Nigel Fletcher - Dale & Co.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Some initial feedback on my proposal to reconstruct the Great Harry. I've just recorded an interview for the local radio station Time FM, discussing the idea, and a couple of other papers have been in touch, so hopefully some debate will be prompted by those.
Meanwhile, a specialist shipyard has put the price of a totally authentic rebuild at an eye-wateringly high level, simply because of the vast size of the original. A smaller replica will therefore almost certainly be the order of the day, not least to enable the vessel to be manageable for sail training and so on. So, lots of things to consider further, and I look forward to hearing other thoughts too.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Yesterday I promised to write more about my ideas for making more of our heritage in the Borough of Greenwich, and specifically for marking our Tudor connections around the 500th Anniversary of Henry VIII's accession next year. Well, here goes.
One of my first ideas was commissioning a statue of Henry VIII to be placed somewhere suitable in the Borough - amazingly, there is currently only one public statue of him in London, which stands over the gate of St Bart's Hospital. I also thought about various Tudor-themed events such as a jousting tournament on the site of Henry's Tiltyard at Greenwich, and perhaps an exhibition of Tudor Armour made in Greenwich (there is a fantastic suit of armour for horse and rider made for the King, now on display in the Tower of London). Then there are music festivals, events around the Tudor Barn and Eltham Palace, and lots of other things we can do.
I mentioned some of these in my speech to Council, and have discussed them with various local groups. But the one I'm most excited about only occured to me in the last few weeks. On the stained glass window in the Council Chamber in Woolwich (see below) King Henry is depicted in the centre, whilst on the left hand side is a ship. This is Henri Grace a Dieu ('Henry by the Grace of God'), soon popularly known as 'The Great Harry' after the King himself. Launched in Woolwich in 1514, she was then the largest warship to have been built for the English Navy, and the pride of the fleet.
'So what?' you may ask. Well, as I said to Council on Wednesday, it's simple:
Let's rebuild her.
From the reaction in the Chamber, few colleagues took me seriously, and who can blame them? The credit crunch is biting, inflation soaring, and violent crime rampant, and Cllr. Fletcher wants to build a Tudor warship. Why? Well, I'm not pretending it will solve the world's ills, but I think it could certainly make a positive contribution to the life of our Borough. As I've thought about it more seriously, it seems to me it could be a perfect project to tie together the various elements of our history: Not just our rich Royal heritage and strong maritime tradition, but also the history of the people of the borough, whose families served on ships, in the armed forces and in the industries that grew up around those activities. The Royal Dockyard at Woolwich was founded to enable the building of The Great Harry, so 500 years on it would be a fitting way to mark the regeneration of the area today.
Businesses and other private donors could help raise the finance needed to build the ship, whilst trade apprentices could benefit from helping with the design and building. It could showcase local arts and crafts, and schoolchildren could be involved in projects and learn about it during the whole process. Then when it's finished, it can be used as a sail training vessel, helping disadvantaged young people and others to learn new skills and work together in a team - there are many charities which do amazing work turning round young lives with such activities.
And beyond all that, we would have a great asset we could take pride in and celebrate, in time for the anniversary of the launch of the original ship in 2014. When it is not sailing, income from tourists and corporate functions would be able to support its charitable work, and it would be great to have a fully sailing flagship for Woolwich to complement the much-loved Cutty Sark at Greenwich, and add to our heritage offer by bringing alive the Tudor period.
So there it is - a flight of fancy or a worthwhile project? I'm sure people will differ in their view, but I am determined to explore the idea.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Above is an extract from the official Greenwich Council Record of Decisions, circulated today. It's one of those very rare things in Greenwich- a Conservative-proposed motion passed, unamended, with the support of all parties. The full text of the motion is available by opening the document from the link above.
Whilst I'm very pleased by my motion making it onto our version of the statute book, the cross-party harmony didn't last long. Immediately afterwards we moved onto discuss a motion proposed by my colleague Spencer Drury, the Leader of the Opposition, condemning the Council's Cabinet for its scandalous failure to submit a response to the consultation on hospital closures in our area (see story here).
As we have come to expect from Labour, any hint of criticism is swiftly crushed, and so after a self-justifying sermon from Cllr Angela Cornforth (the relevant Cabinet Member), they tabled an amendment deleting any criticism and replacing it with worthy sentiments which ignored the central allegation against them - the lateness of their response. They then pushed this amendment through with a procedural motion that prevented debate on it.
This may sound technical, but it meant the motion we debated bore no resemblance to the one we submitted. Several of my colleagues were therefore ruled out of order by the Mayor for trying to debate the Cabinet's failure to stick up for the people of the Borough on the vital issue of our local health services. Once more, Labour used their majority on the Council to stifle proper debate.
Some very pleasing news from last night's Council meeting, where an unusual outbreak of cross-party consensus saw the motion I proposed passed unanimously. I was calling on Council to commit to putting our great history at the centre of our vision for the Borough and what it offers in the future. Specifically, I wanted a resolution requiring the Council to draw up plans to mark the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII, which occurs next year. I pointed out the stained glass windows that look down on us in the Council chamber depicting King Henry (above) and Elizabeth I. My colleague Councillor Coombes noted that as the latter is above the Labour benches, we on our side are faced with a stern and formidable woman every time we speak- and he didn't just mean Cllr. Maureen O'Mara. I rather fear Cllr. O'Mara will now be known as 'Gloriana' for the rest of her time on the Council, but she took it with good humour. We had a very positive debate, with some serious and thoughtful contributions on all sides, and I look forward to taking the issue forward. More on my specific ideas later...