The Greenwich Park that we see today was largely the work of the French landscape gardener André Le Nôtre, who also worked on the Palaces of Versailles for King Louis XIV.
Greenwich started out as a little fishing village in the 1420s, but when the Duke of Gloucester built a palace in the grounds of Greenwich Park it became a firm favourite of many Tudor monarchs.
Henry V assembled a sizable library in the early 16th-century, but its real hey-day came in the late 1500s, when Elizabeth I made it her summer residence. The royal dockyards were built nearby, and Inigo Jones was hired to build the Queen’s House in 1615 (which still stands today). It was here that Sir Walter Raleigh supposedly laid his cloak over a puddle so that the Queen could keep her feet dry.
One Tree Hill was supposedly a favourite spot of the Queen, who used to sit and drink in the view. You can read a verse or two commemorating this fact on the benches nearby.
In 1675 Charles II commissioned the building of a Royal Observatory on top of Greenwich Hill. Its first success was the British Nautical Almanac – which charted star positions throughout the seasons. The importance of this book led to the adoption of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) throughout the world.
The Prime Meridian marks the point at which the earth’s eastern hemisphere meets the west – the line which splits the world in two. You can straddle this line yourself, as it is marked upon the ground. A favourite photocall for tourists is to snap yourself with a foot on either side.
The observatory’s second success was to provide an instrument capable of measuring longitude within an accuracy of a few seconds. A watchmaker named John Harrison came up with the goods, and his clocks and watches can still be seen in the building’s museum.
As the 20th-century approached, the smoke from the encroaching city meant that the observatory lost its clear skies, and the telescopes were moved to Sussex. The building now houses a fine collection of early watches, timepieces and telescopes.
The Ranger’s House stands at the southern end of Greenwich Park, and contains a huge range of porcelain, paintings, silverware and jewellery. It belonged to a 19th-century gold miner called Julius Wernher, who came back from Africa saddled with a fortune.
If you enjoy this then try: Greenwich (you can walk it in 4 mins); Old Royal Naval College; Parliament Hill (catch the tube from Cutty Sark to Parliament Hill); Primrose Hill (catch the tube from Cutty Sark to Primrose Hill) and Royal Observatory (you can walk it in less than 3 mins).
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