Thursday 13th September 2012

EDWARD WELLER'S GREENWICH

This is a map of Greenwich (London SE10) dating from around 1860. Specifically, it is a black and white lithograph (let wikipedia take you on that excursion) - to which colour has been expertly added, so describing the lie of the land. It is drawn at a scale of nine inches to the mile which allows for generous detail to be shown when it comes to identifying houses, shops, pubs and offices, etc., that were then in existence.

What of Edward Weller himself? Exactly when he was born is obscure, but it is known he died in 1884. He worked as an engraver, publisher and cartographer based in London; His main office was in Red Lion Square, later he moved in Duke Street, Bloomsbury.

Weller produced a number of atlases; his target audience being primarily schools and other educational establishments. Probably his greatest work was the ‘Dispatch Atlas’ of 1863. This gathered together all those maps published in the Weekly Dispatch since 1856. During that period something like 118 maps had been issued, each one bearing the distinctive sign of a half globe with the figure of wing-ed Mercury above.

Weller usually saw to the engraving himself, otherwise he worked in partnership with John Dower. 'The Dispatch Atlas' contained, as well as country and county maps, a few of cities on a large scale similar to this one that are not often otherwise seen. His ambition to cover the whole of London in this magnificent scale, it would seem was never achieved. He came near to it with this one, but as you will notice, like many other maps of the Metropolis, it falls gasping, just short of reaching Greenwich.

Here is central Greenwich: one will notice the town was centred around the church, St Alphege (sic - but I wonder when the spelling changed to present-day Alfege?) - seen here right in the middle of image below. Leading away to the east, Nelson Street (nowadays Road) still exists, albeit greatly burdened by traffic. (Interesting how 'Street' suggests the pedestrian; 'Road', the infernal combustion engine). Likewise, Clarence Street has nowadays become College Approach - maybe they should rebrand yet again to become 'University Drive'? In this detail the Market survives (by the skin of its stalls) to this day, but Thames Street is radically different today to the complex of alleys and ginnels that we see here. Roughly a generation later George E. Arkell, one of Charles Booth's investigators ventured here and jotted notes which leave us a brief but colourful sketch.

Weaving away to the south west is London Street (nowadays 'Greenwich High Road'). The present day visitor to Greenwich may well be bewildered by what they encounter - or rather, fail to encounter - if they arrive in town at the mainline railway station that lies at the far end of this stretch and make their way along it towards the town centre. Their Victorian predecessors would have made their way along a street lined with all manner of shops in which they might have gazed and pondered. All gone!

At the top right of this image we get a glimpse of the infirmary of the Seamen's Hospital and the outlying buildings of the the Royal Greenwich Hospital itself. Here they are in greater detail:

To the bottom of this image, clustered around the Queen's House, stand the buildings of Royal Naval School; on the grounds in front you may see the training ship 'Fame'. Over the years three ships stood here in succession. The first Fame was installed here in 1843, mainly at the instigation of John Rous, an M.P., sportsman and ex Royal Naval officer. She was built at Chatham, a good deal of her masts and yards, etc scrounged from salvage. Her figurehead came from the Centurion, Admiral Anson’s flagship at the time of his circumnavigation of the globe between 1740-44. The Illustrated London News reported:

The upper school consists of 400 boys, the sons of officers, seamen, and mariners in the royal service, and the sons of officers and seamen in the merchant sea-service, who receive an excellent practical education in navigation and nautical astronomy; 400 boys and 200 girls are received into the lower school, and instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, &c. … She has ten ports of a side, with bridle ports, eight long guns of a side, and a figure-head; and she may be set sail for teaching rigging and unrigging, gunnery, &c.

This first vessel was judged to have become unsafe during early 1860 and she was replaced the year after by Fame II. However, as this ship was in large part constructed from the timbers of her predecessor she lasted only ten years before she too was scrapped and, in 1871, replaced by Fame III.

Across Trafalgar Road stand the four Quarters of the Royal Hospital itself, clockwise from top left: Charles, Anne, William and Mary. Again, this map is published at a crucial moment in the history of this institution; before the decade was out it would cease to perform the role of charitable home to peg-legged veterans of the Royal Navy as it had for the last century and a half and would instead, in 1873, open its gates as the Royal Naval College - the navy's university. To the right hand side of this image we get a glimpse of the traces that Nelson left on Greenwich with a couple of pubs named in his honour - The Victory and The Lord Nelson itself.

But if it's a drink you're after, then Greenwich at this time was the place to be as there are pints and quarts and gallons of them throughout the town, all with wonderful names: The Man in the Moon, The Star and Garter and (best of all?) The Good Intent. Nearly all these watering holes, and many more, have now run dry.

Proceeding eastwards we travel down Trafalgar Road that cuts a straight line through East Greenwich, packed with dwellings on both sides. The Old Woolwich Road to its northern side, much more ancient, wriggles like a serpent through the place. Both lead to the same destination; at the far end stands the Union Workhouse. Built in 1840 in response to the legislation that came about from the New Poor Law Act of 1834, it was described by its architect as 'plain but cheerful and almslike', but nevertheless a place of last resort to the poor of the parish and a far cry from the spacious and leafy suburban of Blackheath we see at the other end of this map:

Within a generation, as aforementioned, another map would be published by the great social investigator Charles Booth that sought to denote by means of a colour code the relative wealth and poverty of London. The Greenwich sheet is particularly fascinating in its diversity. For better or for worse, so it remains to this day 

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Edward Weller's, 'Greenwich' is sometimes available for sale; please call for further details.

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