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In a lavishly illustrated treatment, Aslet, the editor of Country Life, magnificently brings to life the rich history of Greenwich, England. Americans know the city as the site of the Royal Observatory, which sets time for the world. Aslet reveals it as much more. First the site of a mysterious Roman shrine or temple on the Thames, the settlement that became Greenwich was thereafter occupied by Anglo-Saxons for whom it may have functioned as a port or market. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the town was sacked by Vikings, who killed the local archbishop. Greenwich later developed into the site of a great estate and manor house, and a maritime port of considerable prominence, linked to the sea by the Thames. Starting with Henry VII, who built the palace of Placentia there in 1500—04, Greenwich became a home away from London for Britain’s kings and queens, a refuge from the intrigues at court and the plague, which frequently infested the capital, a place of magnificent buildings and opulent living, and most importantly, a center of maritime activity. Though Aslet’s story is largely one of buildings, he weaves into the narrative the story of the people who have lived in them through the centuries: from Chaucer to Samuel Pepys, as well as celebrated mathematician Sir Jonas Moore and Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed. In the late 17th century, the Royal Observatory was built at Greenwich in order to escape the smoky skies around London, and the magnificent Seamen’s Hospital, designed by Christopher Wren, was erected. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the building of more estates and parks and the establishment of Greenwich’s role as the site of the timeball to which the world sets its watch. The 20th has seen the creation of the Millennium Dome, built to celebrate the year 2000, and the declaration by UNESCO of Greenwich as a World Heritage Site. A congenial, absorbing tour through time of an immensely interesting old town.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-00076-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999