A good friend of mine from Brühl in Germany has just given me this picture, having come across it in an antique printshop in Cologne. It’s a view of Greenwich Hospital – later known as The Royal Hospital for Seamen – which was designed by Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869 and the building became the Royal Naval College in 1873. This view is taken from Island Gardens on the south-east tip of the Isle of Dogs, which is very near to where I live – ah!
This is a steel-line engraving by John Rogers (c.1800-1882) from an original study by the English watercolour landscape painter George Bryant Campion (1795-1870) – who incidentally was Drawing Master at the Military Academy in nearby Woolwich. I think the engraving was originally produced for the England’s Topographer series of Kent Views published in London from 1828 to 1831, although it may have also appeared in T. Allen’s Panorama of London (1830) and W. H. Ireland’s The Country of Kent (1832) – but I’m going to check that next time I’m in the British Library.
Anyway, besides all that – and the very intriguing question as to how it ended up in Cologne – is the mysterious juxtapositioning of four handwritten lines above the picture of Greenwich.
In a slightly unsteady copperplate style, these words are written on the sheet of grey paper to which the print of Greenwich has been messily glued after removal from whatever publication it appeared in. Has the whole been removed from a nineteenth-century scrapbook?
The earliest record I can find of this epigram in print is in The New Foundling Hospital for Wit published in 1786, but it subsequently appears repeatedly in other collections of funnies, for example in Elegant Extracts (1816) and The Tickler (1819). But what is the connection with Greenwich Hospital? Here’s a scan of the whole page: