When I went to the Discover Greenwich exhibition launch earlier this year, my only real gripe was how the history of the eastern side of SE10 was downplayed a little. After all, the times I’ve taken newcomers to the area, whether I’ve made them wade through Thames Path puddles, pointed out our part in Britpop history or shown them The Street That Always Gets Used In Films, they’ve been interested enough.
East Greenwich was where the first Transatlantic telegraph cable was made, and was home to scores of thriving riverside industries as well as one of the country’s biggest gas works. I can trace my own family back to Thames lightermen in the area at the start of the last century. I remember thinking at the time that showcasing East Greenwich’s history would be a challenge that others might want to take up. Little did I know that someone was actually on the case.
The East Greenwich History Map is the product of six years’ work by Rich Sylvester. He got lottery funding for the project, bringing in local schools and youth groups to help him talk to older people with memories of the area. Designer Luke Eastop put the pieces together, and the result of their efforts is a beautiful, detailed map explaining what stood, what still stands, and what can be seen across a great swathe of Greenwich. You can see what once lay on the Dome site – and see the riverside wildlife to look out for – and see where all the boatyards used to be. Or you can go hunting for long-gone pubs (or, for the Greenwich Phantom, the Lord Napier) and churches, or see what the area contributed – and lost – through wars through the years.
The map is supplemented with a little guide at the back, scattered with facts (I didn’t know the archway by the Blackwall Tunnel was used as family housing) as well as archly noting a few failings of various plans to change the area over the centuries. It uses some wonderful photos too, some supplied by historian-councillor Mary Mills, including one I’d never seen before of the aftermath of the 1979 IRA bomb at the gas works.
It really is an incredible piece of work, but it somehow feels like it’s only the start. Rich has produced 2,000 copies of the map, and is running tours based on it later this month (23 July, 7pm at North Greenwich station; 25 July, 10.30am at Maze Hill station) and is open to suggestions for a possible second edition – although that will require obtaining fresh funding. I hope the project continues – the East Greenwich History Map has a basic website at the moment, but hopefully this can be developed to provide a rich resource of history and first-hand memories. (An earlier attempt, From Gasworks To Dome, focused more on the peninsula, but I think this approach has it right, including the rest of the area and using a map.)
The map’s available for free from Warwick Leadlay Gallery in Greenwich Market, the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, and the Greenwich Communication Centre on Trafalgar Road, while there’s more on the map and an interview with Rich at greenwich.co.uk.