommodation of the students of the Royal Naval College, the Infirmary being granted to the Seamen’s Hospital Society. Behind the College is the Royal Hospital School, where 1000 boys, sons of petty officers and seamen, are boarded.
To the south of the hospital is Greenwich Park (185 acres), lying high, and commanding extensive views over London, the Thames and the plain of Essex. It was enclosed by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, and laid out by Charles II., and contains a fine avenue of Spanish chestnuts planted in his time. In it is situated the Royal Observatory, built in 1675 for the advancement of navigation and nautical astronomy. From it the exact time is conveyed each day at one o’clock by electric signal to the chief towns throughout the country; British and the majority of foreign geographers reckon longitude from its meridian. A standard clock and measures are seen at the entrance. A new building was completed in 1899, the magnetic pavilion lying some 400 yds. to the east, so placed to avoid the disturbance of instruments which would be occasioned by the iron used in the principal building. South of the park lies the open common of Blackheath, mainly within the borough of Lewisham, and in the east the borough includes the greater part of Woolwich Common.
At Greenwich an annual banquet of cabinet ministers, known as the whitebait dinner, formerly took place. This ceremony arose out of a dinner held annually at Dagenham, on the Essex shore of the Thames, by the commissioners for engineering works carried out there in 1705–1720—a remarkable achievement for this period—to save the lowlands from flooding. To one of these dinners Pitt was invited, and was subsequently accompanied by some of his colleagues. Early in the 19th century the venue of the dinner, which had now become a ministerial function, was transferred to Greenwich, and though at first not always held here, was later celebrated regularly at the “Ship,” an hotel of ancient foundation, closed in 1908. The banquet continued till 1868, was revived in 1874–1880, and was held for the last time in 1894.
The parish church of Greenwich, in Church Street, is dedicated to St Alphege, archbishop, who was martyred here by the Danes in 1012. In the church Wolfe, who died at Quebec (1759), and Tallis, the musician, are buried. A modern stained-glass window commemorates Wolfe.
The parliamentary borough of Greenwich returns one member. Two burgesses were returned in 1577, but it was not again represented till the same privilege was conferred on it in 1832. The borough council consists of a mayor, five aldermen and thirty councillors.