A Greenwich People Walk

Additional Information


SIR JOHN VANBRUGH (1664 -1726)

John Vanbrugh went into soldiering but found himself imprisoned in France for over four years, the French thinking they had a spy or a valuable hostage. When he returned he began writing plays such as The Relapse and The Provoked Wife and designing buildings such as Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. He also worked on the Royal Hospital. He built himself a ‘castle’ on Maze Hill together with properties for his two brothers and two additional houses. He married in 1719 (age 54) a woman 35 years younger and in 1720 enlarged the castle for his two sons. He died in 1726, pre-deceased by his younger son. Only Vanbrugh Castle remains of the 5 houses. It served as a school before being converted to apartments.

The building, with a blue plaque, can be viewed from Maze Hill.


In reaction to King Henry VII's tax levy, Michael Joseph (An Gof), a blacksmith and Thomas Flamank a lawyer incited many of the people of Cornwall into armed revolt against the King. They were defeated at the Battle of Deptford Bridge in June 1497 where An Gof gave the order for surrender. He fled but only got as far as Greenwich before being captured. Meanwhile Thomas was taken on the field of battle. Both were hanged at Tyburn, their sentences having been commuted from being hung, drawn & quartered.

The pictured plaque is on the outside wall of Greenwich Park, to the right of the Blackheath Gate.

JOHN FLAMSTEED (1646 - 1719)

The Observatory, designed by Wren, was built on the site of Duke Humphrey’s tower in 1676. John Flamsteed was appointed Royal Observator and rather cramped accommodation for him was provided on the ground floor. Flamsteed suffered ill-health from his youth, making him ill-tempered, probably not aided by his working conditions. He had to buy his own equipment, pay his assistant and take pupils to make ends meet. Flamsteed was secretive with his observations leading to rows with Newton and Halley (who succeeded him). Greenwich remained the Astronomer Royal's residence until 1948.

His bust appears in the portico above the entrance to the south building (pictured left).

YURI GAGARIN (1934 - 1968)

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. He later became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was later named after him. Gagarin died when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting crashed. The zinc alloy statue is a copy of one erected near his workplace. It was presented by the Russian Space Agency to mark the 50th anniversary and unveiled by his daughter Elena in March 2013.

The statue is on the cafe terrace of the south building but is also visable from the park.


John Henry Belville, who worked at the observatory ‘sold time’. He would set his watch to Greenwich Mean Time and then correct the clocks of people who subscribed to his service. His widow, Maria continued the business from 1856 until 1892, then passed it on to their daughter Ruth. Ruth retired in 1940 at the age of 86 and died aged 90. The watch used by the business was a John Arnold pocket chronometer. It was originally made for the Duke of Sussex and had a gold case but when it was given to John Henry, he changed the case to silver because he was worried thieves might steal a gold watch. When Ruth died, the watch was left to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.


The Titanic Memorial Garden commemorates the sinking on 15 April 1912 and the 1500+ lives lost. It was unveiled in 1995 by Mrs Edith Haisman who survived the disaster aged 15. The bronze plaque is mounted on Cornish granite, typically used as ships’ ballast. It is planted with traditional plants of remembrance.

The garden is on the park side of the path running behind the National Maritime Museum.


The Queen's House was designed by Inigo Jones for Anne of Denmark, wife of James I in 1616-9. It was completed for Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I in 1635. In 1690 the Queen's House was made the official residence of the Park Ranger. When the Earl of Romney held this post in 1699 he diverted the Deptford to Woolwich road. The Queen's House became the Naval Asylum School in 1806. It merged with the Greenwich Hospital School in 1821 as the Royal Hospital School (until 1933).

The plaque pictured is on the NE corner of the National Maritime Museum


A new royal palace was begun by John Webb for Charles II but only one section was completed and when William & Mary came to the throne his asthma meant the riverside location was unsuitable. The foundation of a seaman’s hospital, proposed by her father James II, became a project for Queen Mary. Mary was very popular, unlike her husband, so after her early death from smallpox in 1694 William decided to incorporate the building into a new naval almshouse which would be a memorial to her. It was designed by Wren and noted architects such as Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh contributed. The first pensioners moved in in June 1705. They received accommodation, food & drink and a uniform but there was little to occupy their time. Seaman’s children were schooled and some widows were employed as nurses. There was no provision for wives or families so some men preferred to have an out pension. The Royal Naval Hospital closed in 1869 and became the Royal Naval College in 1873.

John Evelyn (aged 74) was appointed Treasurer of the Naval Hospital, a scheme he had first promoted in 1666. The ‘magnificent’ building the king wanted, to house 2000 pensioners, required a great deal of money. Many subscribers never gave the funds they promised and the burden of raising money fell on Evelyn. He himself gave 1000 and never drew the salary to which he was entitled. The property of the pirate Captain Kidd (worth about 6,500) was confiscated and given to the Hospital along with unclaimed naval prize money and revenues from coal tax. Robert Osboldston left a bequest of 20,000 in 1714. He had built the North & South Foreland Lighthouses and ships passing these provided another income.

Some benefactors are listed in panels in the Painted Hall (pictured right).


James Thornhill was the son of an impoverished Dorset gentleman. He was commissioned to decorate the Painted Hall in 1708. The pensioners moved into the basement for their meals (and never returned). He was paid 3 per sq yard for the ceiling & 1 for the walls although he didn’t receive any payment until it was completed nearly 19 years later! Perhaps this is why he included himself in the main wall painting holding out his hand. He used John Worley, one of the pensioners, as a model for Winter. He was subsequently knighted.


Nelson's coffin arrived at Greenwich on Christmas Eve 1805. His body was laid in state in the Painted Hall and some 90,000 people filed past over 3 days in the new year. His body left Greenwich on 8 January to be held overnight at the Admiralty prior to the funeral procession to St Pauls. The funeral car returned to Greenwich where it was displayed in the Painted Hall vestibule until 1840.

The statue pictured is in the ante room of the Painted Hall.

JOSEPH BELLOT (1826 - 1853)

Joseph Bellot is commemorated with a granite obelisk on Five Foot Walk by Philip Hardwick. Bellot who had died after falling down a cravasse was widely mourned and 2,000 was raised of which 500 was spent on the memorial and the remainder went towards supporting his sisters.

John Franklin was commissioned by the Admiralty to search for the NW Passage and left England in May 1845. He had two ships, Terror & Erebus with 24 officers and 110 men. The ships became trapped in ice off King William Island in September 1846 and Franklin died there the following June. After two years and no word from the expedition, Franklin's wife urged the Admiralty to send a rescue party. Because the crew carried supplies for three years, they waited another year before launching a search and offering a 20,000 reward for finding the expedition. The money and Franklin's fame led to many searches. At one point, ten British and two American ships were in the Arctic. Eventually, more ships and men were lost looking for Franklin than in the expedition itself. There is a marble memorial to Franklin and his men in the ORNC Chapel vestibule created by Richard Westmacott Junior.


Cutty Sark, the last remaining tea clipper was built on the Clyde in 1869. It traded tea until 1877 then Australian wool 1883-95. It was contracted by Jock Willis, who had commanded one of his father’s vessel when only 19 years of age, and went on to become a ship-owner in his own right. He gained the name “White Hat” Willis because of his habit of sporting a white top hat. Willis was proud of his Scottish heritage and passionate about Robert Burns, reflected in the names of his ships. He died in 1899 having sold the Cutty Sark in 1895.

SIR WALTER RALEIGH (1554 - 1618)

Sir Walter Raleigh was a courtier, explorer and author. Born in Hayes Barton, Devon he was knighted in 1585 for his plans to colonise Virginia, although the mission failed. In 1587 he financed the construction of the Ark Royal at Deptford and fought in this ship against the Armada. He later became an Irish landowner and Governor of Jersey. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth he was tried for treason and spent 13 years in the Tower of London where he wrote ‘A History of the World’. After an expedition to the Orinoco which outraged the Spanish Ambassador he was beheaded and buried in St Margaret’s Westminster.

The statue pictured is outside the Discover Greenwich building.


london-footprints.co.uk 2013

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