List of Enclosures and Reversions from and to Greenwich Park

The Greenwich site of the Royal Observatory 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. After the passing of the Crown Lands Act 1851, the enclosures were authorised by Royal Warrant except in 1873 when the enclosure was of a temporaray nature, in 1897 when the amount of land involved was very small and in 1911 when title was not transferred. The earlier enclosures were authorised through the offices of the King’s Surveyor of Woods until 1810, and then though those of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests.

 

Enclosures 1675–1950

1675     Royal Observatory founded, Flamsteed House completed 1676.
1725     Halley’s Quadrant House built. North-east corner breaks though original boundary wall.
1749     Enclosure to accommodate Bradley’s New Observatory.
1772/3  Two small enclosures to accommodate extension to the two Summerhouses in a southerly direction.
            Eastern boundary curved to meet eastern wall of extended summerhouse rather than the middle of its
            south wall as had previously been the case. (1777 & 1788 plans)
1791     Enclosure of Courtyard. It was probably in 1791, that a small extension was made to the Meridian
            Garden and a small strip of land to the west of Flamsteed House was enclosed although it is possible
            that one or both of these may have been enclosed earlier in 1789 or 1790 when Flamsteed House was
            being extended. (Work 16/126)
1813     Enclosure of Drying Ground for an extension to Meridian Building. (Work 16/126 & RGO6/22/78)
1814     Enclosure of part of the Lower Garden as a kitchen garden. (1847 & 1863 plans)
1837     Enclosure of Magnetic Ground and remainder of Lower Garden. (Work 16/126)
1869     Enclosure of the South Ground (land to the south of the Magnetic Ground. This involved re-routing a
            public path. Royal Warrant issued. (Work 16/139 & Work 16/1823).
1872/3  Temporary enclosure in the ‘Reserve(d) Ground’ off Park Vista for Transit of Venus huts. No Royal
            Warrant issued.
1897     Boundary alteration to accommodate two small encroachments at the corners of the, east & west
            wings of the South Building along with authorisation for a temporary enclosure to facilitate the building
            work – this was a retrospective request as contracts for work on the wings and for the creation of the
            temporary enclosures had already been let. The south wing, completed in 1894 touched, but did not
            penetrate the boundary. No Royal Warrant issued. (Work 16/139)
1897     Christie Enclosure. Royal Warrant issued (Work 16/139)
1907     Enclosure for building of Lower Store (now a public lavatory). Royal Warrant issued (Work 16/139)
1911     Further shifting of western boundary adjacent to Flamsteed House. The enclosed strip of land enclosed
            was not transferred to the Observatory. It was instead both retained and managed by the Board of
            Works. (Work 16/139)

 

Unsuccessful enclosure attempts (1675–1950)

1826     Proposal for an enclosure for the building of houses for the assistants. (PRO/Work 16/126 has details,
            but no plan of location)
1873     Proposal to erect a building in the Park for pendulum experiments. (RGO6/52)
1894/8  Proposal to increase size of enclosure by shifting south end of western boundary down to the Avenue
            and moving eastern boundary outwards slightly into Blackheath Avenue, taking in the row of adjacent
            trees. (Work 16/139)

 

Attempted clawbacks from the Observatory (1675–1950)

1894/5  Board of Works (on behalf of the park) attempts to take control of the small plot of land between the
            western boundary (by the path) and the original west and south retaining walls of Flamsteed’s time for
            improvement/screening works. Land retained by Admiralty, but planted out with shrubs. Iron fence
            erected. (Work 16/139)

 

Reversions and further enclosures since 1950

In 1953, a Royal Warrant was issued detailing who would take over different parts of the Observatory site as the astronomers departed for Herstmonceux. Flamsteed House, The Meridian Building, The Great Equatorial Building, the Courtyard (with it’s 1940s boundary) and the North Terrace were assigned to the National Maritime Museum. Everything else reverted to the Park with all the buildings in those areas scheduled for demolition except the lower store (which was due to become a public toilet) and the Altazimuth Pavilion (which was to be retained and adapted for use as a public shelter). A suggestion that it should also be allocated the Terrace Lawn (the Astronomers’ Garden) and the Kitchen Garden (the Meridian Garden) were rejected as the maintenance of these grounds would be carried out as was already the case with the grounds of the main National Maritime Museum site, as if they were a part of Greenwich Park and also because ‘rejection might help in resisting the then Museum Director’s penchant for eccentric exterior decoration’.  A few years later, it appeared that the National Maritime Museum might need to take over the Garden Room to accommodate new boilers for Flamsteed House. An amendment to the Warrant was drafted, but later cancelled as a different site for the boilers was found. By the 1960s, the National Maritime Museum was in occupation of an enlarged courtyard and the South Building and agreement had been reached for it to have shared use of the Altazimuth Pavilion. Meanwhile, the Christie enclosure and part of the gardens on the main site were returned to the Park. In the late 1970s, the National Maritime Museum planned to build a Search and Deposit Security Building (where Museum visitors’ bags could be searched and held) on the west side of the pathway that leads from the Great Equatorial Building to the Altazimuth Pavilion. At the same time, there was a security issue as at that time, the part of the site occupied by the Altazimuth and South Buildings had not been fenced of from the Observatory garden located beneath it to the west. In addition, the Park Regulations were about to be amended and it was thought that they might apply inappropriately to those areas being occupied by the National Maritime Museum but not ceded to them by virtue of the 1953 warrant. An attempt was made to clarify the situation regarding the South Building the Altazimuth Pavilion and the land surrounding them by having the Royal Warrant Amended. The advice of the Treasury Solicitor was that no amendment was necessary. A fence separating the Observatory Gardens from the rest of the site was erected in 1978. The line of the fence was adjusted at the time the Peter Harrison Planetarium was built in the early 2000s.