Monday, June 3, 2013

Return to Greenwich

The weekend after we returned from Turkey was a bank holiday. On the Monday, we met friends Luuk and Amy at Greenwich, as they were in London for the weekend (their usual base is in France), and offered to be their tour guides for the day. First we showed them around the Naval College, and we finally got to see inside the Painted Hall.

The Naval College stands on the site of the former Palace of Placentia, more commonly known as Greenwich Palace. Built in 1447, the Palace was the birthplace of Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, among others. It fell into ruin during the English Civil War, and in 1660 Charles II ordered the architect John Webb to remodel parts of it, while the remainder was demolished.

Also the site of the barricade scenes in the most recent adaptation of Les Miserables
In 1694, the Greenwich Hospital was built on the site. This was known as the Royal Hospital for Seamen, and was based on the French Les Invalides. Greenwich Hospital closed in 1869, and the buildings were turned into training grounds for the Royal Navy. During World War Two, approximately 35,000 personnel graduated from the College.

The Painted Hall was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (of St Paul's Cathedral fame) and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining space for veterans at the Naval Hospital. James Thornhill was commissioned to paint the interior, and he was asked to include in his designs as many references as possible to the role of the navy in the success of the British Empire. It took Thornhill 19 years to complete the work, and he was paid only £3 per square yard for the ceiling, and just £1 per square yard for the walls. According to legend, Thornhill was upset at the pittance he was paid, and painted himself at the bottom right corner of the following wall, with one hand held out behind his back, waiting for money to be put into it:

Even though he did not get paid handsomely, Thornhill was made a Knight for his efforts. 

In 1806, the body of Horatio Nelson was brought to lie in state in the Painted Hall (after which it was buried at St Paul's Cathedral). Over the next 100 years, the Hall was used as an Art Gallery. It was once again used as a dining hall by students at the Naval College during World War Two. 

We also visited the chapel, which was also designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was badly affected by fire in 1779 and was redecorated in the Greek revival style. It was restored in 1950, and we were really impressed by it. The roof decorations are especially amazing. 

Following that, we showed Amy and Luuk (and children) the Naval Museum - which is well worth a visit if you're in London - before moving on to explore the Cutty Sark. 

Louis and Luuk trying out the new kids' exhibition at the Naval Museum

The Cutty Sark is a clipper that was built for a British shipping company in order to take part in the tea race. Clippers were well-known for their speed, which would be an important advantage in the competitive race to bring tea from China to London.When constructed, the Cutty Sark was one of the fastest clippers on the water. Unfortunately for the future of clippers, the opening of the Suez Canal meant that trade soon turned to using steamships.  

In the late 1870s, the Cutty Sark was used to take tea and castor oil to Australia. It was soon realised that the ship would be of more use to the wool trade, so from 1883-1895, the Cutty Sark regularly travelled to Australia as a wool ship. On her first journey, the Cutty Sark was 25 days faster than her closest rival, and at her quickest, she could make the journey from Britain to Australia in 77 days. For ten years she remained the fastest wool ship on the sea.

In 1895, the Cutty Sark was sold to a Portugese firm for £2,100. She spent the next thirty years carrying goods across the world. After that, she was purchased by a Briton who restored the ship and opened her to the public. After his death,  the ship spent some time as a training boat for naval cadets, then in 1954, she was towed to dry docks at Greenwich, and the Duke of Edinburgh became a patron for her restoration. It was open to the public until the late 1990s, when a programme of extensive conservation work was begun. In 2007, disaster struck when the ship caught alight. The large fire, fortunately, did not do as much damage as feared as much of the mast and planking had been removed for the conservation work. 

Finally, the £35million restoration was finished, and the ship was reopened to the public in April 2012. She now sits in a dry dock, suspended three metres above the ground, and encased in glass. There was some controversy about the design, as it is quite an 'interesting' look. What do you think?
(Adam would like to point out that his company, Buro Happold, was involved in the restoration work.)

The Captain's Quarters
The masthead gallery
The Cutty Sark from beneath
After finishing with the Cutty Sark, we walked through Greenwich Park and up to the Royal Observatory. It was a fabulous day and the locals were also making the most of the great weather.

View north towards Canary Wharf, the financial centre of London
Finally, we had tea in Greenwich then sat beside the river, enjoying the warmth and the sunset and eating English toffees. Bliss! Just what an English bank holiday should be, if you ask me!
Looking west down the River Thames

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