For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

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The oldest of the royal parks, the 74 hectare (183 acre) Greenwich Park has been associated with royalty since at least the 15th century.

The area covered by the park had been occupied by the Romans (there are some remains of a building, possibly a temple, near Maze Hill Gate) and later the Danes, who raised protective earthworks here in the 11th century. After the Norman Conquest, it became a manor.

Its enclosure only happened in 1433 after the land came into the possession of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Henry V. At the time regent to the young King Henry VI, Duke Humphrey also built a tower on the heights above the park – where the Royal Observatory now stands.

Following the duke’s death in 1447, the land was seized by Margaret of Anjou – wife of King Henry VI – and subsequently became known as the Manor of Placentia. King Henry VII later rebuilt the manor house, creating what was known as Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia.

Not surprisingly, it was King Henry VIII, who, having been born at Greenwich Palace, introduced deer to the park. Indeed the park was to have strong associations with others in his family – the king married Catherine of Aragorn and Anne of Cleeves at Greenwich Palace, and his daughters, later Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were born there while his son, King Edward VI, died there in 1553 at the age of only 15. (There’s a tree in the park known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which is said to be where she played as a child).

In 1613, King James I gave the palace and accompanying park – which he had enclosed with a high wall – to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, apparently as an apology after swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favorite dogs. Queen Anne subsequently commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now known as the Queen’s House – for more on that, see our earlier post.

Following the Restoration, King Charles II ordered the palace rebuilt and while this work remained unfinished, the king did succeed in having the park remodelled – it is believed that Andre Le Notre, gardener to King Louis XIV of France, had a role in this.

The works included cutting a series of terraces into the slope – these were known as the Great Steps and lined with hawthorn hedges – as well as creating a formal avenue of chestnut trees (now known as Blackheath Avenue), and some woodlands. Work is currently taking place on restoring an orchard which dates from 1666 at the park.

King Charles II also commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory that still stands on the hill overlooking the park – it stands on the site once occupied by the Duke Humphrey Tower (the Royal Observatory is home of the Prime Meridian – see our earlier post on the Royal Observatory for more).

King James II was the last monarch to use the palace and park – his daughter Queen Mary II donated the palace for use as a hospital for veteran sailors and the park was opened to the pensioners in the early 1700s. The hospital later become the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum later moved onto the site (for more on this, see our earlier post).

As an aside, Royal Parks say the truncated shape of some of the trees in the park is apparently due to the fact that when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the flower garden during World War II, the trees had to be trimmed to ensure a clear field of fire.

Facilities in the park today include a tea house, a children’s playground, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and, of course, the Wilderness Deer Park where you can see wildlife at large. Statues include that of Greenwich resident General James Wolfe, an instrumental figure in establishing British rule in Canada – it sits on the crest of the hill opposite the Royal Observatory looking down towards the Thames.

The park, which is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site, is slated as a venue for next year’s Olympics – it will host equestrian events and the shooting and running events of the pentathlon.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

Long an admired landmark of Greenwich, the origins of the Queen’s House go back to the reign of King James I.

It was the Queen, Anne of Denmark, who commissioned the building of The Queen’s House in 1616 and gave it the name by which it is still known. Sadly, however, she died before it was completed.

King James I was said to have been a frequent visitor to the Tudor Palace of Greenwich (the building had earlier been known as the Palace of Placentia and was the birthplace of King Henry VIII in 1491).

King James  is traditionally said to have awarded the Manor of Greenwich to Queen Anne as an apology after he had publicly sworn at her when she had accidentally shot one of his favorite hunting dogs.

In 1616, Queen Anne decided to build a new property on the site as both a private retreat and a place where she could entertain and it was to the rising star Inigo Jones that she turned to for the design (in recognition of his growing status, he was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works the following year).

The house was Jones’ most important job to date and the design he came up – based on a H with the two sides joined by a bridge over the Greenwich to Woolwich road – with is said to be the first Classical building in England.

Among the original features which survive to this day are the striking black and white geometrically patterned marble floor of the Great Hall (the room having been designed as a perfect cube), the painted ceiling of the Queen’s Presence Chamber and the iron balustrade the Tulip Stairs – said to be the first “geometric self-supporting spiral stair in Britain”.

Queen Anne became ill in 1618 and died the following year without seeing the end result of her commission. The work subsequently was shelved and only restarted (and completed in 1638) after King Charles I gave it to his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria.

She only had possession for a short time before Parliamentary forces seized it during the Civil War. After the Restoration, the Queen’s House was returned briefly to her by her son King Charles II (it was at this time that the original H-shape of the house was altered to a square) before part of it as later used as studio for painters and then as grace and favor apartments.

With the Old Royal Naval College now occupying the surrounding site, in 1805, King George III gave the property to the Royal Naval Asylum – a charity caring for the orphan children of seamen – and it later became part of the Royal Hospital School.

The National Maritime Museum took possession in 1934 and the building now houses the National Martime Museum’s collection of fine art. As an interesting aside, there have been several reported sightings of ghosts in the house, the latest as recently as 2002.

WHERE: The Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (check website for closures); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk/places/queens-house

When King James I came south to take up the throne England, he is known to have brought that peculiarly Scottish game of golf with him and it is believed that it was at Blackheath, above the then Royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, that his courtiers first played the game.

According to the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, now located some way to the south of Blackheath in Eltham (the club moved there is 1923), documentary evidence shows the earliest players included James I’s son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, who is known to have gone golfing in 1606. The club itself notes that while it is generally accepted it was established in 1608, no documentary evidence to support this has yet been unearthed (records prior to 1787 are missing).

The first course at Blackheath – which has played a significant role in several events including as a rallying point during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 –  apparently consisted of five holes, each of which was played three times.