Greenwich Day by Day

Greenwich Day by Day is written by David Male and is published on this site by permission. Copyright © 2005 David Male.

The Dome - seemingly fallen on hard times. See Dec 31


Dec 1

General Sir [later Field Marshal Lord] Frederick Roberts, V.C., R.A. entertained at Woolwich, 1880 (40) by the Royal Artillery. This visit took place shortly after Roberts' defeat of Ayub Khan (1 September 1880). (10)

Dec 2

St Paul's Cathedral (redesigned by Christopher Wren) opened, 1697.

Dec 3

a) Rocket explosion at Royal Arsenal, 1855. The rocket shed, in which were stored 34 Hale's rockets, caught fire and eight men were badly burned, four dying of their injuries,

b) Oak planted by Duke of Edinburgh, 1992 in Greenwich Park to replace illustrious predecessor, Queen Elizabeth's Oak, which had finally fallen the previous year.

Dec 4

a) Railway accident between St. John's and Lewisham stations,1957. In thick fog, the 4.56 p.m. steam train from Cannon Street to Ramsgate went through a red signal and ran into the back of the 5.18 p.m. Charing Cross to Hayes, carrying about 1,480 commuters and Christmas shoppers, under the Nunhead flyover. The flyover then collapsed on to the rear coaches of the steam train. In the devastating impact 92 people died and 176 were injured.

b) Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich DLR (Docklands Light Railway) Station opened 1999.

Dec 5

a) Richard Lovelace b. 1617, in Tower House, Woolwich (via Internet). (See also: Apr 27)

b) Greenwich becomes a World Heritage Site as "Maritime Greenwich", 1997. Greenwich is the UK's 17th World Heritage Site and is placed on a par with Stonehenge, Pompeii and the Great Barrier Reef.

Dec 6

a) Henry VI b. 1421. (11) When Henry V died in 1422 the new King was less than 12 months old. Similarly, he succeeded to the throne of France when his grandfather Charles VI died in that same year, 1422. The territories of France and England were administered for him by the child king's uncles Bedford and Gloucester. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, on ceasing to be Regent of England, retired to Greenwich to build himself a retreat on the river's edge called Bella Court. Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou in 1445. On the death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the seventeen year-old Margaret became mistress of Bella Court, which she renamed 'the Maner of Plesaunce'. (See: Feb 23 & Feb 24) This small palace, later known as Placentia, became enlarged by successive rulers particularly Edward IV, Henrys VII and VIII and had its name changed to Greenwich Palace.

b) The original time-ball blew down into the courtyard of the Royal Observatory, 1855. The original ball (erected in 1833) was made of leather; it was replaced by the present aluminium ball in 1919. (See: Oct 28)

Dec 7 This the Day of Infamy - the attack on Pearl Harbour 7 December 1941, which brought the United States into the Second World War. Nothing to do with Greenwich, perhaps, but an American visitor might be surprised that his British/Greenwich guide wasn't aware of this fact.

a) Mary, Queen of Scots b. 1542 in Linlithgow Palace (now a ruin). Mary was the mother of James I (VI of Scotland). Mary's death warrant was signed in Greenwich by Queen Elizabeth I (see: Feb 1 & Feb 8) (Information supplied by SP)

b) Ruth Belville d. 1943 (aged 90). Miss Belville continued her parents' habit of calling at the Observatory every Monday to check on the accuracy of her pocket chronometer before carrying around clock- and watch-makers of London. Miss Belville continued to provide this service into the 1930s.

Dec 8 & 9

Nelson's medals stolen from Greenwich's Painted Hall, 1900. Nelson's watch, medals and sword handles were stolen between the hours of 4 p.m. Saturday 8th December and 2 p.m. Sunday 9th December 1900. They were probably stolen soon after the Art Gallery (in the Painted Hall) closed on the Saturday by a thief who hid himself until he was alone in the Hall. The thief departed by an Upper Hall window. In March 1904 a burglar named Carter was sentenced to 7 years penal servitude for this theft. Apart from the watch, which was recovered and is now in the possession of the National Maritime Museum, no trace of the other artefacts has been found - the belief is that they, being of gold metal, were melted down probably very soon after the theft.

Dec 8

Thomas Browne was b. 1870. The cartoonist who created 'Weary Willie' and 'Tired Tim' and lived at 7 Hardy Road, a house subsequently occupied by John Bratby, one of Britain's most successful artists.

Dec 9

Sir Anthony van Dyck d. 1641, in London. Van Dyck, a Flemish Court painter who received the patronage of Charles I, made use of Eltham Palace as a studio.

Dec 10

a) Charles Dickens dines with Mr Browne at Greenwich, 1838. (Internet) Dickens' letters and diaries between 1837 and 1869 reveal that he dined at Greenwich on 14 occasions. Dickens seemed mainly to visit the Crown & Sceptre and the Trafalgar Tavern, visiting the Ship for the first time in 1857.

b) Cutty Sark was moved to Greenwich and berthed, 1954. The Cutty Sark was stripped of upper masts, yards, deck-houses and ballast to lighten her before being towed from East India Import to the special dry dock at greenwich. the skipper on this occasion was 83-years old captain c.e. irving, who had sailed the world three times in her before he was 17. the river pilot was ernest coe. thereafter the entrance tunnel to the dry dock was filled in, the river wall rebuilt and the work of re-rigging began. the foundation stone of the dry dock was laid by the duke of edinburgh, patron of the cutty sark preservation society, in june 1953. the restoration, re-rigging and preparation for public exhibition was estimated to cost £250,000. (See also: Aug 4)

c) Two episodes of the BBC TV programme Mastermind were recorded in the Great Hall of Eltham, 1986.

Dec 11

The founding of Ravensbourne Water Works in the 13th year of the reign of William III (i.e. 1701). A Royal Charter was granted to William Yarnold and Robert Watson "to take water from the River Ravensbourne, and to break up the roadways within the Royal Manors of Sayes Court and East Greenwich, and to lay pipes for the sup-ply of water to the inhabitants of the said Manors for a period of 500 years . ." This was the commencement of the Ravensbourne Water Works. On 20June 1809 the Ravensbourne Water Works merged into Kent Water Works. By the mid-19th Century its supply of water was unequalled for its purity within the Metropolitan Area. (Nathan Dews The History of Deptford 2nd ed. of 1884. Reprinted by Conway Maritime press, 1971.)

Dec 12

a) Oliver Cromwell dismissed the 'Barebones' Parliament (named after its first member: Praise-God Barbon, the Member for London) and had himself made Lord Protector, 1653. During the period of the Commonwealth the Queen's House was given by the rebels to Bulstrode Whitelock and though the house was stripped of all its furnishings, Whitelock's occupancy saved it from the indignities and damage suffered elsewhere in the Palace. In 1657, Robert Blake, the greatest seaman of his age, lay in state there. (See: Aug 7)

b) Samuel Hood b.1724. (27a) Admiral Hood, the capturer of Corsica in 1794, was created a viscount (Viscount Hood of Whitley) in 1796 and became a Governor of Greenwich Hospital. (1796-1816)

c) Oxford and Cambridge Universities played for the first time on Blackheath's Rectory Field, 1883. The two rugby sides played annually on the Rectory field four times between 1883 and 1886. (Oxford won on the first two occasions and Cambridge in 1885 & 86). This, despite there being no changing facilities on the ground itself. The players carried their bags from the station to a pub on the common then, having changed, walked a mile to the ground where a thousand or two cheered their teams from the touch-line.

Dec 13

a) Francis Drake sets out in Golden Hinde on his circumnavigation of the world, 1577. (See: Apr 4)

b) Dr Samuel Johnson d. 1784. Dr Johnson lived in Greenwich Church Street when he first came to London in 1736. (Wikipedia.)

Dec 14

a) Four-mile railway opens between London Bridge and Deptford, 1836. (4) (See: Feb 8) The first train was the Royal William and completed the journey from London Bridge to Deptford in 8 minutes - "to the astonishment of the numerous parties who had never before witnessed the velocity of locomotive engines".

b) Death of H.R.H. Princess Alice, 1878. (40) Princess Alice, the sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and married to Louis IV Duke of Hesse, died tragically in the same year as the boat named for her was involved in the worst disaster on the Thames. (See: Sep 3)

c) Queen Caroline's Bath refurbished, 2001. The bath, which had been in-filled in 1983, became the Millennium Restoration Project of the Friends of Greenwich Park. It was officially re-exposed to the elements on 14th December 2001.

Dec 15

John Evelyn says in his 1641 diary: "I was elected out of the comptrollers of the Middle Temple revellers, as the fashion of the young gentlemen and students was, the Christmas being kept this year with great solemnity."

Dec 16

a) Henry VI crowned King of France, 1431. (See: Feb 21)

b) Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, b. 1485 (29) daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Catherine first married Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1501, but he died in 1502. She was subsequently betrothed to Henry, Arthur's brother. This marriage did not take place until after Henry's accession in 1509. Catherine was the first wife of Henry VIII and bore him 5 children, only one of whom survived - Mary I.

c) Bill of Rights,1689. The "Divine Right of Kings" is formally ended (in the reign of William III and Mary II).

d) The Boston Tea Party occurred 1773. 50 men disguised as Mohawks boarded the three British tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Beaver and the Eleanor, in Boston Harbour and broke open 342 chests of tea, which they dumped in the harbour. This was a protest and reaction to the Tea Act of 1773 which allowed the East India Company to sell its goods to the colonies without paying tax. The Boston Tea Party marked the beginning of violence between mother country and colonies. The vessels from which the tea was thrown belonged to the Enderby family. (1) The Enderbys lived in Loretta House, 68 Crooms Hill (the present-day Presbytery, the home of the Priest to Our Lady Star of the Sea RC Church, Crooms Hill) and owned Enderby Wharf, being widely and diversely interested in many maritime projects, from whaling to cable laying. "All honour to the Enderbys" wrote Herman Melville in Moby Dick. Samuel Enderby's daughter, Elizabeth, married Henry William Gordon in 1817 and had eleven children including Charles George, who was christened in St Alfege's Church and is better known as General Gordon, the Governor of Sudan. (See: 28 Jan)

e) Severndroog CastleCommodore William James d. 1783. William James died, of apoplexy at his daughter's wedding, on 16 December 1783 and he and his epic victory were commemorated by the triangular folly, Severndroog Castle in Castle Wood on Shooters Hill. This famous landmark, which at first served as a museum to the memory of Cdre James and his triumph over the pirate Angria (see: Mar 22 & 23), has had a chequered existence since and is now under threat of being disposed of to a private company who will, it is feared, deny public access.
Right: Severndroog Castle.

f) Duel in Greenwich Park 1832. Lieutenant O'Connell and a Mr Carney, the latter was severely wounded, fought a duel in Greenwich Park. "Mr O'Connell was ordered to find bail for £500, Captain Larkin of Greenwich College, gave security." (22) [" Greenwich College" is a bit of a puzzle here, for the Royal Naval College had not yet come in to being.]

g) Test flight of the airship R100, 1929. (The Times) The R100 was designed by Barnes Wallis (best known for his design of the dam-busting bouncing bomb in World War II) (see: May 16). Dr Barnes Wallis, whose mother resided at 29 The Common, Woolwich, lived himself, on getting married in c1925, in Flat 6, Macartney House, where it is said that he expelled the ghosts [of Generals Nicholson and Gordon] from his mind and set up in their place the romantic hero-victim of Quebec. "The flat was very elegant and became still more so under Wallis' skilful ministrations. He turned the soaring height of the rooms to his own advantage, building himself a tall ladder seat on which he could perch with his drawing board and there continue his work out of ear-shot of the chattering of Molly's sisters . . ." (Jack Eric Morpurgo - Barnes Wallis, Penguin, 1973.)

Dec 17

Henry VIII was excommunicated by the Pope, 1538. (The Times) Henry observed the Christmas of 1538 "quietly at Greenwich. Soon afterwards came the news that Pope Paul III . . . had ordered the Bull of Excommunication drawn up by his predecessor in 1533 to be put into practice." (7) Regardless of the Pope's censure Henry pressed on with his Reformation.

Dec 18

James II left Whitehall by barge 1688. James left at 11 o'clock in the morning accompanied by two boatloads of Dutch guards. The exiled king landed in Ambleteuse near Calais. He never saw England again. (5) James' abdication paved the way for the joint reign of William III and Mary II and, of course, for their change of use of the former Greenwich Palace to that of Royal Naval Hospital.

Dec 19

a) Captain John Smith set sail from Greenwich 1606. (13) The Jacobean adventurer departed in Godspeed, Susan Constant and Discovery to found a colony in Virginia. While exploring the Chickahominy River, Smith was captured by Indians; his life being spared when the Indian princess Pocahontas interceded on his behalf. (Thornhill shows Pocahontas, in his ceiling painting, as representing 'the Americas' in the Upper Painted Hall, ORNC.)

b) Order to demolish the "Greenwich Barn" 1695. This barn stood in the tilt-yard of the old Palace of Placentia. Its removal was necessary in order to facilitate the erection of the Royal Naval Hospital. The demolition was carried out (cost £30) and the "Greenwich Barn" was re-erected on Woolwich Warren the following year (estimated cost £28; actual cost £36.12s.5d.) (18)

Dec 20

Statue of Sir Walter RaleighThe statue of Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552-1618), after standing outside the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall since 1959, was re-erected in Greenwich's Old Royal Naval College, 2001. The bronze statue, by Scottish sculptor William Macmillan, RA, was unveiled at a ceremony on 20th December 2001. (See: Oct 29)

Dec 21

a) The Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1620. There is a memorial to Captain Christopher Jones, Master of the Mayflower in St Mary's Church in St Mary Church Street, Rotherhithe, where he was buried in 1622.

b) Charlton Athletic's most famous victory, 1957. "Losing 5-1 [to Huddersfield], with the Addicks [Charlton] down to ten men, they put on the most amazing fight-back ever. After pulling the match back to six-all, Charlton's Ryan hit the winner in the eighty-ninth minute." Charlton's fans erupted. (Charlton Athletic Football Club edited by David Ramzan, Tempus, 1998)

Dec 22

Sir William James interred in the parish church (of Eltham) vault, 1783. Sir William died at Park Farm-place during his daughter's wedding (See: Dec 16). He didn't stay long in the parish vault for, subsequently, his body was removed from there and re-interred in the new family tomb that his widow, Lady James, created within the churchyard.

Dec 23

a) Blackheath Hill reopened 2002 (ITV News 23/12/02) (See : Apr 7)

b) Admiral Byng remained in confinement in Queen Anne Building until Dec 23rd
1756 when he was removed to Portsmouth Harbour for trial (on board St George) which began on Dec 28 1756.

Dec 24

a) Lord Nelson's body laid to rest in state in the Painted Hall, 1805. Nelson's coffin was made from wood from the French ship L'Orient, blown up at the Battle of the Nile. His lead-lined coffin weighed nearly four hundred-weight. Lord Hood received Nelson's body when it arrived at Greenwich, where it was taken to the Record Room (the present Nelson Room), a small room off the Upper Painted Hall. (See: Jan 5)

b) The railway comes to Greenwich, 1838. The long-awaited railway line was extended across the Ravensbourne to a temporary terminus at Church Row. In contrast to other railway openings it is reported that "all went off quietly". (4) (See also: Dec14 and Feb 1).

Dec 25 Christmas Day

a) Edward IV celebrated Christmas at Eltham, 1482. Eltham's great hall, with its hammer-beam ceiling, having just been completed, Edward celebrated by entertaining no less than 2,000 courtiers to a special Christmas feast.

b) Henry VIII spent many Christmases at Greenwich. Of Henry's 38 Christmases (between 1509 and 1546) at least 17 were spent at Greenwich, while another two (1515 and 1525) were held close by at Eltham Palace. (7) Christmas in Tudor times was a twelve-day festival, with the celebrations reaching their climax on 6 January, or Twelfth Night. "Great feasts were served at court over Yuletide. On Christmas Day, there was always the seasonal favourite, 'seethed' brawn made from spiced boar or pork, and perhaps roast swans; the first course, however, was invariably a boar's head, which was served 'bedecked with bay and rosemary' . . . For the sumptuous banquet that marked Twelfth Night, a special cake of dried fruit, flour, honey and spices was baked, containing a pea or a bean; whoever found it would be King or Queen of the Pea or Bean for the evening . . . though it appears at court the lucky recipients were often selected in advance. . ." (7)

c) Royal Arsenal Football Club created Christmas Day 1886. A meeting held at the Royal Oak public house, next to Woolwich Arsenal Station, changed the name of the Dial Square Football Club to Royal Arsenal (from Royal Oak and Woolwich Arsenal Station). "The first game of the reformed club was played against Erith on Plumstead Common on 8 January 1887 . . . Thus it remained till the name was changed to Woolwich Arsenal Football Club in 1891." (18)

Dec 26 St Stephen's Day & Boxing Day

Boxes placed in churches for casual offerings used to be opened on Christmas Day, and the contents, called "the dole of the Christmas box" or "the box money", were distributed on the next day by the priests. Apprentices also used to carry a box round to their masters' customers for small gratuities. Postmen, milkmen and dustmen still expect them. (39)

Dec 27

a) The Aurora sailed from Cape Town and disappeared, 1769. The Aurora was carrying Henry Vansittart to his India appointment as Supervisor but he never arrived. His widow, Emelia, was left to raise their children - Henry, Arthur, Robert, George, Nicholas, Emelia and Sophie - at 60 Crooms Hill, Greenwich. Henry became an admiral and Nicholas (1st Baron Bexley 1766-1851) a long-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer.

b) A fault on the telephone line from Greenwich caused TIM, the Speaking Clock, to run two minutes fast in 1936.

Dec 28

a) Mary II d. 1694 in Kensington Palace. Mary died, childless, of smallpox at the age of 32. As she died before signing the Royal Charter of the Royal Naval Hospital this was back-dated. (See: Oct 25). William saw the project of bringing the Royal Naval Hospital to fruition as his tribute to the late Queen.

b) The Court Martial of Admiral John Byng began, 1756. (27) Byng was tried for having fought an ineffective naval battle against the French and for having hung around Minorca - which he had been sent to relieve - without having done anything. The trial lasted 29 days. Prior to the Court Martial Admiral Byng had been confined in the Queen Anne Building of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich.

Dec 29

a) HMS Warrior launched at Blackwall 1860. (27) "When the world's first iron-hulled warship . . . was launched at Blackwall on the Thames . . . she could outrun and outgun any ship afloat" (Daily Mail Weekend, 21 December 2002). "Warrior was [eventually] reduced to a fuelling hulk in Pembroke Dock". (27)

b) 1940 - "the most famous raid took place on 29 December 1940, when large parts of the City were destroyed". (The Times London History Atlas, ed. by Hugh Clout, 1991) German aircraft dropped 10,000 bombs on London. Greenwich suffered also at this time.

Dec 30

A second full moon, within one calendar month, was visible in 1982. This event which is rare - it happens every 2.7 years because of a disparity between our calendar and the lunar cycle - is known as a "blue moon". The 1982 blue moon was more special as a total lunar eclipse also occurred - it was the only total eclipse of a blue moon in the twentieth century. On this same date, in 1923, Edwin Hubble announced the existence of other galaxies. (Information from Internet)

Dec 31

a) The Rev John Flamsteed d.1719, Astronomer Royal under five Monarchs [Charles II, James II, William III & Mary II, Queen Anne and George I]

b) Last official day of Royal Naval College, Greenwich, 1998. King William Block is handed over to Greenwich Foundation and all remaining naval presence at Greenwich removed.

c) The Millennium Dome closed 2000 A.D. after attracting and entertaining some six million visitors. The much maligned Dome had, in fact, been the most successful entertainment venue in Europe.

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