March 2010

The Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre at the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC), is the new £6 million contemporary cultural venue in the heart of Maritime Greenwich. Discover Greenwich will unlock the history of Maritime Greenwich for over a million visitors a year and becomes the starting point for understanding and appreciating this World Heritage site and international tourist destination. The new venue also includes a new restaurant, bar and café containing a micro-brewery which will produce historical and modern beers.

Discover Greenwich will be officially opened by The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on the evening of 22 March.  The venue opens to the public on 23 March.

Discover Greenwich uses state of the art interpretation techniques, never been seen before historic objects, rare artefacts, film footage and models in permanent and temporary exhibitions to tell the story of Maritime Greenwich and the ORNC.  Over 500 years of history from Henry VIII’s Royal Palace, home of Mary I and Elizabeth I and Wren’s Royal Hospital for Seamen through to the Royal Naval College and modern Greenwich are explored.  Key figures from Henry VIII, to Nelson are highlights in a narrative telling the story not just of Greenwich but of Britain.  A new Greenwich Tourist Information Centre, run by Greenwich Council, and the new Clore Learning Centre are key features of the project.

Beside Discover Greenwich, The Royal Hospital’s Old Brewhouse has been brought back into use after 140 years by Meantime Brewing Company.  The site that once brewed and piped beer directly to the Pensioners’ Dining Room in the Undercroft of the Queen Mary Building, as a 'restorative drink’ (each man had a ration of three pints a day) is now a restaurant, bar and café containing a micro-brewery which creates historic and modern beers.

The Greenwich Foundation, the charity which manages the ORNC, runs Discover Greenwich.  Total grants of just over £2million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as well as funding from the DCMS, the Clore Duffield Foundation and many private individuals have made Discover Greenwich possible. 

Duncan Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, The Greenwich Foundation, says:  “Maritime Greenwich embodies many of the major events in British history for the last 500 years, from the Tudor and Stuart monarchy to the history of the Royal Navy and is a showpiece of the golden age of British architecture.  The World Heritage Site is still evolving to meet the expectations of several million people who visit the area each year.  Discover Greenwich provides an indispensable starting point for understanding and appreciating this rich history – as well as becoming a contemporary destination in its own right.”

David Starkey CBE says "A great and magnificent swathe of British history is encompassed by Maritime Greenwich. The remains of Henry VIII's Tudor Palace lie a  few feet below the turf, while the buildings of the Wren's Royal Hospital, later the Royal Naval College, stand  as an outstanding example of royal benevolence and a reminder of our imperial past - the noblest group of buildings in England, in an incomparable setting. Discover Greenwich provides the opportunity to get under the skin of this World Heritage Site, to see its history laid out before you and understand how Greenwich, London and Britain have evolved together."

Alastair Hook, Master Brewer, The Meantime Brewing Company said: “London has a rich but largely forgotten history as the home of modern brewing, it was the centre of the brewing world, the city that created India Pale Ale, Porter and Stout. The Old Brewery brings this history back to life. Here visitors will be able to enjoy not only an astonishing range of innovative new beers and historic long-gone brews but will witness the brewing process first-hand."

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, said: “I’m delighted that the final piece of the funding puzzle was provided by the Government last year for this fantastic project. What better way to celebrate Greenwich achieving Royal Borough status than this marvellous centre to help visitors learn more about its exciting and vibrant history.  I’m particularly pleased to see that schoolchildren and adults alike will have the opportunity to learn new skills and crafts in the Clore Learning Suite.  And with the Olympic Games just around the corner, the new Tourist Information Centre will no doubt be an invaluable resource for the area.  From Cutty Sark to Henry VIII to the Olympic Games in the space of a few hours – what a wonderful way to spend the day.”

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “The birthplace of England's most famous son, Greenwich has long sat at the epicentre of our cultural heritage - encapsulated both in the Prime Meridian's international measure of time and the great seafaring history of Maritime Greenwich. The new centre will offer Londoners and visitors from the UK and across the world the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating history of the place. It will, I hope, also attract a new generation to the area, to discover in a new way the pivotal role it has played in the history of London, Britain, and the world.”

Wesley Kerr, Chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee, said:
“With so much of British and world history in one astonishing view and palatial buildings set in London’s oldest designed landscape, Greenwich is prodigious, inspiring and endlessly fascinating.  The Heritage Lottery Fund has invested over £50million in the World Heritage Site, culminating in £2 million for Discover Greenwich. Its unique blend of ancient artefacts and high tech unlocks the histories of great Queens and Kings, sailors, nurses, architects, admirals and ordinary folk, for today’s Londoners and for millions of visitors to Britain “

Chris Roberts, Leader of Greenwich Council, said: “Millions of people visit Greenwich each year in order to enjoy what our borough has to offer. From museums to galleries, architecture to maritime history and parks to palaces, Greenwich has something for everyone. This new centre will form yet another focal point for our borough. It will help visitors learn about our rich and varied history, with strong maritime and Royal links – something that is all the more relevant as we are set to become a Royal borough in 2012.”

Exhibition and exhibits

The story of Maritime Greenwich is told through the lives of the people who made it. Insights into life at Henry VIII’s Royal palace, the remains of which lie only meters below the lawns, are provided through previously unseen personal items from the Palace, Tudor armour made in the Greenwich armour workshop (on loan from the Royal Armouries, Leeds), and a model reconstruction of the palace’s Chapel Royal, where Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves. The Royal Navy’s history in the site is told through personal objects, film and eyewitness accounts. The design skills of the great architects that created the Royal Hospital are explored and insights provided into how these famous buildings were constructed.  Example exhibits are below.

• Over 30 Tudor objects from Greenwich Palace will be shown to the public for the first time giving an insight into life at the Royal Palace.  They include: gold coins from the reigns of Edward IV and Henry VII; lead Tudor rose ceiling decorations; an ivory knife handle engraved with Tudor roses and foliage; combs and bone dice and counters which people might have played whilst waiting at court.

• Gin and Beer - Life-size sculptures in oak, probably English, 1550–1580.  The two figures are said to have come from the Buttery screen at Greenwich Palace. This screen traditionally divided the area where food was prepared from the dining area. Their costumes are of particular interest as there is little surviving evidence for ordinary people’s dress from this time. On loan from the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

• A reconstruction (complete with music and incense) of the Chapel Royal where Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves, first discovered in 2005. In addition, a reconstruction of the Chapel floor has been created using traditional tile manufacturing techniques.

• A re-construction of a Tudor window from Henry VIII's Palace using original stonework from archaeological excavations of Greenwich Palace and re-glazed using medieval techniques with the badges of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

• Architectural drawings and charts:  The greatest architects of their time have left their mark on Greenwich: Inigo Jones, André Le Nôtre, Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir John Vanbrugh and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. Their work and the impact they have had on the area and London will be presented through short films by Dan Cruickshank as well as their original plans, drawings and architectural models.

• Roof Truss Model by Robert Mylne made to show how the Chapel roof could be rebuilt following the fire of 1779.  The model was only recently discovered in the Chapel dome.

• 18th century Coade stone lion by Benjamin West as a trial piece for the pediment in the King William Courtyard, to commemorate Admiral Nelson.

• Nine stone heads:  a few of the 57 carved by Robert Jones in 1700–04. They were originally intended to decorate the exterior of the Painted Hall. Although they are all slightly different in design, there are three main characters: Poseidon (Neptune), Galatea (a sea nymph) and a lion.

• Scagliola column: This column was made as a trial piece on a wooden former (template) by John Richter who supplied the giant scagliola columns for the Chapel in 1784.  He also supplied scagliola pieces to the architects Robert Adam and William Chambers.

• Display on The Royal Hospital for Seamen including a reconstruction of the cabins in which the Greenwich Pensioners lived - one includes a Pepper's Ghost of the pensioner Joe Brown and silverware including silver salt cellars made by Joseph Bird in 1706 and presented by Nicolas Hawksmoor to Greenwich Hospital.

• Displays depicting life at the Royal Naval College including film footage of the 1933 Greenwich Pageant and the 1955 Trafalgar Night Dinner, the uniform of an Admiral President of the College and a model of the nuclear reactor, “JASON”, used to train officers.

Children and Families

Displays are complemented by hands-on activities for families, children and adults, tourist trails and activities around Maritime Greenwich and the Old Royal Naval College.  Examples range from interactive games based on the life of a Greenwich Pensioner, trying your hand at being an architect and constructing your own buildings, through to trying on Tudor costumes and testing the weight of a jousting lance.

The Old Brewery

The Old Brewery, run by Meantime Brewing Company, is a restaurant, bar and café containing an experimental micro-brewery creating historical and modern beers.  Beer will be brewed in striking copper-clad vessels, enabling the sight, sounds and aromas to evoke the spirit of the old brewhouse in a contemporary way. New experimental beers will be designed, many in a style unavailable anywhere else in the world.  Historical recipes will be given new life – including recreations of Tudor recipes drunk at the time of Henry VIII – all brewed using the latest research and technology.  Examples of beers in the pipeline range from ancient recipes with ingredients such as ‘bog myrtle’ or ‘wormwood’, through to avant-garde beers specifically crafted to match the flavours and aromas of modern contemporary cuisine such as Mojito Pilsners and Juniper Pale Ales.

The first beer to be created for The Old Brewery will be a Belgian Abbey style ale which will have spent a year in 350 litre oak Syrah casks before being tapped. (The land on which The Old Brewery stands once belonged to the Abbey of Ghent prior to being confiscated by Henry VII).   The 18th century cellars will host tutored beer tastings.

Café by day, Restaurant by night:
• By day, whilst Discover Greenwich is open, The Old Brewery will be run as a café with a wide selection of freshly made sandwiches, simple dishes and desserts, plus Meantime's vast selection of award-winning beers.

• By night, the room with its dramatic copper beer vessels and waves of suspended bottles will be transformed into a restaurant. In the magnificent surroundings of this Grade II listed building, diners can expect good, honest British food with the occasional nod to Britain’s rich naval history. An interesting wine list will be more than matched by an astonishing range of beers.

Creating the space

Discover Greenwich is a transformation of the Grade II Pepys Building, from a Naval Engineering workshop and squash courts into a state of the art cultural destination. The scheme has been designed by John Miller + Partners with Sidell Gibson Architects, and Real Studios, construction by Vinci Construction UK Ltd.

Discover Greenwich is open all around the year 10 am - 5 pm. 

Find out more

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