It’s an age-old debate in which there can be no winners, only losers. Just how do you pronounce “Greenwich”?

There is debate about the first syllable. Is it “Grin” or is it “Gren”? And there is debate about the ending. Is it “-idge” or is it “-itch”? That gives you four possible pronunciations and adherents of each will tell you that theirs is the one true path. All others are too posh, too working class, only used by those originally from outside south-east London or are simply wrong. I was born in south-east London but might find it difficult to defend against a charge of poshness. However, my way is the right way. You’ll just have to guess which.

Today at church we had an honoured guest to give the sermon: The Very Reverend Dr David Ison, Dean at St Paul’s Cathedral. His early work was in neighbouring Deptford, so he really ought to be an important source for determining the right pronunciation. Unfortunately, there was a much more extraordinary episode which blasted any recollection of how he might have pronounced “Greenwich” from my mind.

Our church is named for the 11th century saint, St Alfege. Which Dr Ison insisted on pronouncing “AL-pheege” putting him, I might suggest, in a class of one, with the rest of the world pronouncing his name “AL-fedge”. Regrettably, he used Alfege’s name throughout his sermon, and it was quite amusing to watch the vicar trying to decide whether to interrupt and correct him or whether to let him plough on. He went for the latter and simply rolled his eyes, winced a bit and then tried to look elsewhere. Members of the congregation exchanged glances and shrugged.

Word to the wise: if you’re going to give a sermon at somebody else’s church, it’s a good idea to double-check their preferred pronunciation of the saint to which that church is dedicated.

St Alfege is holding a restoration appeal to fix the eastern front of this fine Nicholas Hawksmoor church. Please give generously if you can.

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