Greenwich is a town in South London to the east of Westminster and located on the south bank of the Thames River. It is best known for its Greenwich Mean Time clock and for its seafaring history.
A fifteenth-century Royal palace was built here, and was the birthplace of a number of royals from the House of Tudor, including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and her sister Mary. In the 1870s, the celebrated architect Christopher Wren (who designed St Pauls Cathedral) rebuilt the palace and designed other buildings, which became the Royal Naval College (with its Wren designed dome masterpiece) and is now part of the Greenwich Foundation including both the Greenwich Observatory and building in use by the University of Greenwich. Most of the original college buildings are open to the public for tours.
The graceful Palladian buildings of the college, the elegant mansions of seafaring captains comprise an architectural ensemble that caused Maritime Greenwich to be a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is possible to cruise to Greenwich from London. Several of the operators who offer river cruises do cruise this far east, although the most popular Thames cruises still occur in the Central London area from Tower Bridge to about Vauxhall Bridge. Some Greenwich tours will include a cruise on the Thames, and virtually all tours will visit the Greenwich Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, one of the world’s foremost museum on maritime history and tradition. Next to the University and museum, is the Cutty Sark, the famous merchant Tea Clipper built in 1869. This magnificent clipper, the last of her kind, suffered a devastating fire in 2007. She underwent complete renovation and will open to the public again in 2011.
There is more than one Greenwich Mean Time clock on the grounds of the beautiful riverside park where the Greenwich Observatory sits. Most notable is the longitude marine chronometer designed by eighteenth-century clock maker John Harrison. There are numerous other hyper-accurate chronometers, including one of the most accurate pendulum clocks ever built, as well as the 28-inch Grubb refracting telescope (built in 1893), the largest in the UK. The Greenwich Mean Time clock that most people see and think of as the clock is the Shepherd Gate Clock, which is mounted on the wall outside of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. It’s an early example of a slave clock, meaning it is actually controlled by a master clock inside the building. Built by Charles Shepherd in 1852, it is unusual in that uses a 24-hour analog dial.
Some important Greenwich events involve the Thames River. Rowing has been important in this maritime city for hundreds of years. The first Greenwich Regatta was held in 1785, and the Great River Race from Ham to London to Greenwich ends at the Cutty Sark. This race and numerous university competitions draw rowers and observers alike. Walks through the Greenwich town center reveals many elegant Georgian and Victorian buildings and mansions. The Thames Path, a walking and cycling National Trail, runs along the river here, and it is possible to enjoy cycling tours from around the London Eye all the way to Greenwich.