Maritime Greenwich

Maritime Greenwich is an unique ensemble of buildings and landscape of exceptional artistic value, the work of a number of outstanding architects and designers. At the same time, it is of considerable scientific significance by virtue of the contributions to astronomy and to navigation. The public and private buildings and the Royal Park at Greenwich form an exceptional ensemble bearing witness to human artistic and scientific endeavour of the highest quality, to European architecture at an important stage of British design evolution, and to the creation of a landscape that integrates nature and culture in a harmonious whole.

Prehistoric burial mounds and a large Roman villa (1st-4th centuries AD) have been discovered within the World Heritage site. In the 8th century it was owned by Ethelrada, niece of Alfred the Great. In the 15th century the estate was the property of Duke Humphrey, uncle of Henry VI. The king and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, built the Palace of Placentia, where the Tudor monarchs Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth were all born. James I of England and VI of Scotland settled the palace upon his wife, Anne of Denmark, who in 1616 commissioned the building of the Queen's House from Inigo Jones, Surveyor of the King's Works. During the Interregnum, Parliament used the palace as a biscuit factory, and also kept Dutch prisoners there. Charles II commissioned Andre Le Nôtre to design the park, as well as a new palace from John Webb. In 1675 Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke designed and built the turreted Royal Observatory on the bluff overlooking the old palace for John Flamsteed, first English Astronomer Royal. In 1884 the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time were adopted as world standards for measuring space and time.

Although the departure of the royal court and the rise of dockyard-related industries robbed the town of its fashionable character, it remained prosperous, favoured in particular by sea captains, naval officers, and merchants. Its earlier timber-framed houses were gradually replaced during the 18th and 19th centuries by two- and three-storeyed brick terraces.

The focus of the Greenwich ensemble is the Queen's House, the work of Inigo Jones and the first true Renaissance building in Britain, a striking departure from the architectural forms that preceded it. It was inspired by Italian style, and it was in its turn to be the direct inspiration for classical houses and villas all over Britain in the two centuries that followed its construction. Since 1937 the Queen's House and its associated buildings have housed the National Maritime Museum.

The Royal Naval College, the most outstanding group of Baroque buildings in Britain, is also the most complex of Christopher Wren's architectural projects. The four main components, aligned on the Queen's House, are arranged symmetrically alongside the Thames. Trafalgar Quarters, a colonnaded brick structure, was built in 1813 as living accommodation for the officers of the Royal Hospital. The complex now houses the University of Greenwich.

Greenwich Royal Park is formal in plan, arranged symmetrically on either side of its main north-south axis, which is aligned on the Queen's House. The Old Royal Observatory is sited on the brow of Greenwich Hill and dominates the landscape. Above is an octagonal room which was used by the Royal Society for meetings and dinners. This is surmounted by the famous time-ball, which indicates Greenwich Mean Time daily at 13.00. Adjacent is the former New Physical Observatory (1890-99), which is cruciform in plan and crowned by a terracotta dome.

The area also includes a number of handsome private houses of the 17th-19th centuries: Vanbrugh Castle, the home of Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace; the Ranger's House, built in 1700-20; the Trafalgar Tavern, an elegant building in Regency style, fronting on the Thames. St Alfege's Church is one of the outstanding works of Nicholas Hawksmoor, built in 1711-14 to replace a collapsed medieval structure. Also there is the Cutty Sark, a tea-clipper built in 1869 and the fastest ship in the world at that time. The vessel is berthed in a special dry-dock and maintained as a museum.

Historical context

Greenwich has been favoured by humankind since the Bronze Age at least, as demonstrated by the burial mounds and the large 1st-4th century AD Roman villa that have been discovered in the modern Park.

It has long associations with royalty. In the 8th century it was owned by Ethelrada, niece of Alfred the Great. In the 15th century the estate was the property of Duke Humphrey, uncle of Henry VI, and it was first developed as a royal residence when that king and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, built the Palace of Placentia, where the Tudor monarchs Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth were all born. James I of England and VI of Scotland settled the palace upon his wife, Anne of Denmark, who in 1616 commissioned the building of the Queen's House from Inigo Jones, Surveyor of the King's Works. The project was suspended when the queen's health failed the following year (she died in 1618), but Jones resumed work for Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, around 1630. It was completed just before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1640.

During the Interregnum, Parliament used the palace as a biscuit factory, and also kept Dutch prisoners there, so it was in a sadly deteriorated condition when the monarchy was restored. Charles II commissioned Andre Le Notre to design the park (although the eventual layout probably owes more to Sir William Boreman). He also commissioned a new palace from John Webb. Part of Placentia was demolished in 1664 to make way for a wing of the new palace.

With the accession of William II and Mary II as joint monarchs in 1688 the days of Greenwich as a royal residence ended, because its situation was inimical to the king's asthma. However, in 1692 the queen ordered that building of the palace should continue, but in a new form, as a hospital for retired seamen. The master plan was devised by Sir Christopher Wren, assisted by his pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. The complex took many years to complete, and was to involve the services of other leading architects, including Colen Campbell, Thomas Ripley, James 'Athenian' Stuart, and John Yenn.

In 1807 the Queen's House became a school for young seamen, with the addition of long colonnades and wings, the work of Daniel Asher Alexander. During the 17th century study of the role of astronomy in navigation developed rapidly, and in 1675 Wren and the scientist Robert Hooke designed and built the turreted Royal Observatory on the bluff overlooking the old palace for John Flamsteed, the first English Astronomer Royal. Greenwich established its pre-eminence in this field and it was here that in 1884 the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time were adopted as world standards for the measurement of space and time. In the 18th century the little town of Greenwich attracted aristocrats and merchants, who built villas there, some of which survive (the most important is probably the Ranger's House). Although the departure of the royal court and the rise of dockyardrelated industries robbed the town of its fashionable character, it remained prosperous, favoured in particular by sea captains, naval officers, and merchants. Its earlier timber-framed houses were gradually replaced during the 18th and 19th centwies by two- and three-storeyed brick terraces.

Since 1937 the Queens' House and its associated buildings have housed the National Maritime Museum. The Royal Naval College has been located in the former Royal Naval Hospital since 1873. It will. be vacating the buildings during 1997; at the time of writing this evaluation the future tenants have not been decided, but there are strong indications that the buildings will. be shared by the Museum and the new University of Greenwich.

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

The Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of cultural criteria (i), (ii), (iv) and (vi), considering that the public and private buildings and the Royal Park at Greenwich form an exceptional ensemble that bears witness to human artistic and scientific endeavour of the highest quality, to European architecture at an important stage of its evolution, and to the creation of a landscape that integrates nature and culture in a harmonious whole.

Comments