I was born at St Alfege’s Hospital in 1954, nine years after the end of the Second World War, when Greenwich residents were still living under the rationing of food, and bombsites were a visible reminder of the recent global hostilities. The hospital, originally erected as the infirmary of a workhouse in the 1800s, was named after the 9th century Archbishop of Canterbury, abducted, and then murdered by the Danes at Greenwich, initially a riverside Anglo-Saxon settlement.

At around ten years old, many structures flattened by the Luftwaffe were still open spaces filled with building rubble and broken furniture, which had become adventure playgrounds for me and many of my school friends at the time, where we would build camps out of broken doors, lengths of timber and bricks. A few of these ruined buildings even had standing walls, a boarded up basement or outhouse, which were easy enough for adventurous and imaginative youngsters to get into without too much effort.

A few years on, and with the country’s economy getting back onto an even footing, the sites were gradually being cleared for the erection of prefabricated houses and simply designed and built social housing. On Greenwich Marsh, once known as Greenwich Level and recently rebranded Greenwich Peninsula, although targeted during the Blitz due to its industrial importance to the war effort, industry had flourished up until the 1960s. When North Sea Gas threatened the production of coal gas on the Marsh, and the munitions works at nearby Woolwich Arsenal and the shipyards across the Thames closed down, it foretold the beginning of the end of Greenwich’s industrial heritage.

This is the large expanse of Greenwich Marsh historically known as Greenwich Level. (c. Greenwich Reflections, Amberley Publishing)

The bombed out sites on Greenwich Marsh were left vacant, along with many of the long established industrial sites after their closure, and a majority of surviving 19th century terraced properties were then demolished under the directive of London County Council, on the grounds the marsh area was unsuitable for housing. By the 1980s, I began to witness a change to the landscape of the Greenwich where I grew up, especially across Greenwich Marsh. The industries on the south side of the Thames, another part of Greenwich where we had adventures playing down on the riverbank or on moored up barges, were gradually being replaced by modern riverside residencies. Local pubs began to close and were either knocked down and replaced by even more residential apartments, or, after change of use, refurbished into letting residencies.

The riverside town’s long standing historical buildings, such as the Royal Naval College, The National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Observatory and St Alfege’s Church, secured Greenwich’s status as a World Heritage Site in 1997, and to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, Greenwich was made a Royal Borough of London.

The Ship and Billet is located on the corner of Marsh Lane (now Blackwall Lane), in earlier times a narrow trackway leading onto Greenwich Marsh. A public house had existed on the site since the early 1800s, a period when Greenwich Marsh was evolving into an area of industry. (c. Greenwich Reflections, Amberley Publishing)

Meanwhile, amongst these significant celebratory historical milestones, Greenwich Marsh had been transformed into a place of regeneration, the huge Millennium Dome, now known as the O2 Arena, had been erected to the north of the Marsh, as part of the Second Millennium celebrations, and a vast complex of apartments, hotels, restaurants, sports and leisure facilities, transport hub and entertainment venues had been constructed. However, it later emerged that the amount of affordable housing proposed by developers in the initial building stage had been cut, and many of the apartments were sold to overseas investors.

Very few of the areas industrial sites now remain, the gasworks only surviving giant gasometer was recently demolished, leaving just a small section of the metalwork as a reminder, perhaps a memorial, to the Marsh’s industrial heritage.

Not only has the landscape of Greenwich altered beyond all recognition compared to the place where I grew up, the social demographics of Greenwich have changed also.

David C. Ramzan's book Greenwich Reflections is available for purchase now.