Category Archives: Greenwich Park London

Is Greenwich Park London’s most interesting Royal Park?

I think the answer is ‘yes’ – and it should certainly be included in London garden tours. For a start, it is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks. Greenwich has associations with the period in British history most loved by the BBC and English schools. Only the 1930s and ’40s rival the Tudors.
Greenwich was enclosed by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, who also built what became the Royal Palace of Placentia. Henry VIII was born here. So was his daughter, Elizabeth I. The design and the design history are also of great interest. Greenwich Park began as a late-medieval Hunting Park with an Early Renaissance garden. It was then influenced by the Baroque Style in the seventeenth century by the Serpentine style in the eighteenth century and by the Gardenesque Style in the nineteenth century. The green laser beam is a Post-Abstract twenty-first century addition – and a great idea. The designers who influenced the park include Inigo Jones, André Le Nôtre, John Evelyn Christopher Wren, Lancelot Brown and John Claudius Loudon.

Greenwich Park uses demountable buildings for the 2012 Equestrian Olympics

Andre le Notre's parterre is being used as a building site

Andre le Notre's parterre is being used as a building site

Andre Le Notre was the greatest landscape architect of the seventeenth century and he only designed one project in England. It was the parterre in front of the Queen’s House in Greenwich and it was selected as the best place to build a stadium for the 2012 equestrian olympics. This shows no regard for conservation and, if it had to be done, there should have been a full archaeological investigation and a full restoration plan for the surviving earthworks. They are not being damaged but nor is there any restoration plan.
Setting this issue aside, the scene illustrated above does make me wonder if Olympic structures should all be demountable, like the tent for the Chelsea Flower Show. The International Olympic Committee could spend less money on luxurious provision for its hated members and more money on a stock of re-usable buildings. The Montreal Olympics set a standard for profligacy and left the city in debt for 30 years. The Athens Olympics gave the whole country a taste for debt which took it well on the way to the country’s present financial predicament: ‘As of 2012 many conversion schemes have stalled owing to the financial crisis in Greece and most of the Olympic sites are either derelict or dilapidated.’ So why not have a stock of temporary structures which can be put up and taken down. Greenwich has shown that permission to build on EVEN THE MOST SENSITIVE HISTORICAL SITES can be obtained in a conservation-obsessed country. The principle to follow is that the after-use of any facilities should be planned and designed and funded before any temporary Olympic use is considered. This approach would be more sustainable.
Note: the ugly temporary fence in the foreground is the Royal Parks’ annual botched attempt to deal with the grass on what used to be the Giant Steps. The correct policy, which will surely be implemented at some point in the future, would be to use geotextiles to restore the historical feature. The underlying problem is that there are, so far as I know, no garden historians or landscape architects employed in the Royal Parks. It is like running a hospital with no doctors. Nursing is not enough.
It is appropriate for a Chief Executive of the Royal Parks to have a broad view of the role of parks in society, rather than a specialist view, but one does wonder if Linda Lennon’s background with the Parole Board and the Family Courts is ‘just the thing’. This may be what is needed for troubled parks in run down urban areas – but is it right for the Royal Parks in Central London? Maybe she just has the talent to run anything, as is assumed to be the case for the UK’s top civil servants.

A new-to-become ancient tree was planted in Greenwich Park in 2011

New ancient chestunt tree in Greenwich Park

There used to be a Horse Chestnut tree planted here. It died and was left as a 750mm stump for a few years, in which time it was much used by children and by those parents who liked to see their offspring acting as statues. When the heartwood began to rot they dug up the stump and planted a Sweet Chestnut last month. Yesterday they placed the circular seat around the tree. I see this as a clear indication that the park managers are avid followers of this blog and are hoping the new tree will have a long life. The tree against which it is seen has been there for 350 years. They hope to keep a full copy of the internet on – so I hope someone will be able to find this blog post in 3011 and take a photograph of whatever is then growing on this spot. I would also like to know how long the seat will survive (<30 years, I guess) and how long the dog litter bin survives (>100 years, I guess). Dogs used to drop their litter everywhere when I first visited Greenwich (about 30 years ago). Then some good ladies and gentlemen held a Dog Day. One of them stood by each entrance to the park for a day and very politely handed out polythene bags and asked dog owners to collect any droppings from the dogs. The idea caught on and the Royal Parks commissioned these iron dog litter bins. It has been a great success and the park is almost free of dog dirt. As Roland Barthes observed, the droppings of wild animals are inoffensive but those of domesticated pets, and humans, are offensive. Interesting.

Roland Barthes' diagram deals with the wild:domestic binary pair and applies to trees as well as animals