The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 49 Greenwich and Woolwich

Greenwich Park

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To the south lies Greenwich Park, 188 acres in area, enclosed by James I. and laid out by Le Notre during the reign of Charles II. It contains magnificent old oaks, chestnuts, and elms, and is well stocked with tame deer. It is visited on holidays by great crowds of Londoners. On a hill in the centre of the park stands the famous Greenwich Observatory (scientific visitors sometimes admitted on previous application to the Astronomer Royal). This was founded in 1675, with Flamsteed as the first astronomer-royal. The zero meridian of longitude in British maps and charts is reckoned from Greenwich, and 'Greenwich time' is the official mean time for Great Britain. Daily at 1 p.m. a large timeball falls on a mast on the east turret. The Observatory is responsible for the proper supply, repair, and rating of Admiralty chronometers and watches. On the East wall is a clock, with hours numbered from 1 to 24, showing standard time; on the wall close by are standards of length. The terrace commands a splendid view of the Thames, with its shipping, and of London, backed by the Hampstead hills. About 300 yards to the east are the buildings containing the magnetic instruments. To the north of these are some remains. of a Roman villa, discovered in 1902; to the south is the entrance to the beautiful gardens, with a lake. Near the observatory are a refreshment pavilion and a bandstand. The Ranger's Lodge on the south-west side of the park was once occupied by Lord Chesterfield, and later by Lord Wolseley. At the top of Chesterfield Walk, which passes this house, is Macartney House (much altered), the residence of the parents of General Wolfe. Greenwich Park is adjoined on the south by Blackheath, a common 267 acres in area, once notorious for its highwaymen. The Kentish rebels under Wat Tyler in 1381, and again under Jack Cade in 1450, made Blackheath their headquarters in their attacks on London. Blackheath Golf Club, founded in 1608 is the oldest in the world, though the course has been transferred to Eltham. Near the south-east angle of the common are the picturesque old brick almshouses known as Morden College, with a charming cloistered quadrangle, an unspoiled work of Wren's prime. The college was begun in 1695 and opened in 1702 by Sir John Morden, an East India merchant, for decayed merchants of the city of London. Statues of the founder and his lady adorn the west front.