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Doing their level best to restore former Greenwich mansion

A campaign has begun to restore a 130-year-old mansion in Greenwich which has played a significant role establishing the university there, writes James Twomey.

John Thomas North – Picture: Wikipedia

Greenwich council and community members are backing a £6.9million funding bid to restore the Avery Hill Winter Garden to its former glory.

The council has submitted its bid to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ ‘Levelling Up’ fund, committing to provide £4.7million matc- funding to restore and protect the much-loved community asset.

The £11.7million restoration project would allow the structural repairs needed to return it to its original grandeur.

The large Italianate mansion at Avery Hill was built between 1886 – 1890 as the home of businessman and entrepreneur Colonel John Thomas North and his family.

Colonel North, born in Leeds in 1842, was dubbed the Nitrate King after moving to Chile and managing to buy a large amount of bonds in Nitrate production there, which led to him monopolising the industry.

His enormous wealth led him to commission the construction of Avery Hill, and into business with the infamous coloniser and murderer Belgian King Leopold II.

King Leopold brutally colonised the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo to exploit the land and people for rubber.

The deaths resulting from this are predicted to be in the millions.

On his death in 1896, North was broke and his widow sold the property, which was eventually bought by London County Council and opened as a residential female teacher training college in 1906.

Doing their level best to restore former Greenwich mansion
Inside the Greenhouse Picture: John Webb

In the following years, the college purchased nearby additional buildings and built new student accommodation as numbers of students increased.

During the First World War Roper Hall became a convalescent home for soldiers, but the college remained open.

During the Second World War Avery Hill was evacuated.

When the college returned to Eltham in 1946, all the buildings had suffered war damage, including most of the original mansion.

Avery Hill merged with Thames Polytechnic in 1985, when Avery Hill became the Polytechnic’s Faculty of Education and Community Studies.

The college subsequently became part of the University of Greenwich in 1992.

The council has negotiated with the University of Greenwich and agreed that ownership of the Winter Garden will be transferred to the council to manage the restoration.

The council will retain responsibility and ownership of the building once the project is complete.

Doing their level best to restore former Greenwich mansion
Avery Hill Greenhouse –  Picture: Matt Brown

John Webb, chairman of the Friends of Avery Hill Park, said: “We’re delighted to endorse the Levelling Up Fund application which would enable the potential of this landmark site to be unlocked.

“With proper design, creative thinking and investment, the Winter Garden can provide a focal point for our diverse community.

“It can be a place of public pride, local identification, a symbol of inclusion and accessibility for all, a centre of learning and leisure, volunteering, celebration and quiet reflexion – truly something for everybody.”

 

Main Picture: The Late Colonel Norths Residence illustration in 1909 Picture: University of Greenwich

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