Greenwich for school groups

Date Posted: 11/05/2012

Carrie Martindale spent the day in the Royal Borough of Greenwich on the banks of the river Thames, and discovered a rich maritime history, in a place that feels worlds apart from central London. It would make a lovely school trip.

From beginning to end, my journey of discovery in Greenwich was a pleasant one. I had a surprisingly easy train ride from my home in north Bucks to the site of the Meridian Line; and once there, I found all of the attractions within walking distance and easily accessible, barring a steep climb up to the Observatory.

I chose to train-it down to Greenwich, but those organising educational group travel can choose from tube, train, coach, or - for a scenic option - river boat. Thames Clippers leave from Embankment and a number of other piers along the river; or City Cruises is another option, offering a ten per cent discount for school groups of 20 plus.

It took me no more than ten minutes to walk from the station down into the town centre, stopping off briefly at the pier for what is a marvellous view of the Cutty Sark in order to get my bearings.

First things first, the National Maritime Museum

First off on my whistle-stop tour of the area was the surprisingly gargantuan National Maritime Museum; I’m not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t this stunning facade and ultra-modern interior. The museum was opened in the former Greenwich Hospital School buildings in 1937, and has had major redevelopments in both the 1970s and from the late 1980s onward. These culminated in the Neptune Court project, completed in 1999.

I’d come to the museum for the press preview of guest curator David Starkey’s Royal River, an exhibition marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames includes items lent by the Royal Collection, many of which are on display for the first time. There’s certainly a patriotic feel to the display, with flourishes of reds, golds and crests, and I was lucky enough to meet celebrity historian David Starkey whilst there.

Objects on display include a miniature of Anne Boleyn from the early 16th century, a 17th century portrait of Charles II, figureheads, coats of arms, and models of ceremonial barges. Royal River will be displayed at the museum until the 9th September, and tickets must be booked in advance. You can however, wander around the rest of the museum for free, and at your leisure.

On to the Cutty Sark

As I left the museum to walk across to the Cutty Sark, I noticed that the area was teeming with people beavering away: gardeners laying turf, men in hardhats, an orchestra practising – and stages being erected. It took a moment to realise that they were all preparing for Her Majesty the Queen’s visit on the following day.

On board, the tea clipper’s original wooden planks and iron frames have been restored following the fire of 2007, allowing visitors to walk among the tea chests in the hold where there are various interactive displays, and walk on deck amongst the masts and rigging.

The ship has been raised three-metres above the dry dock that she rests in, and an exhibition area lies beneath, allowing you to stand underneath the hull; which gives a very different perspective of the vessel. Also displayed in the dry berth is what is described as the largest collection of merchant navy figureheads in the world – with the Cutty Sark’s own original figurehead, ‘Nannie’ in the centre.

A steep hill to the Royal Observatory

Onwards and upwards – literally, as I once again meandered through the beautiful courtyard of the Old Royal Naval College towards Greenwich Park, and up the aforementioned steep hill to the Royal Observatory.

The Observatory consists of a small collection of attractive buildings, including the free to enter Astronomy Centre, which I personally enjoyed the most, as it includes a bevy of interactive displays and space-themed objects. The planetarium was full of school groups when I visited; so seemed like a popular choice, and definitely one to book in advance.

Flamsteed House is the original Observatory building at Greenwich, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 on the instructions of King Charles II, and is a fascinating place to walk around. A highlight for me was the Octagon Room at the top of the house, where the first Astronomer Royal would have stargazed. The building also contains a large display of Harrison’s Sea Clocks.

I found most of the inside areas of the Observatory easy to walk round, and relatively free from people; not that it wasn’t a busy day, but all of the focus from the various school groups and visitors appeared to be concentrated on the courtyard, where of course the Prime Meridian line is located, and around the main entrance, where there is a stunning view of the area.

Make time for The Fan Museum

Crooms Hill runs parallel to The Ave up to the Observatory, so if you’re walking back down to the station from here, then The Fan Museum is conveniently on the way. As everything appeared to be in the area, the museum is housed in a very pretty building and is home to a collection of more than 3,500 predominantly antique fans from around the world.

And so my day came to an end. Greenwich was granted the status of Royal Borough in February and if my short visit was anything to go by, it is a fitting accolade.

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