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.

Thames Barrier
The Thames Barrier. See May 8


May 1

a) May Day 1515 was celebrated by Henry VIII and Queen Catherine going a-Maying on Shooters Hill. "Bringing home the May" was greatly enjoyed by Henry. ". . . the King and Queen accompanied by many lords and ladies 'rode to the high ground of Shooters Hill to take the open air' on May Day. They were met by a company of 200 archers dressed in green and by 'Robyn Hood'. The noble company were given a display of fancy shooting and entertained to a woodland picnic-style feast. . ." (Aspects of Shooters Hill. Number One. Researches by Shooters Hill Local History Group.) "This scene was watched by an enormous crowd, said to have numbered twenty-five thousand people." (1)

b) May Day 1536. Henry VIII departed Greenwich Palace celebrations at short notice and in ill humour. Queen Anne's brother and several others were arrested that same night.(See also: May 2)

c) Act of Union 1707 The Scottish and English Parliaments were merged.

d) The Painted Hall (ORNC) opened as Officers' Mess in 1939. The oak tables and chairs , made from timbers supplied by the Old Boat House in Portsmouth, and the silver candlesticks for tables lighting were presented by the Admiralty.

May 2

a) Queen Anne (Boleyn) arrested in Placentia, Greenwich, 1536. Anne was sent to the Tower and charged with adultery and incest. Her marriage to Henry VIII was declared null. There could be only one verdict to the charges against her (see: May 19).

b) James Thornhill knighted by King George I, 1720 (See also: May 4)

May 3

Guyot of Guy knighted 1512. Henry VIII often fought with Guyot in the palace grounds at Greenwich. Henry made his worthy opponent a knight and gave him a great gold chain and a yearly pension.

May 4

a) Ladies Hall performed a masque "Cupid's Banishment" for Queen Anne of Denmark, 1617. Ladies Hall at Sayes Court and attended by the daughters of the aristocracy was a very superior establishment and being situated in close proximity to the Court at Greenwich was where the Queen had her god-daughters, and perhaps her wards, educated. (23)

b) Sir James Thornhill d. 1734 (31). Amongst his works are: 8 paintings illustrating the life of St Paul painted in chiaroscuro in the cupola of St Paul's cathedral (1716-1719); the princess' chamber at Hampton Court; the great hall at Blenheim showing Marlborough's victory at the Battle of Blenheim during the War of Spanish Succession (painted 1716); the chapel at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire; Sherborne School, Dorset. and the Painted Hall, Royal Hospital, Greenwich, which depicts the Protestant succession from William and Mary to George I (1707-1726). Thornhill also decorated the reredos of St Mary Church, Weymouth with a picture of the Last Supper; and the East window surround of St Alfege's, Greenwich. For the work in St Paul's he was paid forty shillings (£2) per square yard, and 25 shillings (£1.25p.) per square yard at Blenheim. At Greenwich he received £3 per square yard for the ceilings and £1 per square yard for the walls.

May 5

Samuel Pepys visits Sayes Court, 1665. "After dinner to Mr Eveling's (i.e. John Evelyn's); he being abroad, we walked in his garden, and a lovely and noble ground he hath endeed. And among other rarieties, a hive of Bees, so as, being hived in glass, you may see the Bees making their honey and Combs mighty pleasantly." (Pepys' Diary)

May 6

The world's first postage stamp, the Penny Black, went into use, 1840. There are Victorian post boxes in Greenwich: one is a wall box on the side of Macartney House; a second, a free standing pillar box, is in Gloucester Circus; a third, in Greenwich South Street, is a box from 1879, having neither a post office label nor Royal Cypher, it is known as an example of a "1879 error".

May 7

Queen Elizabeth II visits NMM Elizabeth I exhibition, 2003 (The Mercury). The Queen posed in front of a portrait of the Tudor Queen alongside Glenda Jackson, MP and former actress, who played the BBC TV role of Elizabeth I.

May 8

a) Board of Admiralty first dined in the Painted Hall (ORNC) 1730 (27a).

b) Princess Alice memorial erected in Woolwich Cemetery by 23,000 subscriptions, 1880(40) (See: Sep 3).

c) BarrierThe Thames Barrier was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen 1984. The Queen was accompanied by HRH Duke of Edinburgh and came down river in the vessel Royal Nore. The Queen actually closed the barrier by way of opening it! The Thames Barrier is one of the great achievements of the Twentieth Century, for it is a marvellous piece of advanced engineering technology. (See also: Feb 1) (Left: the Barrier, with the Dome and Canary Wharf in the background.)

May 9

James Boswell with Dr Samuel Johnson. "We walked in the evening," [says Boswell] "in Greenwich Park. Johnson asked me, I suppose by way of trying my disposition, 'Is this not very fine?'. Having no exquisite relish of the beauties of nature, and being more delighted with the 'busy hum of men' I answered, 'Yes, sir; but not equal to Fleet Street.' Johnson said, 'You are right, sir'." Dr Samuel Johnson lived in Greenwich Church Street when he first came to London in 1736.

May 10

a) Trinity House (Deptford) - set of by-laws issued 1514. The by-laws actually preceded the letters patent, authorizing the refounding of a guild in honour of the Holy Trinity and St Clement, which were granted on 20 May 1514.

b) The first expedition of the Company of Merchant Adventurers set out, 1553. Three ships formed the expedition :the Bona Esparanza (Hugh Willoughby); the Edward Bonadventure (Richard Chancellor) and the Bona Confidentia. "The ships left London on 10th May 1553." (Internet) "And being come near to Greenwich . . . the courtiers came running out , and the common people flocked together, standing very thick upon the shore; the Privy Council, they looked out of the windows of the Court, and the rest ran to the top of the towers . . . but alas, the good King Edward . . . he only by reason of his sickness was absent from this show." (37) Of the expedition, which went in search of the North-East passage: Willoughby, trapped in the ice, died with his crew; Chancellor reached the Dvina River and was invited by Czar Ivan IV "The Terrible" to Moscow - which he reached after a 1,000 mile journey.

c) Explosion at Moorfields Foundry, 1716 led to founding of the Brass Foundry at the Warren, (40) which became the Royal Arsenal in 1805.

d) 1941 "the bombing [of London] abruptly came to an end with the great raid of May 10th" (The Times London History Atlas, ed. by Hugh Clout, 1991) (See : Dec 29). This raid may have marked the end of London's bombing but, for Greenwich, the death toll was quite heavy: four people killed on Shooters Hill, the Greenwich Baths were bombed (air raid warden killed), as was Trafalgar Road, with ten deaths here, and East Greenwich (a police inspector fatally injured). (17). (There were the V1 and V2 flying bombs yet to come. On 10 June 1944 the first Doodlebug fell on Grove Road, Mile End. By the end of the Second World War 9,000 Londoners had been killed by these weapons.)

May 11

a)Prime Minister Spencer Perceval assassinated by John Bellingham 1812, in the House of Commons. Bellingham was a bankrupt Liverpool broker who blamed Perceval (when Chancellor of the Exchequer) for his plight. Spencer Perceval and Lord Eldon helped Princess Caroline, who then resided at Montague House, to draw up a detailed defence ("The Book")to the charges made against her arising from the "Delicate Investigation" (a charge of high treason, committed in the infamous crime of adultery - the alleged attempted passing off of the child William Austin as the Prince Regent's own). Lord Grenville, the then Prime Minister, thought such a defence unsuited to the station of the Princess; therefore "The Book" was withdrawn from publication. Spencer Perceval burned 500 copies in his house at Lincoln's Inn Fields. The Government spend £10,000 purchasing stray copies of "The Book"; undetected copies went for vast sums of money while Princess Caroline's popularity increased. Spencer Perceval is buried at St Luke's Church, Charlton. (see: Jan 20)

b)Thomas Cribb d. 1848 at 111 Woolwich High Street, Woolwich. Tom Cribb, who was born in Hamman in Gloucestershire, was a champion pugilist who fought, and beat, Tom Molyneau (twice) for the world heavyweight championship (1810 and 1811). He also beat Jim Belcher, the highly-regarded London champion, on two occasions (1807 and 1809). When George IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey (July 19, 1821) Crib was one of England's leading 18 boxers chosen by the King to be ushers. Tom Cribb was buried in a grave upon which a stone lion stands - his great paw resting on a stone copy of the world champion's belt - in St Mary Magdelene Church, Woolwich. The Earl of Glasgow gave £10 toward the cost of Cribb's monument. ( 40) Tom Cribb Road is the eastern approach to the Arsenal.

May 12, 13 & 14

Days of the first bi-annual Blackheath Fair. The Fair survived until 1772 when it was reduced to one day (the 12th) and became a cattle market (See also: Oct 11, 12 & 13).

May 12

Sir John Franklin's expedition sailed for North West Passage, 1845. Franklin set out from Greenwich in the Erebus with Captain Crozier in the Terror to discover a NW Passage to the Pacific. The ships were beset in ice near King William Island for almost eighteen months during which Franklin died of natural causes. Franklin's party abandoned the ships and tried to march out to safety. Not a man survived.

May 13

a) Official marriage of Mary Tudor and the Duke of Suffolk 1515 (see: Mar 3). This event is recorded in the stained glass window (East end of the North aisle) of St Alfege's but there is no evidence that the wedding took place in the church then on that site. "The celebrations were low-key because the kingdom did not approve of the marriage" (Alison Weir: Henry VIII: King and Court)

b) First child of Charles I and Henrietta Maria b. and d. 1629. Charles James Stuart, Duke of Cornwall, was the last royal child to be born at Greenwich Palace. His demise being imminent he was hastily christened.

c) John Harrison's fourth chronometer tested in H.M.S. Tartar fulfils the Admiralty's accuracy criteria, 1764. (12) On landing in Barbados (15th May), comparisons were enabled to be made with Rev Nevil Maskelyne's lunar distance method, which was found wanting.

May 14

a)The Woolwich Equitable Building was opened by Sir Kingsley Wood 1935.

b) North Greenwich (Jubilee Line) Station opened 1999. (Station plaque)

May 15

Hercules Linton, designer and builder of the Cutty Sark, d. 1900. The firm of Scott and Linton of Dumbarton built the Cutty Sark. The ship's radical design, with which the Superintendent of the Construction and the Lloyd's Surveyors found constant fault, together with the necessary expensive re-fittings led to the firm's insolvency.

May 16

a) Battle of La Hogue / Barfleur, 1692. English & Dutch naval victory over the French who were attempting to restore James II to the English throne. This sea battle, which lasted three days, precipitated the establishment of the Royal Hospital for Seamen (see: Oct 25 ). After the sea battle, sick and wounded seamen were housed in the King Charles Block. (5) "La Hogue" was a festival anniversary celebrated by the Hospital pensioners.

b) "Bouncing bombs", the invention of Dr Barnes Wallis, were used to breach the Mohne and Eder dams in the Ruhr Valley, 1943. (The Times) Besides the Bouncing bombs, Barnes Wallis designed the R80 and the R100 airships (see: Dec 16); the Wellesley and Wellington Bombers and the Tallboy (the naval equivalent of the Bouncing) bombs and was largely responsible for the Grand Slam bomb (of ten tons). Barnes Wallis was born in Ripley, Derbyshire and resided briefly (1925/26) in Macartney House after its conversion to flats. He married Molly Bloxam on St George's Day, 1925. (Barnes Neville Wallis was knighted in 1968.)

May 17-22

Archbishop Warham held the first secret enquiry into the validity of Henry VIII's marriage with his brother's widow, 1527.

May 17

Archery Meeting at Greenwich, 1789. Twelve societies were represented, one being the Honourable Artillery Company, with two targets. (The Greenwich Antiquarian Society records for 1905-6 and 1906-7)

May 18

a) Margaret of Anjou greeted at Greenwich 1428. Duke Humphrey and 500 men wearing his livery, the Mayor and Aldermen waited on Blackheath to greet Margaret of Anjou before her coronation and conducted her to Humphrey's palace, which she afterwards was to obtain for herself. (22)

b) Yemmerawanyea Kebbarah d. 1794. This young Australian - one of two natives brought here by Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales , and presented at Court - died in the house of Mr Edward Kent and buried in St. John's Churchyard, Eltham. (His companion, Bennelong, survived, to return to his native country.) Also buried in the same churchyard is Thomas Doggett, the actor and founder of the prize of "Doggett's Coat and Badge" in 1715, in honour of King George I's accession. This prize was competed for by Thames watermen who had completed their apprenticeship. The course was from London Bridge to Chelsea, and the race is still held annually under modified conditions.

c) Mafeking Night in 1900. Celebrated by a huge Blackheath bonfire.

May 19

a) Queen Anne Boleyn beheaded 1536 at Tower Green. (see: May 2)

b) Commonwealth declared 1649. The declaration of Commonwealth led to the dispersal of Greenwich's royal art collections of pictures and statues (lent to ambassadors, embezzled, sold or used for unpaid wages). "The state apartments in the palace were turned into stables." (1) The depreciation caused by the advent of the Commonwealth was the death knell of Greenwich as a home for royalty. The Queen's House survived only because it was earmarked as a possible home for the Protector.

May 20

a) John Cabot, an Italian, set sail for Newfoundland 1497 having been granted a permit by Henry VII to go on a voyage of discovery. Cabot reached Newfoundland in four weeks, then cruised for 870 miles along the coastline before returning in triumph to England. (13)

b) Visit of Tsar Alexander II of Russia to Royal Arsenal, 1874. A great day for Woolwich.(40)

c) Odeon Cinema, Well Hall, opened 1936. The first film shown was Where's Sally? This cinema was designated as a Grade II listed building in 1989 by Department of Environment

d) Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the 28 inch telescope in the Old Royal Observatory, 1975. "Built in 1891 by Sir Howard Grubb the 28 inch telescope was used extensively both at Greenwich and Herstmonceux in Sussex until 1971. It is still in good working order." (Plaques in the "Onion Dome" of the ORO)

May 21

a)Philip II of Spain b. 1527 (29). Philip's second wife was Mary I and he was a regular visitor to Greenwich Palace

b) H.R.H. the Prince of Orange visited the Royal Arsenal on Saturday 21st May 1836. The workers were ordered to work that day; however, as the order arrived too late to be effective no work was done on that Saturday. (18)

c) On this day, 2007, firemen were called to attend a blaze aboard "The Cutty Sark", just before 5a.m.
One hundred and thirty-seven years after her maiden voyage (in 1870) around the Cape of Good Hope, by evening she was just a smoking shell. Was it the work of an arsonist? Or was it spontaneous combustion? The jury is still out. Later information said that the blaze started in the stern of the vessel where no electrical repair work was being carried out. Hopes were high that the costly refurbishment that "The Cutty Sark" is undergoing could continue. The other good news is many artifacts and timbers had been removed and placed in safe keeping.

May 22

a) Charles V the guest of Henry VIII at Greenwich and Windsor,1522 (7,3). Charles V was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain (as Charles I) (see: Jun 19).

b) Blackwall Tunnel opened 1897. (11) Opened by the then Prince of Wales (King Edward VII), it was the largest tunnel in the world at that time taking six years to complete and costing £1,400,000. Construction work took 6 years and 641 people living in Greenwich had to be rehoused. One of the demolished houses had belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh (it is said that it was here that he smoked a pipe of tobacco and had water flung over him by his servant); the same house belonged to John de Pulteney (4 times Lord Mayor of London) and to Sebastian Cabot. (See also: Aug 2)

c) The National Maritime Museum's £16 million Time & Space project at the Royal Observatory was opened by Her Majesty the Queen, 2007.

May 23

a) Princess Mary died (aged 15) in 1482 at Greenwich. Edward IV seems to have started the tradition, in 1466, of settling the Palace of Placentia and Duke Humphrey's Tower on his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. (In this he was followed by both James I and Charles I, for they did the same for their queen consorts, too). And it was here that Elizabeth and Edward IV's 15 years-old daughter, Mary, died - in Duke Humphrey's Tower in the Royal Park - in 1482. The Bishops who commenced her obsequies ( Rochester and Norwich) were specially deputed ( 12 July 1482) to found a convent here of Observants - the Order patronised by the mother and grandmother of the dead princess. (22)

b) Captain William Kidd hanged 1701 (20) at Execution Dock. Kidd was arrested and charged with the murder of one of his crew (having struck him with "a certain wooden bucket") and with piracy. He was found guilty and hanged. Kidd's property was confiscated and donated to Greenwich Hospital. It amounted to £6432.

c) Avery Hill, opened 1903 by Lord Monkswell, Chairman of the L.C.C.

d) Alfred and Arthur Stratton hanged 1905. Thomas Farrow and his wife Ann were bludgeoned to death in their premises in Deptford High Street on 27 March; brothers Alfred and Arthur Stratton were convicted on the evidence of Alfred's matching thumbprint on the cash box tray. It was the first case of its kind. As a result, the fingerprint system gained huge public approval and its use spread rapidly.

May 24

a) Nicholas Copernicus d. 1543. Copernicus is shown in the ceiling painting of the Painted Hall "with [the] system of Pythagoras". (2)

b) Queen Victoria b. 1819.

c) Edith Nesbit (Mrs Bland-Tucker) d. 1924 in New Romney, Kent (from lung cancer). (Local History Library poster) Edith Nesbit, poet and the authoress whose most famous children's novel was The Railway Children (1906) and who lived for much of her married life at Well Hall House, in Eltham (from 1899-1922), was married, for the second time, to Terry Thomas Tucker in 1917, an ex-sailor who ran the Woolwich Free Ferry

May 25

Sir Frank Watson Dyson, Astronomer Royal, d. 1939. Sir Frank, who was b. 8 January 1868 and was the Astronomer Royal from 1910 to 1933, introduced the "6 pips" Greenwich Time Signal first broadcast in 1924. (See: Feb 5) There is a memorial to Sir Frank in St Alfege's Church, where he is interred. (He lived at 6 Vanbrugh Hill, Greenwich from 1894 - 1906, where there is a Blue Plaque.)

May 26

a) Martin Frobisher's second voyage departed Blackwall 1577(13). A magnificent seaman, Frobisher hoodwinked the metal merchants of London with his 200 tons of black-rock gold (really iron pyrites), but fired the Tudor imagination with his discoveries such as Kayak-toting Eskimos. Elizabeth I awarded Martin Frobisher a gold chain at the outset of his third voyage from Greenwich (1578), during which he discovered Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island.

b) Samuel Pepys d. 1703 (11) (see: Feb 23).

c) Charles II, on his way to London after the Restoration, is greeted by his Army on Blackheath, 1660. "Charles waved to morris dancers who were part of a vast concourse of 120,000 waiting to greet him." (17)

d) Greenwich Power Station opened, 1906, with 4 units rated at 3,400kw, each with an overload capacity of 4,375kw. It was intended to complete the Greenwich Station with another 4 units but they were never ordered. By 1922 the slow-speed sets had been discarded and replaced by turbine machinery. Gas turbines were to be the source of power in the modernised and re-equipped Greenwich power Station and eight Rolls Royce Melin engines were installed 1967-1972 (2 to each chimney) and replaced 26 boilers and 6 conventional turbines. (At the same time the staff reduced from 300 to 20.)

May 27

a) Mary Felicia Thomas, GM was invested with her George Medal at Buckingham Palace 1941. Mary Thomas had won her GM for two air raid incidents : one in Plumstead High Street on 7th September 1940 and the second in Red Lion Lane, Shooters Hill on 20th September 1940, when she crawled inside the ruins of a house to administer first aid to trapped civilians. Mary was a nurse in charge of Woolwich No. 1 Mobile First Aid Unit.

b) Early in the morning of May 27, 1826, an Englishman named Samuel Brown mounted the high bench seat at the front of an uncommon-looking vehicle and proceeded under power up the road to the top of Shooter's Hill. Brown's engine was gigantic - cylinders having a 12inch bore by 24inch stroke - three cylinders giving a total capacity of 40 litres. Samuel Brown, who was knighted in 1838, is renowned for his invention (in 1816) of an improved method of manufacturing chain links, appears to been ignored for being the first person to have moved an internal combustion engine vehicle considerably earlier than Benz's 1885 vehicle. Sir Samuel Brown died in Vanbrugh Lodge, Blackheath 13 March 1852.

May 28

a) Catherine of Aragon leaves Placentia, Greenwich 1531.

b) George I b. 1660 in Osnabruck, Hanover (The Times). George (Louis) was the Elector of Hanover whose mother, Sophia, was the grand-daughter of James I. The stipulation of Protestant succession gave prominence to the Hanoverian line by the Act of Settlement, 1701. On the death of his mother in 1714 George became heir to the English throne, and on the death of Queen Anne, he succeeded her. George understood no English and regarded England as a great country of which he was the nominal ruler. One view is that he came to fill his pockets and those of his followers with English gold, in order better to manage his Hanoverian estates, where he died, in Osnabruck in 1727, and was buried at Hanover.(10) George I is depicted with his family by Sir James Thornhill, on the west wall of the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College. His arrival at Greenwich is shown on the north wall. (See also: Sep 18)

c) Francis Chichester arrived back in Plymouth after his solo circumnavigation 1967. (See: Jul 7)

d) Cutty Sark officially presented to LCC, 1953. (See: Dec 10)

May 29

a) Anne Boleyn crowned as Queen, 1533, leaving Greenwich for the ceremony in the Tower: "the grandest pageant of the reign". (2)

b) Restoration of the Monarchy (Oak-Apple Day) 1660. ". . . Mr Cooke comes from London . . . and brought us word that the Parliament had ordered the 29 of May, the King's birthday, to be forever kept as a day for thanksgiving for our redemption and the King's return to his government, he entering London that day." Pepys' Diary, 1 June 1660. Oak-Apple Day was retained as a major public holiday until the mid-nineteenth century.

c) Frederick Locker (-Lampson) b. 1821 in Greenwich Hospital. Frederick Locker, poet and man of letters, who adopted the Lampson part of his name in later life, was born in Greenwich Hospital where his father, Edward Hawke Locker, was Civil Commissioner. Frederick was the grandson of Captain William Locker, friend of Horatio Nelson.

d) Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg visited the Royal Arsenal 1834 and witnessed some excellent rocket shooting. (18)

d) Leslie Townes Hope b. 1903 at 44 Craigton Road, Eltham. Bob Hope, as he is better known, has always been mindful of his Eltham origins and in 1979 the former "Eltham Little Theatre" was renamed "The Bob Hope Theatre" as a direct result of his personal intervention when the lease was not renewed. Although a naturalised American citizen (as from 1928) Bob Hope received an honorary knighthood on 17 May 1998. (Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.) Bob Hope died at Toluca Lake, California, 2003.

May 30

a) Marlowe MemorialChristopher Marlowe d.1593. Murdered in a drunken brawl at Deptford, Marlowe's death took place in Eleanor Bull's house, presumably a tavern. According to the inquest, Ingram Frizer stabbed Marlowe in the head as a result of a dispute over the bill. It was accepted that Frizer was acting in self-defence and he was pardoned. But Frizer's story, supported by two other men in the room at the time, does not bear scrutiny. It is most likely that there was a political motive in Marlowe's murder. (1) Marlowe was buried in St Nicholas' Churchyard; the inscription within the church reads: "Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight".
Right: Memorial tablet in St Nicholas' Church.

b) Skirmish on Shooters Hill in the Civil War, 1648. John Rushworth, secretary to General Sir Thomas Fairfax, writes to the Speaker of the House of Commons ( William Lenthall) : "Blackheath, May 30, 1648, 12 o'clock. The General came this day to Blackheath . . . Colonel Rich and General Barkstead possessed themselves of the Heath betimes . . . the enemy is on the other side of Shooters Hill . . . they have killed one of Colonel Rich's men, and we have taken thirty with their arms . . . a good party of horse is gone to force them from the other side of the hill. . ."(36)

May 31

a) Number of employees in the Ordnance Factories of the Royal Arsenal had decreased to 64,977 in 1918. (18) There was much displacement of men by women workers throughout the 1914-1918 War mainly due to conscription. "By May 1917 the numbers had swelled to 74,467 including between 25,000 and 26,000 women". (18)

b) Last parade of Royal Naval Division Old Comrades Association at Greenwich, 1981. (27a)

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