In a change to the planned GHS Pantomime (which has been postponed and will instead be performed in January), our forthcoming meeting on Wednesday 22 November is now to be
LEST WE FORGET… THE HISTORY OF THE GREENWICH BOROUGH ARCHIVES.
This will take place at The Trafalgar Tavern. Doors open 7pm, meeting commences 7.30.
This lantern lecture will tell the history of the Greenwich Archives from their inception, revealing the civic pride Greenwich Council once took in the Borough’s history, through to their sadly reduced circumstances of the present day.
THE TALK WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A GENERAL DISCUSSION, DURING WHICH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE FLOOR WILL BE WELCOMED.
Please find further details attached.
“GREENWICH HAS ALWAYS TAKEN TREMENDOUS PRIDE IN THE BOROUGH’S LONG HISTORY…”
So proclaimed the then Leader of Greenwich Council when “Royal Borough” status was dangled before him in 2012. What fine words these turned out to be.
Just six years later in 2018 the Greenwich Heritage Centre (opened with great fanfare in Woolwich Arsenal in 2003) was summarily closed with no public consultation. The Greenwich Borough Archives have remained out of sight and essentially inaccessible ever since.
Renewed focus on the Borough Archives has been prompted by Greenwich Council’s “heritage led” bid to become London Borough of Culture 2025.
Once again, Greenwich Council appears to be attempting to harness the history of the borough for self-aggrandisement. With no hint of irony or shame, a summit to launch this bid was held last month in Woolwich Works, formerly the location of the Greenwich Heritage Centre.
The Council recently stated: “At the heart of our bid will be the people who’ve made Royal Greenwich their home. We’re asking you, what’s your story! What’s your family’s history within our borough. Your heritage and experiences will help us build a bid entry that truly represents the people of our borough.” The Council also expressed the intention of “digging into the archives to find stories from the past.”
Yet, as things stand, it remains impossible to dig into the Borough Archives, as it has been for the past FIVE YEARS.
Nonetheless, until last month, Greenwich Council’s website still had a page devoted to the Greenwich Heritage Centre indicating it was still in Woolwich Arsenal and remained open for business as usual.
The sorry saga of the Archives has recently been well covered online by The Greenwich Wire, The Murky Depths, and News Shopper:
Dr Mary Mills, the well-respected former local councillor, historian and stalwart of the Greenwich Industrial History Society has launched a petition calling upon the Council to restore a properly functioning archive and museum service:
The increasing number of signatories reflects the strength of feeling that exists for the Archives. Please add your name to them.
Since May 2022, GHS has repeatedly expressed our apprehensions regarding the Archives to the Leader of Greenwich Council, most recently on 9 November this year. After being ignored for the best part of a year and a half, we eventually received a reply from the Leader last week in which he agreed to meet the Greenwich Historical Society to discuss the matter face to face. We hope this meeting will take place before the end of this month.
The aim of the Greenwich Historical Society is simple: to achieve the reopening of the Greenwich Borough Archives, with accessibility for all, and to secure their long-term future as a recognised local asset, which is also of national significance. We hope the Council will belatedly appreciate the invaluable potential the Archives possess – not only to unlock the past but also to inform, improve and enhance the present and future of the Borough.
The ever-expanding audiences the Greenwich Historical Society’s lectures attract – over 200 people attended our lecture at The Trafalgar in September – visibly demonstrate a genuine interest in and demand for history and popular education, reflecting the vital role this plays in authentic community engagement.
Long may it continue!
We greatly look forward to seeing you on 22 November.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ROYAL BOROUGH OF GREENWICH
FROM GREENWICH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
3 October 2023
The following email was sent by the Greenwich Historical Society to Cllr. Anthony
Okereke, the Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, on 13 May 2022, to share
the Society’s concerns regarding the fate of the Greenwich Borough Archives and
Museum Collection. As Cllr. Okereke failed to respond, it was sent again on 2 July
2022 and once more on 13 September 2022. To date, we have received neither reply
nor acknowledgment from Cllr. Okereke.
On 13 September 2022, this email was also circulated to the Chief Executive of
Greenwich Council, the Chair of Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust (who is also the
Leader of the Labour Group in the London Assembly), the Mayor of Greenwich,
the MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, and ten Royal Borough of Greenwich
Councillors. None of whom responded.
The Royal Borough of Greenwich has now launched a bid to become London
Borough of Culture 2025. The stated intention of the Council is for this bid to be
“heritage led”. We therefore feel it to be timely to send this email again to Cllr.
Okereke in the hope both of a long-overdue response and an opportunity to discuss
the future of the Archive.
With no hint of irony or shame, a summit to launch Greenwich Council’s bid to
become London Borough of Culture 2025 is being held on 3rd and 4th October at
Woolwich Works. This site was formerly the location of the Greenwich Heritage
Centre until its abrupt closure, without any public consultation, in early July 2018.
Since which time the Archive has remained out of sight with no public access in a
poorly located industrial unit perilously close to the River Thames in Lower
Charlton. The Royal Borough of Greenwich has the dubious distinction of offering
the worst archive service of any borough in London, a situation that fully exposes the
harsh reality of Greenwich Council’s appallingly indifferent and negligent
commitment to the borough’s history and heritage.
GREENWICH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Previously sent on:
13 May 2022
2 July 2022
13 September 2022
3 October 2023
To: Cllr. Anthony Okereke, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich
Dear Cllr. Okereke,
Congratulations on your election as the new Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich
As representatives of the Greenwich Historical Society, we are writing as very concerned and
increasingly frustrated users of the Borough Archives to draw your attention as the new Leader
of the Council to their continuing inaccessibility and uncertain future.
Responsibility for the Archives lies with the Greenwich local authority which has unusually
devolved responsibility to the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust (RGHT) for their day-to-day
care and for making them accessible to the public. The Trust is responsible also for the Museum
Collections and for Charlton House.
The Archives are a resource for the whole community as well as for all those who are concerned
to discover aspects of the history of Greenwich and its people. They comprise centuries of local
social, planning and industrial history, including much material relating to the Royal Arsenal
and Dockyard and the Old Royal Naval College, as well as the less well known and less studied
parts of the Borough. The Archives therefore are of great importance for all concerned with
Greenwich’s local and internationally important history, but also perhaps more pertinently in
the current development and housing climate, they provide a vital resource for all who are
engaged in ongoing planning and development issues. But they are inaccessible.
The Archives were closed without public consultation at very short notice in 2018 when they
were removed from Woolwich Arsenal to make way for the development of the cultural quarter.
They were moved into store at Anchorage Point, Charlton, with the intention of being returned
in due course to a more accessible location. The Archives are still at Anchorage Point. They
are being cared for and cataloguing is taking place but there is no public access to a search
room and apparently no plan or date for opening to the public, and no plan for a long-term
secure location. We could understand closure during the period of the pandemic, but other
London archives which had been forced to close by Covid-19 reopened last year. This failure
to fulfil a basic responsibility in running a local history Archive – making it available to the
public – seems to us to represent a dereliction of duty reflecting very badly on the RGHT and
on the council.
It is clear that Anchorage Point was only ever an interim response to the problem of housing
the archive. Now that the site is to be subject to redevelopment for the building of a new school
with new housing and an access road, it becomes even more pressing to find a new home which
will enable the continuing preservation of fragile documents as well as providing a search room
for researchers. Now that the sale of the Borough Hall has fallen through we wonder whether
that might be considered as a potential new home for the Archives, given its accessible location
with good transport links, bringing back to life a modernist building of great architectural merit
as a hub for the exploration of social and planning history with great educational potential.
We would very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you since four years
after the Archives closed, they seem no nearer to being reopened.
The President and Council of the Greenwich Historical Society:
Anthony Cross, President
Dr Marilyn Ballisat
John Bold, Former Head of Architecture, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England;
Emeritus Fellow, University of Westminster
Julian Bowsher, FSA, Former Senior Archaeologist & Numismatist, Museum of London Archaeology
Peter Guillery, FRHistSoc, Honorary Senior Research Associate, Survey of London, The Bartlett School of
Architecture, University College London
Neil Rhind, MBE, FSA, President of the Blackheath Society; Honorary Freeman of the Royal Borough of
Julian Watson, Former Local History Librarian, London Borough of Greenwich, 1969-2003
Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner, FSA, Senior Curator Architecture and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum
William Palin, Honorary Conservation Director, Old Royal Naval College