The case for a 'Royal Borough of Greenwich'

Message from Lord Sterling


Three and a half years ago, following a discussion I had with Chris Roberts, the Leader of Greenwich, as to whether he would be happy if I was to endeavour to secure Royal Borough status, I approached the then Lord Chancellor and Her Majesty The Queen.

Peter van de Merwe's paper on the extraordinary rich history of Greenwich's very close link to Royalty over the centuries was in my view fundamental in achieving a successful result.

This great honour for the Borough is the first to be granted for some 100 years. A further pleasure for us all was to receive a message from His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.

A case for a 'Royal Borough of Greenwich'

  1. The modern London Borough of Greenwich (228,100 pop. [2005]), was created in 1965 by the Local Government Reform Act. This combined the former Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich (formed in 1900 from the civil parishes of Greenwich, Deptford St Nicholas, Charlton and Kidbrooke) and the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich (previously the civil parishes of Woolwich, Plumstead and Eltham).
  2. The MB Woolwich population in 1961 (census figures) was 146, 600; that of Greenwich 85,500. The latter's existing 'world-brand', based on Greenwich Time and its built-heritage assets, was adopted as the new borough name for fairly obvious reasons over that of larger industrial Woolwich, then in accelerating economic decline. (Charlton was considered as a possible compromise but also rejected).
  3. 'Maritime Greenwich', the World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO in 1997, comprises just the traditional Greenwich heritage area. These are the Royal Park, the National Maritime Museum (NMM) and Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) sites, and the historic 17th- to mid-19th century town centre immediately to the west. In practice, it is part but not all of the former civil parish of Greenwich.
  4. There are at present three Royal Boroughs: the two in Greater London are Kensington and Chelsea, and Kingston, with Windsor and Maidenhead outside. All reflect longstanding Royal associations, of which the common factor (except Kingston) is the presence in them of current Royal residences, broadly defined. Kingston has an ancient prescriptive right to the title as the place of coronation of Saxon kings, reaffirmed by George V in 1927.
  5. These qualifications apart, 'historic' Greenwich has been a Royal manor since the early 15th century and there are substantial historical reasons, and other arguments, for the modern London Borough as formed in 1965 being granted 'Royal' status.

They include:

  • The significant association of individual British monarchs, and other members of the Royal family, with Greenwich from the 16th century on: see Summary A below. A fuller list of 20th century events could be provided - it is worth pointing out that 2009 is, in particular, the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII, born at Greenwich Palace in 1491, which is where the story largely starts.
  • The main consequences of those associations, in terms of the built environment of Greenwich and related significant institutions and events (past or continuing): in both cases some are self-evident, but others less obvious: see Summary B. This list is indicative rather than exhaustive.
  • The approach of 2012, which is both HM The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and London Olympic year. Greenwich will be the only London borough with such a legacy of Royal associations that is hosting a substantial tranche of the Olympics and Paralympics.
  • The Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich Royal Park will have world-wide profile - not least televisual - against the architectural backdrop provided by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren, which is entirely due to 17th-century Royal initiatives and later support.
    The present Royal family's equestrian interests and activity are well known, including at Olympic level. Olympic shooting will take place at the historic Royal Artillery Barracks on Woolwich Common; basketball and gymnastic events in The O2 (Dome) on the Greenwich Peninsula (North Greenwich). Greenwich Peninsula is emerging as an entirely new town within the Borough, in which new residential areas are centred round new educational sites at all levels, and 'hi-tech' cultural industry. Past, present and future are all represented here.
  • 'Maritime Greenwich' was inscribed as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 1997, for similar reasons. This incorporates both the built Royal heritage and associations, and the modern cultural destination, which includes a focus on history and future of science (notably astronomy).
    The University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music based in the Old Royal Naval College - the latter now associated with the international Laban Centre for Dance just to the west, have also made the WHS a genuine 'university town'. The University has now bought the large Stockwell Street Site in the heart of the town and WHS and has planning permission to construct there both a new Library and a new School of Architecture and Constructional Engineering. These uses could hardly be more appropriate; the new buildings are expected to be of very high standard, but not complete until well after 2012.
  • The WHS, however, is a very small part of a Borough with much else to offer, but also great distance to go in terms of developing its significant national cultural, educational and heritage potential. There has been major capital investment on many fronts, which continues, but not yet matched by recognition that ongoing standards of public realm presentation and maintenance are below the standard they need to be to maximize that potential.

Read the Duke of Edinburgh's letter on Greenwich receiving Royal Borough status