Watch this space? Watches and Space perhaps.
As I left the O2 I was headed for a part of London that was completely new to me, and yet a place with enormous significance for the history of the UK. Greenwich.
What’s so special about Greenwich then? Like Durham it contains a World Heritage Site, a status which recognises the number of architectural masterpieces to be found hereabouts, many of which are also of great historical significance. You could spend days here exploring the treasures that these buildings contain, but with only an afternoon to spare I restricted myself to the exteriors and even then sacrificed both the Vanbrugh Castle and Hawksmoor‘s St Alphege‘s.
Positioned at the bottom of the u-shaped meander in the Thames and with a hill that gives commanding views up and down the river it is strategically well placed, and the town’s Viking name underlines this. The Danes were camped here for three years in the 11th Century, murdering the Archbishop who gives his name to the Hawksmoor church when ransom couldn’t be achieved. Those great sailors created a precedent for maritime feats to come.
Those who saw the recent film Thor: The Dark World will have witnessed the thankfully fictional destruction of the Old Royal Naval College at the hands of Malekith’s Dark Elves, and it is no surprise that the sumptuous vistas it provides are regularly sought out by film and TV productions. Built on the site of a former Tudor palace, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed by Hawksmoor its beauty should come as no surprise.
And yet there is more on offer here; standing nearby is the Cutty Sark, one of the fastest sailing ships ever built, now “moored” in a specially constructed dry dock whose glazed skirt mimics the water line, yet allows light through to illuminate her sleek hull for the visitors below.
We’re not done yet though for part of the Maritime Museum is housed in a building known as The Queen’s House. Perfectly aligned with symmetry of the Naval College before it, this was the first piece of classically inspired architecture to be constructed in the UK. Inigo Jones took his inspiration from Italy and produced this Palladian delight with great colonnades reaching out to the wings on either side. Appropriately enough, given the Viking history, it was built for Anne of Denmark (wife of James I).
Modestly overseeing all of this grandeur is the Royal Observatory. Britain’s former dominance was achieved through naval superiority, and the small cluster of buildings that sits atop the hill here were critical to that, with scientific research in field crucial to effective navigation. Astronomy is perhaps obvious, sailors having steered by the stars for centuries, but for reasons too complex to explain here, accurate timekeeping also has an essential part to play. (Perched upon the roof is a time ball that is raised daily to drop at exactly 1.00pm GMT – Greenwich Mean Time, its prominence being visible to shipping on the Thames who needed to accurately set their timepieces. Nowadays the ritual is for the tourists!) Here then you will also find the UK’s largest refracting telescope, John Harrison’s original chronometer, and of course the Greenwich Meridian which marks 0 degrees longitude amongst many other astronomical and horological marvels. (Thanks to Stephan for posing on the strip that marks the meridian)
Next I will explain the ∞% element!