Greenwich

Greenwich

Greenwich .—This favourite place lies on the south bank of the Thames, a little below Deptford, about six miles below London Bridge, following the windings of the river, but only about four miles by railway, from the London Bridge Station.  It is noted for the TrafalgarShipCrown and Sceptre, and other taverns, where whitebait dinners  have become celebrated.  Diners at these places, however, will require long purses.  Greenwich is chiefly interesting, however, for its national establishments.  Towards its eastern extremity stands the Hospital, which faces the Thames, and has a command of all that passes on the river.  This superb hospital consists of four edifices, unconnected with each other, but apparently forming an entire structure, lining three sides of an open square, the fourth side being next the water.  It is mostly built of stone, in majestic style; and along nearly the greater part are lofty colonnades, with handsome pillars, and covered overhead, to protect those underneath from the weather.  The square interval in the centre, which is 273 feet wide, has in the middle a statue of George II., by Rysbrach.  A portion of these beautiful buildings was originally planned by Inigo Jones, another portion by Sir C. Wren, and the rest by later architects.  It was William and Mary who, in the year 1694, here established an hospital for superannuated and disabled seamen, to which purpose the buildings were till lately devoted.  The institution is supported by the interest on £2,800,000, funded property, the rental of estates in the north of England, and a national grant.  In 1865 it accommodated about 1300 pensioners, 150 nurses, and a variety of officers for the government of the place.  The inmates were old sailors, with countenances well browned by tropical suns, or bleached by the tempests of the ocean; here one hobbling on a wooden leg, there one with an empty sleeve, and occasionally one with only one eye.  Their clothes were of a dark-blue colour, of an antiquated fashion.  Their old cocked-hats had been superseded by hats of more modern shape; the boatswains, or other warrant-officers, being allowed a yellow trimming or lace to their garments.  An abundance of food was allowed, the clothing warm and comfortable, the accommodations in the rooms good; and each man, according to his rank, had from three to five shillings a-week, as an allowance for pocket-money.  The outer gateway, and the interior parts of this establishment, were under the care of the pensioners themselves, who shewed the utmost attention to strangers, manifesting a frankness and good-nature characteristic of the profession of the sailor.  Small sums were taken for exhibiting some of the buildings, but the money went to the general fund, or for the board and education of the children of seamen.  The visitor did not fail to glance into the refectory  and kitchen, which were freely open, and see the old men at their meals.

It may seem singular thus to speak of this famous establishment in the past  tense; but in truth the purpose of Greenwich Hospital is changed.  By an arrangement made in 1865, nearly all the pensioners (except sick and decrepit) have left the building, with a greatly increased money-allowance; most of them now living with their relations or friends.

Painted Hall, Greenwich Hospital

One attractive part of the establishment is the Painted Hall, in the west wing.  It consists of a great room and one smaller, a vestibule, and a flight of steps.  The appearance of the whole interior, on entering, is very imposing, the ceiling and one end being covered with paintings; and although these paintings, exhibiting a mixture of fantastic heathen gods and goddesses with royal and other portraits, are not in judicious taste, they serve to give a good general effect to the noble apartment.  Along the walls are hung a collection of pictures, partly portraits of celebrated navigators and admirals, and partly depicting distinguished naval victories: each being a present to the institution by some benefactor.  A good portrait of Captain Cook, by Dance, presented by Sir Joseph Banks, adorns the vestibule.  A number of portraits, by Sir Peter Lely, Dahl, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and others, were presented by George IV.  There are also several by Sir Joshua Reynolds.  The painted ceiling of the great room was executed by Sir James Thornhill in 1703 and subsequent years.  It is related that, in consequence of the length of time he had to lie on his back painting the ceiling, the artist could never afterwards sit upright.  In the smaller apartment are shewn several models of ships of war, admirably executed; the coat worn by Nelson at the battle of the Nile; the astrolabe of Sir Francis Drake, a curious brass instrument of antique fashion, used for nautical observation; and some interesting relics of the ill-fated voyage of Sir John Franklin.  The Hall is open free to the public on Monday and Friday; on other days the charge is 4d.  On Sunday it may be seen after morning-service.  The Chapel  is also worth a visit; it contains a fine picture by Benjamin West, the ‘Shipwreck of St. Paul;' and monuments to two admirals, by Chantrey and Behnes.  A monument or obelisk to the memory of Lieutenant Bellot, who perished in one of the Arctic Expeditions, has been placed on the noble Hospital-terrace, fronting the river.

The Park, extending behind the hospital—open free to the public until dusk—comprehends a considerable space of ground, nearly 200 acres, of great natural and artificial beauty.  A pathway amidst lines of tall trees leads to a piece of rising-ground or mount, which, on holidays, generally exhibits a mirthful scene, in which ‘running down Greenwich hill' plays a great part.  On the summit is the Royal Observatory, founded by George III. for the promotion of astronomical science, and the scene of the labours of some men of distinguished ability.  An astronomer-royal, supported by a parliamentary grant, constantly resides and pursues investigations in the Observatory.  From this spot British geographers measure the longitude.  The collection of instruments kept and used in this building is superb and costly; but the public are not admitted to see them.  An electric time-ball  falls every day at one o'clock precisely; and an electric clock, a standard barometer, and standard measures of length, (of rigorous accuracy,) are placed for public use by the side of the entrance-gates.