Monday, 19 July 2010

The Pagoda, Blackheath Village

Blackheath Village, on the southern rim of London, near Greenwich, is a delightful place and one of the few true villages to have retained its separation from all the suburban sprawl. It is helped in this by the existence of Greenwich Park and the heath itself, which is famous for several things: the first golf course outside of Scotland; the first hockey club; the selection of the first English rugby team, in the Princess of Wales pub, for the first rugby international (between England and Scotland) in 1871; and the Cornish uprising of 1497, in rebellion against taxes that violated the rights of the Cornish Stannary Parliament. It was almost certainly also along the ancient Watling Street, which stretches across the heath, and on to the Dover Road, that Beau Brummell fled in his carriage on the night of 16th May 1816. The Pagoda, dating from 1775, was one of the first houses built here (for the Duke of Buccleuch), before the village became a dormitory for London workers on the coming of the railway. It was built as a summer house for Montagu House, which formerly stood next to the Park Ranger's House, and was probably designed by Sir William Chambers. It has a steep pagoda roof and is altogether in a Chinese style. It is a private residence and may be viewed only from the outside. It became, for a time, the refuge of Princess (later Queen), Caroline, after the Prince Regent banished her in 1799, until she moved to Montagu House. She was followed by scandal in both of these places, as well as in Italy, leading up to the Trial of Queen Caroline, under the guise of the Pains and Penalties Bill of 1820, by which George IV (as he had become) sought to divorce her and deny her the title of Queen. The Bill made the King even less popular and the Queen was cheered in the streets. The Bill was withdrawn, after the taking of evidence and debate in the House of Lords, where it was passed by a slim margin, as the government realized that the chance of its passing in the House of Commons was remote. By this time, Caroline had left Blackheath and the Prince Regent had ordered Montagu House to be demolished in 1815. However, the delightful Pagoda remains and, if you are in the area, is certainly worth a visit; as is The Paragon, a glorious crescent of houses, dating from 1807. The Paragon is shown in the top picture and The Pagoda in the second.

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