Aerial Views (Greenwich)

The site of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich grew in size as the years went by to accommodate the changing needs of the Astronomers Royal. This was achieved by enclosing tranches of land from Greenwich Park. Thirteen such enclosures took place, ranging in size from just a few a square metres to about an acre.

By the 1940s when the Observatory came to move to Herstmonceux, its land holding at Greenwich was 3.36 acres or 1.81% of the Park. The main site occupied 2.46 acres, whilst the smaller Christie enclosure of 1897 (located some 400 metres to the east of Flamsteed House) occupied the rest. The Christie enclosure and part of the gardens on the main site were returned to the Park in 1959/60.


The main site in the early 1900s

Although published in 1913, this annotated view of the main site as seen from the north, appears to show the buildings in the state they were in between about 1900 and 1907. Although there is a slight misplacement and misorientation of some elements, the drawing gives a good impression of how the site appeared at that time.

Diagrammatic view of the principal buildings on the main Observatory site. Drawn by G F Morrell and published in The Graphic on 7 June 1913


Photos from the 1920s

The main difference between these two images and the one above is the absence of the Magnetic Observatory which was demolished in 1918. As well as the main site, the second photo also includes the Christie enclosure which can be seen at the top of the image. When the photograph was taken, it contained just two buildings, The Magnetic Pavilion in the centre (erected in 1899) and the Magnetograph House to its left (erected in 1914).

From a postcard (SFS Series, No.1596)


From a postcard (Central Aerophoto Co. Ltd., No.2615)


Photos from the twenty-first century

During the Observatory’s conversion to a museum in the 1950s and 60s, many buildings were demolished and many of the extensions and chimneys removed. In the early 2000s, the Peter Harrison Planetarium was built on the site of the former Magnetic Observatory. Clad in bronze and glass, it was opened by the Queen on 22 May 2007.

8 August 2008. The Observatory from the North. Photo courtesy of The Greenwich Phantom


8 August 2008. The Observatory from the South. The Peter Harrison Planetarium can be seen at the bottom of the photo. Photo courtesy of The Greenwich Phantom


Other aerial views

Historic England has several aerial views from the Aerofilms archive on their website that can be seen in high resolution:

1924, view from the north (Photo - EPW010756)

1946, view from the south-east (Photo - EAW002293)

1948, view from the west (Photo - EAW016232)

1948, view from the north-west (Photo - EAW016233)

1948, view from the north (Photo - EAW016224)

Recent aerial views of the site can be found on Google Maps and Bing Maps. The following postcode should be used: SE10 8XJ.

Google Maps

Bing Maps

Of the two, Bing has the advantage in that as well as showing a view from directly above, it allows the viewer to see bird’s eye views from four different directions (north, south, east and west).


The aerial views on Google Earth have two big advantages over those on Google Maps.

  1. The aerial views are available at a higher resolution.
  2. A sequence of historical images back to 2003 can also be viewed.