Greenwich and the Moon

Dr Marek Kukula
Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich

Museum-of-the-Moon---Greenwich, 23-25 June

When a luminous floating Moon moors itself beside the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park this weekend it may seem as though our planet’s natural satellite has fallen to Earth. The Museum of the Moon by artist Luke Jerram is a spectacular seven metre wide lunar globe that uses detailed NASA photography to reproduce the Moon’s surface features at a scale of 1:500,000. This glorious fusion of science and art, with a dash of magic mixed in, has been enchanting audiences around the UK but perhaps here in Greenwich the Museum of the Moon has found its natural home, as this visitation is only the latest in a long line of lunar manifestations in the Royal Borough – so many in fact that Greenwich has a strong claim to being London’s most lunar district.

As a settlement on the tidal Thames, the twice daily rising and falling of the river at the behest of the Moon has always been a familiar part of Greenwich life. This tidal influence is embodied on the ceiling of the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall in the form of the lunar goddess Selene, her brow crowned with a silver crescent. Also commemorated on the ceiling is the eclipse of April 22 1715, accurately predicted by Greenwich resident and first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed, based on his painstaking observations of the Moon’s motions.

The ORNC, then known as Greenwich Hospital, features prominently in The Thames and Greenwich Hospital by Moonlight painted by Henry Pether in the mid-nineteenth century and now on display in the Queen’s House art gallery. As an artist Pether was famous for both moonlit scenes and views of the Thames so this ethereal canvas combines his two abiding interests.

On the right hand side of Pether’s painting is another structure with a lunar connection: the 1855 obelisk in memory of Lieutenant Joseph René Bellot. Bellot was a French naval officer who won the admiration and gratitude of the British for his efforts to discover the fate of missing arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew (soon to be the subject of a blockbuster exhibition at the National Maritime Museum). But Greenwich is not the only place where this mariner is remembered: in 1935 a 17 kilometre wide crater on the Moon, on the edge of the Sea of Fecundity, was named Bellot – giving him the rare honour of a monument on two different worlds.

Several other lunar features have Greenwich links. There are craters named after Astronomers Royal Flamsteed, Halley, Bliss, Maskelyne, Airy, Dyson and Spencer Jones, while Maunder Crater honours the nineteenth century husband and wife team of Walter and Annie Maunder whose pioneering work on solar variability is still relevant to studies of climate change today. Rather than a crater the third Astronomer Royal, James Bradley, who proved that the Earth moves around the Sun, has a lunar mountain named in his honour.

Arguably the Royal Observatory itself owes its very existence to the Moon: it was founded in 1675 by King Charles II to measure and predict the complex motions of the Moon across the sky so that they could be used to improve marine navigation (although for several months, while the Observatory itself was being constructed at the top of the hill, Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed conducted his lunar observations from the Queen’s House). This lunar legacy is reflected today in two of the Observatory’s iconic buildings: the elegant Altazimuth Pavilion, built in the late nineteenth century for observing the Moon, and, on the side of the neighbouring Astronomy Centre, the allegorical terracotta bas relief of Astronomia holding a crescent Moon in her outstretched hand.

The Moon also features heavily in the Royal Observatory’s world-class collections of maps, globes and scientific instruments. Among these is the wonderful Selenographia– an astonishingly detailed and accurate globe of the Moon by the eighteenth century artist John Russell. Russell was most famous for his pastel portraits of Georgian celebrities but he had a lifelong obsession with all things lunar and, in an age when science and art were not quite as separate as they are today, he was well acquainted with Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne and President of the Royal Society Sir Joseph Banks. One of Russell’s delicate pastels of the Moon – a portrait as much as a scientific recording – is also in the Greenwich collection.

Russell’s lunar globes and portraits only show one side of the Moon, since our satellite always keeps one face permanently turned towards the Earth. Humanity had to wait until 1959 to see the mysterious Far Side, when the Soviet Luna 3 probe made a circuit of the Moon and beamed back the first grainy pictures. Amazingly, just ten years later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the first human footprints in the soft lunar dust. Among the hundreds of thousands of people who contributed to this historic achievement was Welsh engineer and amateur astronomer Hugh Percy Wilkins, whose 300-Inch map of the Moon, painstakingly compiled from lunar observations made in South London, was used by NASA to help select the landing sites for the Apollo missions. Reputedly, engineers designing the spacesuits worn by the Apollo astronauts also studied the construction of Henry VIII’s suit of foot combat armour made by the craftsmen of the famous Greenwich Armoury.

It’s just two years until the fiftieth anniversary of Armstrong’s ‘one small step’ and Royal Museums Greenwich is planning to celebrate in 2019 with a programme of exhibitions and events. Also on the horizon are plans for Aluna, a unique tidally powered lunar clock proposed for the Greenwich riverside. Greenwich’s links with the Moon are set to continue for many years to come.

Of course, the Moon’s influence extends beyond science and art into stories and folklore, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the terrifying legend of the werewolf – a human being transformed into a ravening beast by the occult power of the Moon. It’s worth noting that the 2010 remake of classic horror movie The Wolf Man, starring Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt, was partly filmed here in Greenwich. Might the digitally-rendered features of Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon be capable of triggering a bout of twenty-first century lycanthropy? Who knows? But it’s something to ponder as you make your way home through the darkening groves of Greenwich Park.

Dr Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. He received a PhD in Radio Astronomy from the University of Manchester and carried out research into quasars and distant galaxies with the Hubble Space Telescope. Marek is the author of The Intimate Universe and the co-author of The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, both published in 2015.

Museum of the Moon
The Old Royal Observatory Garden, Greenwich Park

It’s free to visit at the following times:
Friday 23 June 6pm-9pm
Saturday 24 June 2pm-9pm
Sunday 25 June 12pm-7pm

There are ticketed night-time shows at the following times:
Friday 23 June 10pm and 11pm
Saturday 24 June 10pm (SOLD OUT) and 11pm
Tickets £10
Click here to book in advance (please note advance sales end 24hrs before the show).
There will also be a queue for free entry on the night. Capacity is limited and entry unfortunately cannot be guaranteed to all those in the queue for free tickets.


Eyes down for Bingo Lingo at GDIF

Hiya one and all in that there London,

Let us introduce ourselves.. I’m Beryl – 4ft 10 with blonde wavy hair, brown eyes wearing a leopard print suit


and this is Cyril – he’s 5ft 4, dark brown hair, brown eyes wearing a dapper oil slick colour jacket and black trousers.


It’s been a bit of a year I can tell you. September 2016 saw us playing Bingo Lingo at the Liberty Festival in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park down in London and it appears that we have created a bit of a buzz with our Bingo. We have gone Grande (according to Cyril that means large on that there incontinence).

Our Bingo Lingo (we added the lingo bit ourselves) is our attempt to make Bingo an official Paralympic sport. We were sat in the Labour Club in Barnsley in 2012 watching the Paralympics and it was such a wonderful opening ceremony, all about being equal, inclusive and creative…

But then the games began and they started going on about being Super Human and we don’t like that. I’ve never felt super human even with a few G&T’s inside me. No, we don’t want people excluded. Everyone should be able to participate and feel amazing!

We had been running our regular Bingo nights at the Barnsley Labour club for many years. It’s how we met. And the nights do get a good turnout. So, put two and two together… we decided to play Bingo on a Paralympic scale for the Non-Super Humans.

As charisma and style are our middle names our mobility scooters got pimped up – Cyril’s has a large red cage for his balls and I have hooks for me prizes to dangle off.  We enlarged our bingo cards to help them who are visually impaired and we also got loud speakers to help the ones you have to shout at. In no time at all, Bingo Lingo was born! It’s a team game where you support each other and have to share a prize… now that’s what we call inclusion.

bingo lingo

We even pimped up our Bingo calls and they inspired by the lives of ordinary people who are all just a little bit different. Bingo Lingo is a game for everyone, where disability politics meets cheeky end of the pier humour.

Bingo Lingo, a reinvention of a great British tradition. So it’s eyes down for a game like you’ve never played before. … eh and Just remember when you’re stuck indoors and feeling quite low, get off your fat arse and come and play Bingo Lingo!

bingo 3

In 2017 we have already played Brighton Festival and Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Beautiful weekends away and made us realise that people in the South do actually have a sense of humour. It’s been great and we look forward to many more games of Bingo Lingo.

This is what people have been tweeting on that there Twitter thingy:

Bingo Lingo at the @NNFest Garden Party was absolutely hilarious, I laughed til I cried”

Awesome bingo calling @BingoCyril @LingoBeryl “Amputee: 83” “Theresa’s Den: number 10” “Guide Dog Poo: number 2”

I looooved this! A fun game for kids but also so many political and adult jokes thrown in. Highlight of my day”

Best Game of Bingo I have EVER played”

bingo lingo 2

Keep updated with all things Bingo Lingo, follow us on that there Twitter using @LingoBeryl and @BingoCyril or like on our FaceBooklet page @BingoLingoBingo

Come and play Bingo Lingo at Greenwich Fair on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25.
Find out more at



STRONG LADY at GDIF’s Out In The Streets

I am excited to be bringing my show STRONG LADY to GDIF for the Out In The Streets event – a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.  What better way to celebrate the freedom of queer visibility than to fill a public space with joyous queer art.


My work celebrates that what makes us unique, odd or different is special and important (in my case an unusual physical strength).  At the same time it delights in the knowledge that we are all much more the same than we are different.  When the law changed 50 years ago, it was a huge leap in cultural acceptance that queer love is just love, that queer people were still just people. To me this is key in creating art (and in life): being free to celebrate who you are in all your uniqueness AND at the same time, enjoying the connected-ness that we are all basically the same.

Through my work in outdoor arts I hope to bring together a diverse public, to invite them to laugh together to build connection, and to offer an example of self-acceptance and celebrating diversity.  STRONG LADY is an array of feats-of-strength inspired by vaudeville strongmen and strongwomen of the past, performed with a surprising mix of strength, elegance and comedy.  2017 marks 10 years since I first packed up my suitcase labelled STRONG LADY and left Australia to tour this show around the world.

The show has always played with duality (the truth is usually more interesting than anything you can make up, and I never did well with fitting into boxes).  In the beginning it was the play between strength and elegance that was most interesting to me.  Then there grew layers of playing with power and gentleness, or athleticism and being a curvy lady. Now, in this year’s evolution of the show, those things remain but I have added some new elements to the show to investigate the duality of strength and vulnerability. Come join in the celebration!  I hope to see your lovely face on the streets of Greenwich on June 25th. Xx Charmaine  (AKA: Betty Brawn, Strong Lady)

Strong Lady - carry - Credit Strong Lady Productions

See STRONG LADY on the corner of College Approach and King William Walk on Sunday 25 June at 1.10pm & 3.50pm

Click here to find out more about Out In The Streets

We’re delighted that Out In The Streets is part of the Pride in London festival.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram – @GDIFestival




Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures to perform at GDIF

This post from Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures is the first in a series of guest posts from companies and artists performing at GDIF 2017. Enjoy!

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures are very excited to be performing at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival on 1 July.

We will be performing an adaptation of Country from Town and Country which has been touring as part of Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures since February 2017. Early Adventures is a collection of hit pieces that launched Matthew’s career and first toured in 2012, as part of our 25th year anniversary. This year it has toured to celebrate 30 years of New Adventures and we’re looking forward to giving even more people a chance to see Country.

new adventures 2Country is the second part of Town and Country, first created in 1991 and where we in fact received our first Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. Moving and hilarious, this heartfelt pastiche explores notions of national character from a bygone era, through the evocative music of Percy Grainger. With an unforgettable clog dance and recognisable images of rural Britain, Country is a much-loved piece of Matthew’s. Quintessentially British, Country portrays all the quirky characteristics of Brits in the countryside, drinking tea, milking cows, sowing seeds and farm life with the intense wildness of the English moors.

In conversation with Alastair Macaulay, renowned dance critic, in his book Matthew Bourne and his adventures in dance, Matthew said:

“although it’s very frivolous at times and I was much less mature when I made it – by the end I am much more moved. I feel very, very connected to all the things in that piece. I’m like that now when I watch it on video, and was like that in 1991 when I was dancing it. I wasn’t on in the last section, and I would stand in the wings, and always shed a little tear. I love the music so much, as well.”

 new adventures 1

During the Early Adventures tour a Spotify playlist of the music that is inspired by the world of the production was put together with Matthew.

You can listen to it here:

What the critics say:

★★★★★ “Unmissable” THE OBSERVER

★★★★ “A witty delight” SUNDAY TIMES

See Country at Dancing City on Saturday 1 July 
Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf

Performance times 2.20pm and 3.45pm