Blackheath author tells tales of the area one letter at a time
Perched on a park bench amid a steady stream of visitors clamouring for a view across Greenwich's Royal Naval Hospital and Queen's House, author Hugh Hawes chats passionately about the alphabet.
But this is no ordinary A to Z. These are 26 letters each with a special meaning, encompassing south east London's history.
After moving to Blackheath nearly 50 years ago, Hugh delved into the archives and put pen to paper to create his latest book, Greenwich And Blackheath: A Historical Alphabet.
At the age of 83, this isn't his first literary venture.
The history graduate penned a number of school text books about East Africa during his time as a teacher but his accessible guide to the treasures of Greenwich and Blackheath was all the more special, as his granddaughters helped out with imagery and Hugh published the final copy himself.
"My wife calls me a one-man job creative," he joked. "I think that's about right."
A total of 500 copies were produced and, just over six months has seen steady sales within the town's Waterstones store and Greenwich Heritage Centre.
Opening with a description of the Millennium Embroideries and a potted history of the area, the reader then gets stuck into the grammatical sequence of events, from the life of St Alfege to Zany buildings, including The Pagoda in Blackheath.
"I thought it might be fun," said Hugh "I really did it for my family but then when they read it, they said others would want to read it too.
"You tend to show people around Blackheath and as you do, you learn more.
"So I thought 'is there a way I can write this so people read bits every now and then, instead of ploughing their way through?'."
Hugh explains we're sitting next to "probably one of the oldest things around," this being the site of a former Roman Temple in the heart of Greenwich Park, across from the Royal Observatory.
But it's what we're sitting atop that signalled one of many voyages of discovery.
Greenwich Park, Hugh said, boasted a network of underground warrens and chalk caves which, until the last century, visitors could explore.
And his research revealed the caves under Point Hill were also used as nightclub hotspots in the Victorian times. He said: "There was so much I didn't know. We tend to know a lot about the Queen's House, or the Royal Naval College, but the peninsula was all new to me with all the things that happened there.
"I found out so much - there was a big ammunition store there, which people objected to very strongly and then there was a tidal mill and a whaling station."
And then there were the tricky letters that tax the brain.
"I had to cheat a little," Hugh said. "For instance on 'H' I had
The Royal Hospital for Seamen but I also wanted it for highwaymen, so I had to turn highwaymen into 'Y' for yobs, which was a little bit different.
"I also put the Greenwich Geese there - that was the name given to Greenwich people who had too much time on their hands, and spent a large amount of time robbing poultry.
"For 'X' I did excursions and 'Q' wasn't difficult because it was the Queen's House, or else that would have been a difficult one."
Fresh from his historical writing successes, Hugh has returned to his roots in education, putting together a new book, Children Can Do, to be published in October.
Greenwich and Blackheath: A Historical Alphabet is available from Waterstones Greenwich and the Greenwich Heritage Centre.
At Waterstones, it is priced at £14.50.