The HistoryThe history of Greenwich Park can be divided in to three distinct eras (Greenwich Park, 2008). It was a community settlement until the 15th century, when the Duke of Gloucester enclosed after inheriting the territory. Greenwich Park remained a treasured royal property for about 300 years. Mary, daughter of King James II donated the site for a naval hospital in the 18th century, setting the stage for the modern and ongoing era. Archaeology proves that today’s Greenwich Park was inhabited from Roman times. It was also used by other European invaders, such as the Danes and the Normans.
Even today, some of the site is at an elevation, and affords an unrestricted view of vast tracts of the River Thames, key structures on its embankments, and other parts of East London. The Danes were the first to construct some primordial fortifications on the site, in recognition of its natural and strategic importance. However, it was left to the Normans to lay claim to this piece of land as a private territory, following which it gradually took on the hues of a royal estate and residence. The Greenwich Tower was the first major construction on the site commissioned by royalty.
This conception around 1433 became the nucleus of one of the world’s most famous observatories. The Greenwich Observatory remains unchallenged to this day in terms of a standard for times zones across all longitudes. The greater royal family began to covet Greenwich Park, in recognition of its many attractions. King Henry VI’s wife Mary not only seized the Manor, but even renamed it as the Placentia. King Henry VIII upgraded the site to the status of a Palace.
Greenwich Park was then known as the Palace of Placentia. King Henry VIII was the first Monarch to spend significant time at the site. He was betrothed twice here. He and some of his children were born here. A son died prematurely during adolescence. The 17th century saw major evolution of the Manor in to a Park. King James I built a brick wall to delineate the boundaries and the estate in most durable fashion. Parts of this construction are still visible in the 21st century. He then gifted the estate to his wife.
The circumstances of this gesture were frivolous, but Anne took the gift with full appreciation of its potential. She commissioned a famous professional of the day to construct a new palace at Greenwich Park, but died before the construction was complete. However, the Queen’s House remains a key edifice of the Park to this day. King Charles II also constructed a new palace at Greenwich Park. A sign of his covetousness of this sublime site was the fact that he destroyed earlier buildings, and even buried the foundations!
King Charles II suffered from a paucity of funds, some of which may be ascribed to his aggressive expressions of ownership. This extravagance was not without benefits for our generation, for the King brought in an expert from the court of Louis XIV of France to re-design Greenwich Park. This gardener may be credited with the modern layout and delightful ambience of Greenwich Park. A key element of the re-design was to use the elevated sections of the site for great landscaping benefits. Remains of the Great Steps which resulted are amongst the most treasured artifacts in the Greenwich Park of today.
Blackheath Avenue and the Rounds still have trees that were first planted during this era.