The leafy Royal Borough of Greenwich is one of the most desirable locations in London. It has a wonderfully rich history, royal connections and stunning architecture, but there’s more to Greenwich than the headline attractions …
Greenwich is one of four Royal Boroughs in London, having earned the title in 2010 through its royal connections dating back to the 15th Century. Within its ancient boundaries you can see echoes of its royal past and the part the borough played in the country’s rise to become a maritime powerhouse, however, there’s another side to Greenwich. It has produced giants of the acting world, it’s a magnet for some of the world biggest selling musical stars, and there’s a world of activity on the River Thames… and under it!
Royal and scientific heritage
Greenwich’s links with royalty date back to the 15th Century when Henry V granted the Manor of Greenwich to his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, around 1427. Humphrey built the palace deliciously named Bellacourt Placentia where Henry VIII was born in 1491. Henry VIII loved Greenwich and married two of his six wives there – Katherine of Aragon (in 1509) and Anne of Cleves (in 1540). However, Henry VIII also signed the death warrant of his second wife Anne Boleyn in Greenwich, where their daughter Elizabeth was born. Coincidentally, the Queen’s House, which stands on the site of the original Greenwich Palace where the future Elizabeth I was born, houses one of the most iconic portraits of the ‘Virgin Queen’ – the Armada Portrait depicts the defiant queen triumphant following the failure of the Spanish Armada in 1588 heralding the start of the Elizabethan ‘Golden Age’.
Greenwich has an intimate relationship with the River Thames and the seas and oceans beyond the country’s shores, which can be explored at the National Maritime Museum, situated in Greenwich Park. The Meridian Line and the Royal Observatory, along with the National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Naval College and the exceptional tea clipper Cutty Sark form the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site. The area’s historic importance to the world was recognised in 1997 by Unesco.
The Royal Observatory, founded in 1676 by Charles II, is an unmissable attraction famous the world over for being the location of the Meridian Line, otherwise known as 0 degrees longitude. The Royal Observatory also houses the four magnificent clocks built by John Harrison to aid in finding longitude at sea in the 1700s – his work saved the lives of thousands of seafarers in the centuries that followed.
Stage and screen
Greenwich’s royal connections are evident in its impressive architecture and park, however, the borough also has connections with the acting world. The borough has produced members of the acting aristocracy and a number of famous faces.
Oscar-winning actor Sir Daniel Day-Lewis grew up in Greenwich. Sir Daniel, who is regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, attended Invicta and Sherington Primary Schools in the borough before moving to boarding school in Kent.
Sir Daniel’s father, Cecil Day-Lewis, the poet laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972, lived at 6 Crooms Hill in Greenwich, which today carries a blue plaque to commemorate his tenure at the address.
Another star from a distinguished acting family to be born in Greenwich is Vanessa Redgrave. The daughter of actor Sir Michael Redgrave and actress Rachel Kempson, Vanessa Redgrave won an Oscar in 1978 for her role in the film ‘Julia’, and received many other honours for her work on the stage and the silver screen.
‘History Boys’ actor Dominic Cooper, who also hails from Greenwich, is a fully fledged Hollywood star with roles in film musical Mamma Mia! and Captain America: The First Avenger. Meanwhile, one time Doctor Who assistant Sophie Aldred was born in Greenwich and grew up in nearby Blackheath. She played ‘Ace’ to Sylvester McCoy’s seventh incarnation of the Doctor.
Bringing the famous faces up to date is actor, singer, TV presenter and DJ Marvin Humes. The former JLS boyband member was born and grew up in Greenwich before getting his big break on the fifth series of the X Factor.
Close but a million miles away
The peaceful atmosphere in Greenwich belies the fact that the borough is a mere five miles from central London. Located in Zone 2, you can jump on the Docklands Light Railway and be at Bank station in the centre of the city in a little over 22 minutes. Even a riverboat journey only takes 35 minutes. The difference between the sometimes crazy pace of life in the city centre and the slightly more leisurely atmosphere around Greenwich is best demonstrated in the borough’s eateries, many of which boast a relaxed atmosphere and affordable prices. Located on Greenwich South Street, Inside has appeared in the Michelin Guide thanks to its superb European menu and affordable prices. Similarly, L’Artisan on Trafalgar Road has a menu based on French cuisine, serving delicious quiches, salads and freshly prepared deli produce. For traditionalists, Goddards on King William Walk, has been serving up pie & mash since 1890 and shows no sign of slowing down. The family-run business also does a tasty line in takeaway pies for those on a tight itinerary between museum visits. However, if you happen to find yourself at the National Maritime Museum and feel peckish, the Brasserie there is well known for its excellent food.
To some the Royal Borough of Greenwich may seem the model of a conventional tourist attraction – fabulous buildings housing a myriad of interesting treasures with a history dating back centuries. However, Greenwich has another side, something quite different from the museums and priceless artworks.
The world-famous O2 stadium may be better known for concerts featuring global megastars, but did you know that you can take a 90-minute walk on its roof? The walkway across the top of the former Millennium Dome gives those brave enough to climb the structure unparalleled views across the city.
For another superb vantage point, you can take the Emirates Air Line cable car from Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks, which affords great views across to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. You can even use your Oyster Card for the 10-minute journey. Located next to the cable car is the Emirates Aviation Experience, where you can try taking off and landing a plane in a flight simulator.
For those who prefer retail therapy, Greenwich has two excellent markets. Clocktower Market features over 50 stalls of vintage and retro goods, while its more famous neighbour Greenwich Market contains everything from trendy alternative boutiques to designer brands. There is an excellent selection of places to eat at the market making it the perfect place for a great day out.
For a stroll of a different kind, you can walk under the Thames. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel runs 15 metres under the river, linking Cutty Sark Gardens to the Isle of Dogs. Designed by Sir Alexander Binnie, the 370 metre-long tunnel was constructed between 1899 and 1902. The tunnel curves upwards at both ends, giving the strange impression that it has no exits when you’re standing in the middle.
Greenwich is an eclectic mixture of old and new, traditional and modern, and provides a tantalising and exciting place to live and study, whether at the world-renown University of Greenwich or within a short distance at one of the many seats of learning around the city.