Tuesday 26th November 2013

'GREENWICH REVEALED'

Greenwich Revealed’ An investigation into some early 18th century drawings of Greenwich, by Neil Rhind and Julian Watson.

Who would have ever have thought that hitherto unknown, detailed streetscapes of Greenwich drawn c.1705 would suddenly reappear in 2005? Photocopies of them were found in the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Library by a neighbour of Neil Rhind’s. They were unidentified and were copies of original drawings that had lain in a miscellaneous file in the Wiltshire Record Office. They belong to the Earl of Pembroke who lives at Wilton House.

Neil rang me as soon as he spotted that they were drawings of Greenwich. Many years of intense research followed to try and find out who may have drawn them and why. Nicholas Hawksmoor, the great English architect, who was Clerk of the Works of the great project to build the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich (Old Royal Naval College), has been the focus of our attention from the beginning. He was a man of many, many projects and may have been seeking to improve the context of the wonderful new buildings by planning to clear unsightly old buildings and streets adjacent to the Hospital site. We know from contemporary documents that Greenwich in 1700 was full of old, neglected, overcrowded poor quality housing but none of these are shown on the strip drawings. So, do the drawings show how the whole of Greenwich could look? But was it Hawksmoor himself who drew them, someone he commissioned or someone else entirely?

It was amazing to see the fine quality of domestic buildings that stood in East and West Greenwich and along the riverside at the beginning of the 18th century. Very sad though to see how few have survived. This one has. Can you guess where it is located?

It was exciting to compare these strip drawings with present streetscapes. Church Street and King William Walk are particularly interesting: some buildings survive.  What about this? It is particularly difficult.

Probably the most astonishing image on the drawings is of St. Alfege’s Church before the collapse of its nave in 1710. No other detailed images of the medieval church survive. The image on the strip drawing is unique but difficult to interpret. I’m afraid that you will have to look in the book to see this drawing.

Similarly, the Crane Street area is puzzling because nothing survives and because we don’t understand what the artist was trying to show.

We have solved many of the mysteries of these remarkable streetscapes in our book, ‘Greenwich Revealed’ and interpreted them using historical documents and images combined with modern photos, Peter Kent reconstructions and a lot of fieldwork. We have identified and photographed surviving buildings but some details on the drawings remain a mystery.

Here is a final mystery to ponder:

‘Greenwich Revealed’ is on sale at Warwick Leadlay Gallery. Copies are just £10.00 each (plus £5.00 P&P - Inland UK).

Warwick Leadlay Gallery, 1-2 Nelson Arcade, Greenwich, London SE10 9J

Copies may also be obtained from Sabo Newsagents, Stockwell Street and at Maritime Books in Royal Hill.

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