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.


Feb 1

a) Elizabeth I signed death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots 1587 at Greenwich. (13) (See: Feb 8)

b) Naval Academy [Portsmouth] renamed Royal Naval College at request of King George III, 1806. (27) (See: Mar 30)

c)The Royal Naval College opened in Greenwich 1873 (having moved from Portsmouth). This was a new use for the buildings of the Royal Hospital for Seamen that had stood empty since that institute's closure in October 1869 (see: Oct 1). In 1948 Prince Philip took the Staff Course as a Lieutenant; in 1975 HRH the Prince of Wales attended the Lieutenants' Greenwich Course as did his younger brother HRH The Duke of York in 1986. Main courses being run in the [Old] Royal Naval College were the Senior Officers' War Course (of 21 weeks duration) for captains and officers from other services of equivalent rank, the Lieutenants' Greenwich Course and the Special Duties Officers' Course (of 6 weeks) for newly promoted officers. Additionally, courses were run in the King William Block on matters nuclear with a small nuclear reactor (known as "Jason") as a teaching aid. From 1983 the Joint Service Defence College also ran regular courses (of nine months' duration) in the King Charles Building for naval commander rank and its equivalent in the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Civil Service and Police. (This effectively replaced the earlier Senior Officers' War Course).

d) The first train left Greenwich for Maze Hill, 1878. (4) In order that this might happen it had been necessary to construct a tunnel from King William Walk to Maze Hill which, in fact, led to the closing and removal of the cemetery that lay in front of the Naval Asylum and the Devonport Nurses' Home. The bodies of the seamen, ones who had died whilst inhabiting the Royal Naval Hospital, were removed to "The Pleasance" in East Greenwich.

e) The Thames Barrier was used operationally for the first time 1983. The tidal defences stood firm with well over 5 metres of defence still in hand above the highest tide surge from the North Sea. The 25th anniversary of the Thames Barrier was celebrated on 1st February 2008. (See also: May 8, Sep 19 & 20)

Feb 2

a) Alexander Selkirk is rescued from the island of Juan Fernandos 1709. Selkirk's four years of solitary residence would appear to have little to do with Greenwich were it not for Daniel Defoe's immortal record of Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner of 1719. Defoe, son of James Foe, a Stoke Newington butcher, had turned to journalism in and around 1700 but previously had made other largely unsuccessful attempts to embark on a business career - one being as a manufacturer of tiles and bricks in Tilbury. Defoe contracted to supply bricks for the Greenwich Hospital, that part known today as the King William Building. Defoe's evocative guidebook Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (3 vols 1724-26) contains reference and comment on a Greenwich with which he was familiar. When, for instance , Defoe writes "Several generals . . . live here in as much honour and delight as this world can give" one feels that he must be referring among others to General Henry Withers, the entertainer of John Gay and Alexander Pope, and who, by 1718, was residing in Macartney House with his lifelong companion Lt Col Henry Desaulniers.(See also: Apr 24)

b) James "Athenian" Stuart d.1788. James Stuart was the Surveyor of Works from 1752 and died in Office in 1788 (bfore the restoration was complete).

Feb 3

a) Henry VIII and the Marquis of Dorset "answered all comers at Joust" 1515. (33) Henry broke 23 spears and "was highly to be praised".

b) Lavinia, Duchess of Bolton, buried in St Alfege's Church, Greenwich, 1760. (See: Jan 29) There is, regrettably, no memorial to the Duchess of Bolton in the church.

Feb 4

Trinity College Chapel consecrated by Bishop of Rochester 1616/17 and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. (Greenwich Antiquarian Society records, Vol III, p294)

Feb 5

BBC "six pips" first broadcast from Greenwich Observatory 1924. "The original pips were played on piano notes and, later on, on tubular bells." (Wogan programme, BBC 2, 5 Feb 2004 - the 80th anniversary of the first broadcast.)

Feb 6

a) Queen Anne b. 1665. (11) Anne was the second daughter of James II and Anne Hyde. Anne appointed her husband, Prince George of Denmark, to head the Commission to direct operations to build the Greenwich Hospital. The Queen also contributed £6432 - the sum realised by the sale of Captain William Kidd's treasure - towards the Hospital's cost. (Kidd was hanged at Execution Dock in 1701. See: May 23)

b) Charles II d.1685 in Whitehall; Charles II's association with Greenwich lies, firstly , with his attempt to build the King's House (the present King Charles Court) to match the earlier Queen's House. That failed because of the king's lack of funding. His second building project, the Royal Observatory, reached fruition solely because of the king's selling of 'decayed gunpowder', which realised enough money to see the project through only by Christopher Wren cutting corners when building and slightly exceeding his budget. The Greenwich Park was laid out by Andre Le Notre (the gardener to Louis XIV of France) during Charles II's reign; tree planting was undertaken by Sir William Boreman, who was keeper of the palace and park at that time. Boreman constructed a formal terrace at the north end of Blackheath Avenue and planted the terrace with 600 elms. John Evelyn, the diarist, who lived nearby at Deptford, refers to the elms being planted in 1664.

c) Excavations in Greenwich Park, 1902. ". . . a search was made of the mound by probing the soil with an iron bar. As a result several tesserae and cement were discovered which at once confirmed the existence of Roman remains." (Greenwich Park: its History and Associations, by A.D. Webster. 1902.)

d) Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, as Queen Elizabeth II, 1952. The Queen, who was on holiday safari in Kenya when her father George VI died, celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Feb 7

a) Charles Dickens b. 1812. Dickens had a great love for Greenwich. This is revealed particularly in essays such as Greenwich Fair (Sketches by Boz, Vol.1, 1836). His late-in-life novel Our Mutual Friend (1864) has Bella Wilfer marrying John Rokesmith in St Alfege's Church and the wedding breakfast being held, apparently, in the Trafalgar Tavern. This was the very same inn, indeed, to which his many friends invited Dickens for a whitebait dinner before his departure to the States on his last reading tour in 1867.

b) James Glaisher b. 1809. Glaisher was a meteorologist and worked as an assistant at the Royal Observatories of Cambridge and Greenwich, preparing dew point tables for the measurement of humidity. He was also a pioneering balloonist who set a world altitude record (of approximately 7 miles) in 1862. (Wikipedia.) Glaisher founded the Royal Meteorological Society. Among his works are Hygrometric Tables, 1847; Meteorology of England, 1860; Travels in the Air, 1872 and several translations. (10)

Feb 8

a) Mary Queen of Scots executed 1587 in the Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle.(28) Elizabeth had, apparently, signed Mary Q. of Scots' death warrant at Greenwich with great reluctance. (See: Feb 1) It is said that Elizabeth learned of its having been carried out on seeing a huge celebratory bonfire burning on Blackheath.

b) Deptford to Spa Road, Bermondsey, railway opened, 1836. (4) Deptford Station is London's first and oldest working station. One passes the remains of Spa Road Junction platforms (though these may not be the original ones) just before entering London Bridge from an easterly (Greenwich) Direction. (See also: Dec 14, Dec 24 and Feb1)

c) V2 rocket smashed into Troughton Road, Charlton at 5.50pm, 1945. (38) Eleven people died and the V2 caused immense damage.

Feb 9

Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, d. 1811. As a young man (he would have been 16) he saw the eclipse of 25 Jul 1748, and, it is alleged, this was the start of his interest in astronomy. Maskelyne was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1765 and was responsible for the launch of the Nautical Almanac (still available today) in 1766.

Feb 10

Charles I and Henrietta Maria spent what was to be their final night together in the House of Delight [the Queen's House], 1642. (33)

Feb 11

a) Elizabeth of York, consort of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII, d. 1503 in Greenwich. The Queen failed to recover from the birth of her 6th child, Princess Catherine, who died as an infant. The court astrologer, an Italian, had predicted a few months earlier that the Queen would live to be 80. Her death, which occurred on her 38th birthday, apparently cost him his job. (22)

b) Explosion in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, 1907. This was the second such in four years (see: Jun 18). As the explosion occurred in the early hours of the morning (3.20 am) it, happily, killed no one but the noise of the explosion, its shock wave and earth tremors were felt over a great distance in and around the Thames Estuary. (Kentish Mercury July 10th 1936)

Feb 12

a) The Laban [Dance] Centre, Deptford, was officially opened in 2003. The opening ceremony was by Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The centre cost £22m. (See also: Oct 15)

b) Greenwich Heritage Centre officially opened 2004. The opening ceremony was conducted by Tony Robinson and the Heritage Centre, which combines the Local History Library with the Plumstead Museum, is located in Building 41 of the Royal Arsenal. (The Heritage Centre was, unofficially, open from Tuesday 21st October 2003.)

Feb 13

William III & Mary II's accession 1689. The accession day of William and Mary was celebrated as Founders' Day by the Pensioners within the Royal Naval Hospital for Seamen.

Feb 14

a) James Cook killed in Hawaii 's Kealakekua Bay, 1779. James Cook's last appointment before setting off on his last and fatal voyage, was as a captain of one of the houses of the Royal Naval Hospital for Seamen, an appointment he took on the understanding that his services were not required elsewhere. In the event, they were - with tragic consequences.(See: Aug 9 & Jul 11)

b) Henry Maudsley d. 1831. Maudsley was b. in Woolwich (22 August 1771) in Salutation Alley (now demolished). He developed first screw setting lathe, allowing standardization on screw thread sizes. (Wikipedia)

Feb 15

Attempt to blow up the Royal Observatory, 1894. "A Frenchman by the name of Bourdin was killed when an explosive device he was carrying detonated prematurely" (20) in the Royal Park. Martial Bourdin lost his left hand and sustained severe midriff injuries from which he died later that day in the Seamen's Hospital. In all, seven pieces of iron were found in Bourdin's body while his skin was covered with hundreds of black spots caused by tiny splashes of sulphuric acid contained in the bomb. [The attack on Greenwich Observatory and Stevie's horrifying death formed the basic plot of Joseph Conrad's novel "The Secret Agent".]

Feb 16

The Miners' Strike, 1972. In Greenwich the effects of the strike were immediate and widespread. The most immediate effect being pickets at Deptford and Woolwich power stations. In addition to having to travel and work in the dark days of February with no street lighting, there were other hazards and disruptions: postal deliveries; train cancellations; delayed hospital operations; factories on short time and shifts laid off; while football matches and cinema screenings were also affected. Pleas were made on behalf of the elderly for others to report on their condition, while soup kitchens were invoked. Stores complained of pilfering. The strike was, thankfully, short-lived but its consequences were painful. (The Mercury)

Feb 17

Lewisham Clock Tower unveiled 1900. The Portland stone tower was built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897. It was resited in 1995.

Feb 18

a) Mary I b. 1516 in Palace of Placentia, Greenwich. Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Mary was "christened on Wednesday 20th February 1516 [in the Observant Friars Church, Greenwich], the way from the Court gate to the Friars was railed with arras [tapestry]. The church was hung with cloth of needlework garnished with precious stones and pearls. Wolsey was godfather." (22) [Prescott (37) gives the christening date as 21st February 1516.] After her parents' divorce in 1532 Mary was stripped of her rank and precedence, declared illegitimate, separated from her mother and kept under house arrest. After Ann Boleyn's execution, Mary's position was partially restored, especially after she acknowledged her father's position as supreme head of the English Church. During Edward VI's reign she lived in retirement but acted swiftly on his death (which occurred in Greenwich Palace) to prevent Lady Jane Grey ascending to the throne. Mary was proclaimed Queen on 19 July 1553.

b) Permanent Adoption of "Summer Time" 1968. "Daylight saving" was introduced for the first time on Sunday 21st May 1916, when the clocks throughout the country were advanced one hour of Greenwich Time for the whole of the summer months. Although a war time measure, Daylight Saving was considered to have so many advantages that it was continued by a series of Acts of Parliament in England. Summer Time became permanent on this day and was designated British Standard Time from 27th October 1968.

c) The perpetrators of the attempted theft of the De Beers Millennium Star Diamond were jailed, 2002 (See: Nov 7)

d) Malcolm Hardee's funeral at St Alfege's church, 2005. "Funeral at which the mourners' tears were caused by laughter." (D. Telegraph) Arthur Smith told the congregation that: "Everything about Malcolm's life was original - apart from his stand-up material."

Feb 19

a) James I gives Greenwich Palace to Queen Anne, 1614. "In consideration of our conjugal love etc., we grant to Queen Anne the capital messuage in East Greenwich called Greenwich House . . . with Greenwich Park and the houses and lodges within the Park . . . to have and to hold for one hundred years should she so long live." (33)

b) Duke of York b. 1960. HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York, underwent the Lieutenant's Course at Royal Naval College in 1985. Both his father, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and his elder brother, HRH The Prince of Wales, completed Courses at the Royal Naval College at various times. (See also: Feb 1)

c) Rugby Union, England beat Wales at Blackheath, 1881. The Guinness Book of Records, 1999 gives this match as the highest aggregate score (82 points) for any international match between the Four Home Unions. England won by 7 goals,1 drop goal and 6 tries to nil. There was no points scoring in 1881. Points scoring did not come in until 1886.

Feb 20

a) Princess Mary christened at Greenwich 1516. (See: Feb 18)

b) Royal Commission formed to oversee the construction of the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, 1695. The Commission met for the first time in May 1695 at the Guildhall. John Evelyn was appointed Treasurer. Wren, who gave his services for nothing, was Surveyor. (5) (See also: Jun 30) On this same date - 20 February 1695 - Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, 1661-1715, was appointed first Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital

c) Benjamin Waugh b. 1839. Waugh moved to London in 1866, working as a Congregationalist Minister in the slums of Greenwich. Critical of the workhouse system and the Poor Law, he wrote a book - The Gaol Cradle, Who Rocks it? - in 1873. In 1884 Waugh founded the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, which evolved to become the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) 5 years later ( 14 May 1889). A house in Crooms Hill, Greenwich marks one of Waugh's residences.

d) Dame Ellen MacArthur and her 75ft trimaran B&Q visit Greenwich, 2005. An estimated 3,000 admirers of the record-breaking round-the-world yachtswoman turned out to greet her.

Feb 21

a) Henry VI met on Blackheath (1432) after his coronation as King of France 1431. The Lord Mayor, clothed in red velvet, the Sheriffs and Aldermen, in scarlet furred cloaks, and a large company went to greet the return of the ten-years old King. (See also: Dec 16)

b)William III thrown by his horse 1702, when Sorrel stumbled on a mole hill and threw him, breaking his collar bone. William died of complications 14 days later. (See: Mar 8) The Jacobites toasted the "little gentleman in black velvet" (the mole) who had brought about the downfall of their enemy.

Feb 22

Two labourers from Charlton tried for highway robbery, 1602. Robert Harbottle was one of two men accused of assaulting and robbing Arnold Kyne at in the highway at Shooters Hill on 31st January 1602. They were tried at Rochester Assizes. Harbottle was hanged for this crime (his companion was found to be not guilty). (36)

Feb 23

a) Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester d.1447 at Bury St Edmunds (at 3 pm) Humphrey is rightly regarded as "The father of Greenwich'. It was here at Greenwich that the former Regent of England created Bella Court, the manor house that became the royal palace of Placentia. Following his mysterious death (Shakespeare says 'murdered' in The Second Part of King Henry VI Act III, Scene 2) Bella Court was taken over by the Queen, Margaret of Anjou and renamed "The Plesaunce". Duke Humphrey's big mistake had been to invite the newly-married King, Henry VI, and his bride Margaret of Anjou, to enjoy their honeymoon at Humphrey's Greenwich manor house. It seems that the impressed and avaricious Margaret decided to get her hands on Bella Court - one way or another she did! (See: Feb 24)

b) Members of Kentish Rebels "naked save for their shirts" met Henry VI on Blackheath 1451. (22) This was the aftermath of Jack Cade's rebellion which had been followed by predictable reprisals: Cade himself was hunted down and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered - one of his quarters was exhibited on Blackheath. (1) His followers (many from the nearby localities of Greenwich and Woolwich) were forced to ask for Henry's mercy whilst on their knees and were pardoned. (See also: Jun 15)

c) Samuel Pepys b. 1633. (11) Pepys, as Secretary to the Navy, was a frequent visitor to Greenwich, sited halfway between the country's then two main dockyards, Deptford and Woolwich. For a time, and due to the plague then raging in London, Pepys set up his Secretary to the Navy office in the then unfinished King's House (today's King Charles Building). His diary records visits to the earlier St Alfege's, and to various houses including the Grange, on Croom's Hill, where then lived a sometime Lord Mayor of London (1673), Sir William Hooker, of whom Pepys said: "[He] keeps the poorest, meanest, dirty table, in a dirty house, that I did see in any Sheriff of London - and a plain ordinary silly man I think he is, but rich". [The house referred to may not have been the Grange - but then I don't suppose Hooker's habits would have changed wherever he was.]

d) Jamie Oliver, television chef, devised radical school meals at Kidbrooke School, 2005. The filming of the preparation of the school's meals, we learned, had taken place some months earlier; but the television programme - the first of a weekly series which continued to 16th March 2005 - was released, on Channel 4, on this day. Jamie Oliver's project was to provide healthier and more sensible food for the school children, and involved "5,000 kids in 15 schools" and provided a "full working model across the Borough [of Greenwich]".

Feb 24

a) Margaret of Anjou petitioned Parliament to take over Bella Court, Greenwich, 1447 (See: Feb 23)

b) 1617 the day on which the Poor Men were first officially admitted to Trinity Hospital. This day was chosen because it was St. Mathias' Day and birthday of the founder, Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton. (See: Feb 25)

Feb 25

a) Foundation stone of Trinity Hospital laid 1614. Trinity Hospital was created by Edward Howard, Earl of Northampton who died shortly after the foundation stone was laid. Hospital notice board: "Since 1617 it has provided a home for 21 retired gentlemen of Greenwich" - (but traditionally 8 of the pensioners came from Norfolk.) (See also: Feb 24)

b) Sir Christopher Wren d. 1723 (11) in St. James' Street, London. A multi-talented polymath whose architectural genius lies all around us, Sir Christopher is buried in St Paul's Cathedral. "As one of whom it was doubtful whether he was to be most commended for . . . his genius or for the sweet humanity of his disposition - formerly a boy prodigy; now, as a man, a miracle, even something superhuman". DNB. Vol 60, p80.

c) German aeroplane makes forced landing at Blackheath 1939. This event provoked great interest especially as the silver blue single-engined monoplane bore a swastika on its tail. Herr Behlau, the pilot, and an official of the German Embassy in London, had lost his way in looking for Croydon. He force-landed in the middle of the road before Talbot Houses; he then taxied and skidded until stopping with one wing of the plane in the front garden of one of the houses. The pilot was unhurt and there was only slight damage to the 'plane.

Feb 26

Christopher Marlowe, playwright, baptised in Canterbury, 1564. (The Times) (See: May 30)

Feb 27

John Evelyn d. 1706 (11) at 14 Dover Street, London. A horticulturist who developed Sayes Court, in Deptford; a sylviculturist and author of Sylva or a Discourse on Forest Trees" (1664) - one who lent his house and its garden (rather unwisely) to Peter the Great in 1698. An inveterate diarist, John Evelyn wrote widely on a variety of subjects: history, religion, architecture, law, sculpture, navigation, commerce, medals and salads. A friend of Pepys, Evelyn was Secretary to the Board of the Royal Hospital for Seamen and rendered it much service over many years.

Feb 28

Admiral Francis Hosier buried at St Nicholas' Deptford 1728. (See: Aug 23)

Feb 29

a) The first leap year day 1756. (12) This was the first such after England's adoption of the Gregorian calendar on September 3rd 1752. (See: Sep 3) Leap year day was added every 4 years with the introduction of the Julian calendar of 46 BC. The Gregorian calendar modified this by excluding the leap years at the turn of the centuries not divisible by 400 (1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years whereas the year 2000 AD had its leap year day).

b) Marquis de Montcalm (opponent of James Wolfe at Battle of Quebec) b. 1712. (29)

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