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Creation of Greenwich Park

Enclosure in 1433

The 'Royal Manor of Greenwich' is listed among the possessions of Alfred the Great in the 8th century but it was not until 1433 that Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Henry V's youngest brother, was granted a licence to 'empark 200 acres of land, pasture, weed, heath and furze'. He was also permitted to build a tower in his park (Flamsteed House, part of the Royal Observatory, is built on its base) and to add crenellations to the manor house that he had built by the river.

Hunting grounds for the Tudors

In the late 1400s, Henry VII reconstructed most of the riverside manor house that had been built by Duke Humphrey in the 1430s. He called it Placentia or the manor of Plesaunce. Henry VIII and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth were both born there. It continued as a favourite palace for Elizabeth I in the early years of her reign. The Park provided hunting grounds, pleasure gardens and an essential source of fresh water for monarch and court.

England’s Versailles

The landscape of the Park today with its 73ha (183 acres) largely reflects the plans of Charles II  who in the early 1660s wanted French style formal gardens to set off his new palace then being built at Greenwich on the site of the former ruined Tudor Palace on the waterfront. (Only one wing, now known as the King Charles Building, was started.)

Charles II enlisted the help of Le Notre, gardener to Louis XIV of France. Le Notre probably never visited Greenwich Park but his working drawings still exist for a formal parterre, then a new style for England, on the Park side of the Queen’s House. The parterre was not finished; it stayed as the grand mown area 3.4 ha (8.5 acres) delineated by trees much as it is today.

The formal French style did not fit easily into the topography and a good deal of earth-moving was required. The principal north-south axis from the Queen’s House was continued up the escarpment with a series of grass terraces, now almost invisible, known later as the Giant Steps. The main axis of the 17th century layout continued as a formal avenue, now Blackheath Avenue, completed by ‘The Rounds’, a large semicircle of chestnuts four deep, inside the Blackheath Gate.

From The Rounds radiated two other avenues. The easterly one, Bower Avenue, still exists, as does The Great Cross Walk, the eastern section now known as Great Cross Avenue. The Avenue, the road that completes the car route from Blackheath Gate to St Mary’s Gate, is another reminder of the formal layout.

Sir William Boreham, keeper of the palace and park, was responsible for laying out the coppices planted in the East Wilderness - now the Deer Park - and the West Wilderness, now the open area of Ranger’s Field. The planting of formal avenues of chestnut and elm date from 1664. Some of the sweet chestnuts still exist as remarkable 350 year old ‘veterans’, including a relic of The Rounds, just inside the Flower Garden near Blackheath Gate.