Greenwich Park is a former hunting park in Greenwich and one of the largest single green spaces in south east London. One of the Royal Parks of London, and the first to be enclosed, it covers 74 hectares and is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site. It commands fine views over the River Thames, Isle of Dogs and the City of London. The park is open from 06:00 for pedestrians all year round and closes at dusk.
The estate of some 200 acres was originally owned by the Abbey of St. Peter at Ghent, but reverted to the Crown in 1427 and was given by Henry VI to his uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. He built a house by the river, Bella Court, and a small castle, called Greenwich Castle as well as Duke Humphrey’s Tower, on the hill. The former evolved first into the Tudor Palace of Placentia and then into the Queen's House and Greenwich Hospital. Greenwich Castle, by now in disrepair, was chosen for the site of the Royal Observatory by Charles II in 1675. In the 15th century the park was mostly heath land and probably used for hawking. In the next century, deer were introduced by Henry VIII for hunting, and a small collection of deer is maintained today in an area to the south east. James enclosed the park with a brick wall, twelve feet high and two miles long at a cost of £2000, much of which remains and defines the modern boundary.
In the 17th century, the park was landscaped, possibly by Andre Le Notre who is known at least to have designed plans for it. The public were first allowed into the park during the 18th century. Samuel Johnson visited the park in 1763 and commented “Is it not fine?” The famous hill to the north of the observatory was used on public holidays for mass ‘tumbling’. In the 1830s a railway was nearly driven through the middle of the lower park on a viaduct but the scheme was defeated by intense local opposition. However, the London and Greenwich Railway was later extended beneath the ground via a cut and cover tunnel link between Greenwich and Maze Hill which opened in 1878. In 1888 the park got a station of its own when Greenwich Park railway station was opened. The station was not successful, with most passengers preferring the older Greenwich station and in 1917 Greenwich Park station and the line it ran on closed down. Greenwich Park was used for outdoor London scenes including representing the street, Constitution Hill in the 2009 film The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend.
When London hosts the Summer Olympics in 2012 Greenwich Park will be the venue for the equestrian events and for the riding and running parts of the modern pentathlon events. For the Summer Paralympics in 2012 Greenwich Park will be the venue for the equestrian events. After the Games, plans are to remove the venue back to its original state. The use of Greenwich Park for Olympic equestrian events has caused some contention between the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympics Games 2012 and some local area residents. NOGOE (No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events) is a community action group whose members believe Greenwich Park is not a suitable venue for the 2012 Olympic equestrian events. NOGOE has started a petition to get the equestrian events relocated which, as of February 2009, had gathered over 12,000 signatures. The park also staged the start of the final stage of the 2006 Tour of Britain cycle race. The Park hosts the Greenwich Meridian 10 km in March every year.
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