Historic Sites and Artefacts
The main Roman remains in Greenwich Park are on the east side of the Park and enclosed by an iron fence. Hidden under the ground is what is now thought to be the site of a Romano-Celtic temple complex near a road leading down to the Thames. Archaeologists believe the site was in continual use from about AD100 to AD400.
A number of artefacts from a major excavation in 1902 by the then park superintendent, Mr A D Webster, and local antiquarian, Herbert Jones, are in the Greenwich Heritage Centre, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. The two-thirds life size statue, one of whose draped arms was found in the 1902 excavation may be a Diana cult figure, Diana being connected with hunting and military activity. Many coins have been found at Greenwich, perhaps offerings for safe journeys by water and by road.
Channel 4’s Time Team carried out an excavation in 1999, organised in collaboration with the Museum of London and Birkbeck College, University of London. More work is needed to provide more information and to clarify the extent of the buildings.
Lovers' Walk Rustic Fountain
Built in the 1860s as a public fountain and recently restored by Park management, its setting at the junction of Lovers’ Walk and the path up to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak is suitably remote and romantic to fit with the mid-Victorian love of rustic rock work.
Lovers’ Walk is one of the best areas in the Park to see birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets and spiders. The steep slopes of One Tree Hill, on the east side and halfway down Lovers’ Walk, are left uncut to encourage grasses and wild flowers to proliferate and provide nectar and shelter for insects and other invertebrates, and thus food for birds. The slopes also provide shelter from winter winds and catch the early sun. Chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, blue, great and long-tailed tits, blackbirds, mistle thrushes, starlings, wood and feral pigeons, great-spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and a tree creeper have all been seen there.
The Deer Trough
Installed in 1858 on the site of the keeper’s cottage demolished in 1853, this long shallow trough set into the ground just off the path to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, is a reminder of the days before the deer were enclosed. The deer are said to have been introduced by Henry VIII in 1515 for hunting in a park that was then rough and full of trees and scrub.
The deer roamed freely in Greenwich Park until 1927 when increased motor traffic and many more visitors led to them being at first shut in at weekends then moved permanently to the Deer Enclosure in the south east corner of the Park.
When they had the run of the Park, the deer had a reputation for being so tame that they could be fed by hand, but there were also occasional tales of people being charged by stags. Mature males of both species in Greenwich Park, red deer and fallow deer, carry large antlers in the breeding season.
Queen Elizabeth's Oak
Local legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I danced under this once-enormous tree and picnicked in the hollow trunk. The tree measured six metres (20 ft) in girth and the hollow 1.8m (6ft) in diameter. A door had been cut in the entrance and a window put in facing onto One Tree Hill. The interior was paved and there was a rustic seat that could take 15 people. In the 18th century it was used as a lock up for anyone breaking Park rules.
The giant tree is said to be the only remaining relic of ancient forest which once covered the area. It was still carrying foliage in 1863 but the last living shoots were reported around 1878. The trunk was held upright by a thick coating of ivy but fell eventually in 1991. An oak tree planted by HRH Prince Philip in 1992 now grows alongside. Nearby is an English oak planted for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
A meridian line provides an essential fixed point from which sailors can measure latitude and longitude to accurately pinpoint their location at sea. It also provides a base line for drawing up navigational charts and tables.
Charles II established the world’s first meridian line at Greenwich in 1675. In time other countries established their own meridian lines. After much international discussion, a single meridian line was finally agreed at the 1884 International Meridian Conference and Greenwich was chosen as the location, partly for historical reasons and partly because three-quarters of the world’s shipping used British charts and found their position at sea with chronometers set to Greenwich Mean Time.
The Meridian Line runs diagonally across the Park, passing over The Avenue and through the courtyard of the Royal Observatory. Its location is marked by stone sets and at night a laser beam from the Royal Observatory pinpoints the direction of the line.
Anglo-Saxon Barrow Cemetery
Some 20 Anglo-Saxon burial mounds still exist in Greenwich Park, most on the high ground to the west of Blackheath Avenue. The grassy mounds are now only about 0.3m (1ft) in height and 3-5m in diameter but they can be seen quite clearly on sunny early mornings. There were at one time 50 barrows scattered over an area of about 0.4 ha (one acre). Over the years many have been obscured by tree planting and by excavations for the original site of the Old Reservoir.
A large number of the burial mounds were excavated in the late 18th century by the Rev James Douglas. They are thought to date from the 6th/7th century. Grave goods found in them, including shields and spears, show that the burials were pagan, not Christian and were of people of some importance. The number of barrows also indicates a settlement of some size.
Metropolitan Drinking Fountain
Erected in 1891 this fine example of a public drinking fountain has an Italian marble finial. Restored by park management in 2002.
The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was founded by Samuel Gurney MP in 1859 to provide a free source of clean water at a time when cholera was being spread through contaminated water. Drinking troughs for cattle, horses and dogs were added in 1867.
The association still exists as The Drinking Fountains Association at Hoppingwood Farm, Robin Hood Way, London SW20 0AB Tel: 020 8949 2321.
The reservoir built was in 1846 by the Kent Water-works (now part of Thames Water) for the Admiralty to supply drinking and washing water to the Royal Naval Hospital (now the Old Royal Naval College) and to the fire mains there and at the Victualling Yards and Naval Dockyards at Deptford.
An open reservoir was started in 1844 on the site of the Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on the high ground to the west of The Avenue but local opposition stopped the work. The reservoir was covered over in 1871 by building brick piers and vaults and covering the whole area with turf.
Old Reservoir is now enclosed as a wildlife area with no public access. The Friends of Greenwich Park commissioned a baseline wild flowers survey with the cooperation of Thames Water and the University of Greenwich in 2000/2001. It showed an interesting mix of wild flowers but nothing rare. However, the 2004 butterflies and moths survey has highlighted the importance of these flowers as a rich nectar source not found in such concentrations anywhere else in the Park.
Queen Caroline's Bath
Remains of a white-tiled Georgian plunge bath 1.6m deep and 2.3m long, formerly in a latticed timber and glass bathhouse attached to Montague House (demolished 1815), the home of Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), estranged wife of George IV.
The scientific progress of the 18th century, included, for the rich, the building of bath houses to entertain guests and to take hot or cold plunge baths for one’s health. Princess Caroline enclosed 6.25ha (15 acres) of the surrounding park as her private garden and had it landscaped by James Meader, an influential gardener who had worked at the court of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.
The grounds were returned to the park in the late 1800s. The plunge bath was opened up in 2001 by Royal Parks with support from the Friends of Greenwich Park and a number of other local organisations and donors.
Strologo Public Shelter
This practical wooden shelter was built in 1938 with funds from the entrepreneur Mr Strologo of Shamley Green, near Guildford, who donated money for many similar shelters, particularly at bus stops.
One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill, on the east-ern end of the escarpment that crosses Greenwich Park, has excellent views, taking in Sir Christopher Wren’s Flamsteed House, the Old Royal Observatory, the Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House, the National Maritime Museum, the London Basin and Docklands.
The hill is supposed to have been enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth I and is named for the solitary tree that stood there until 1848. There were unrealised plans in the early 1800s to erect a 70m (230ft) statue of Britannia by John Flaxman on the top.
Architects Tate/Hopkinson were responsible for designing the summit of One Tree Hill as a viewing area in the mid-1990s, adding paving and a low wall which follows the line of the crest of the hill. Carved into the edge of the oak bench is a verse chosen by the Friends of Greenwich Park. It was taken from the London Chronicle of May 25-27 1784 and includes the line ‘Belov’d of thousands, One Tree Hill’.