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Our Architecture

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The group of buildings that are arranged symmetrically around a ‘Grand Axis’ have been likened to the Palace of Versailles in their splendour. However, unlike Versailles, the complex at Greenwich evolved over centuries, with individual assets of great importance combining to form a harmonious whole.

Queen's House

The first palace on the banks of the River Thames, with its hunting park behind, dates from the 15th century. Although the complex evolved into the palace associated with the Tudor kings and queens, little of this original fabric has survived. The significant part that has survived is the last addition, the Queen’s House. This was begun in 1616 by Inigo Jones for Queen Anne, consort of James I after he granted her the manor, and completed in about 1638 for her successor Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. The first English building in the Palladian style, its history links the vanished late-medieval palace and the classical landscape of which it came to form the stylistic centre. The Queen’s House was the precursor of the ‘Georgian’ style that dominated building design for the next two centuries.

The Royal Observatory was preceded on the same site by a 15th century watchtower and hunting lodge, considerably developed before its ruins were cleared for the Observatory to be built on the same foundations. This building, in the picturesque Jacobean style more in tune with the vanished palace than its classical successors, is mostly associated with its role as the centre of astronomical measurement, but it also forms an important part of the composition of the group.

Upon the restoration of Charles II, John Webb was engaged to construct a new palace building on the site of the former one as this was slowly cleared away, his only completed structure being to the west of the axis of the Queen’s House and maintaining the view of this building from the river. Webb adopted the grand style for this single block with monumental Portland stone facades and a giant Corinthian order for its entrance. The river elevation was even grander with, eventually, doubled porticos surmounting engaged columns stretching along the whole façade.

The later buildings which became the Royal Hospital, by Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and others follow the pattern set by Webb’s design, although on a radically different ground plan to that which Charles II had intended. There are also individual touches such as the west elevation of King William Court and its pediment, both by Hawksmoor, which deserve special mention.

An Exact Plan of Greenwich Park

The hunting park behind the palaces, which became Greenwich Park was given a brick boundary wall by James I (1619-24). Following the Restoration, work started on the remodelling of the park in the French baroque style, the scheme being attributed to the landscape architect André Le Nôtre. The resulting plan included radiating avenues, ‘giant steps’ and terraces which are discernible today, organised around the north/south axis of the Queen’s House.

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