Photographer's Note

Standing between these fantastic buildings of the past history looking on over the Thames and to the modern Canary wharf buildings.

The Royal Naval Hospital

William III did not want to live at Greenwich, preferring Kensington, and eventually his Queen, Mary, decided to build a naval alms-house, the Royal Naval Hospital, on the site of the old palace, incorporating the King Charles Block. Sir Christopher Wren was engaged as surveyor, assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Wren, probably realising that he would not live to see the work to completion, insisted that the footings for all four blocks be laid first, so that later trustees or architects could not change his design substantially. Later a number of other leading architects were also involved, such as Campbell, Ripley and James. The main work took place between 1696 and 1712, although the construction was not finished completely until 1752.

The buildings comprise four separate blocks, each with its central courtyard. Along the riverside are King Charles Block and Queen Anne Block, and behind them to the south are King William Block and Queen Mary Block. The latter two are the domed buildings which contain the two main points of interest for the visitor, the Painted Hall and the Chapel.

The Painted Hall is a masterpiece of decoration. The artist was Sir James Thornhill, and it took him nineteen years to complete the work, finishing in 1727. He was paid three pounds a square yard for the ceiling and one pound a square yard for the walls. The Hall was designed as a dining room for the pensioners, but proved to small for the population. It was not used for this purpose again until 1939, when the Navy used it as their Mess until 1998. In 1806 the body of Nelson lay in state in the Painted Hall until he was taken upriver by funeral barge for burial at St Pauls Cathedral.

The interior of the Chapel, situated in the Queen Mary Block, was destroyed by fire in 1779 and was redesigned by James 'Athenian' Stuart in a completely different style, using intricate patterns of plaster mouldings on pale Wedgewood coloured backgrounds. Services recommenced in 1789 and continue to the present day.

In 1705 the first disabled or retired seamen came to live in the hospital, the numbers rising to about three thousand by 1814, after which they declined sharply, mainly because of the end of the Napoleonic wars. Despite the magnificence of the buildings in which they were housed, there were many complaints about poor food and pettiness on the part of the trustees. For even minor offences the old pensioners were forced to wear their uniform coats inside out; the yellow lining making them very noticeable and causing unnecessary humiliation to the proud old sea-dogs. By 1869 the numbers had fallen so low that it was decided to close the hospital.

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Iain Richardson (RhodieIke) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 835 W: 1 N: 2666] (11744)
  • Genre: Places
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2012-05-13
  • Categories: Architecture
  • Exposure: f/5.6, 1/1000 seconds
  • More Photo Info: view
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2014-01-27 0:46
Viewed: 1237
Points: 18
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Additional Photos by Iain Richardson (RhodieIke) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 835 W: 1 N: 2666] (11744)
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