Panic on the peninsula. Outrage in North Greenwich. The gas-holder, familiar to motorists skirting the perimeter fence of what is now the site of The Millennium Experience, set ablaze. Flames visible across the river from Beckton Alp to Parliament Hill. 'A man said to have a slight Irish accent said: "This is the IRA. We have planted bombs at the southern entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel. For goodness sake, do something about it. We want the area cleared."' So Gareth Parry reported in the Guardian of 19 January 1979. Bomb-carriers, from The Secret Agent to Paul Theroux's Deptford-based urban terrorists in The Family Arsenal, have delighted in targeting Greenwich domes. There is something in the nature of the place, a residue of royalty and privilege and congenital self-satisfaction: the old dockside dowager has painted herself up for the punters, while revising her lurid past in amnesiac tourist brochures. Clap sores revamped as beauty spots. PR operatives delight in being both economical and spendthrift with the truth. Acceptable glories - the knighting of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Francis Chichester, visits by Samuel Pepys, location work for the latest Jane Austen or for Harrison Ford (more bombs) in Patriot Games - are trumpeted, while the dark history of the Greenwich marshes, a decayed industrial wilderness, is brutally elided.
LRB 13 May 1999 | PDF Download