The 500 Years of History tour at the Old Royal Naval College and a visit to the magnificent Painted Hall would not be complete without exploring the fascinating story of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s lying-in-state in the Nelson Room. This space has recently been restored and reinterpreted to reflect this extraordinary event.
On Christmas Eve 1805, on a cold night, the body of Lord Nelson arrived at Greenwich Hospital, now known as the Old Royal Naval College. Following his death during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, his body had been brought back to England, travelling up the Thames and arriving at Greenwich, where it was taken to a small records room off the Painted Hall ahead of his funeral in central London.
The new audio-visual experience explores the story of this national figure and looks at how people react when a much-loved celebrity dies. Visitors can explore Nelson’s connection with Greenwich and learn about how Greenwich became the epicentre of a national expression of loss and mourning, when tens of thousands of people descended on Greenwich. It also looks at what public ceremonials say about culture and politics.
The experience also gives the visitor an insight into the room itself, its history, restoration, and the artworks on display.
The unique architecture of this intimate room has been carefully conserved. Its imposing roof lantern, monumental stonework and Swedish marble flooring has been restored to its former glory. The large marble flagstones called Öland Stone was selected by architect Sir Christopher Wren himself.
Newly installed benches allow visitors to linger and enjoy Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor’s design according to Wren’s original masterplan and view and learn about the Nelson Pediment in the nearby courtyard. Ten feet high and 40 feet wide, the pediment was installed in October 1812, seven years after Nelson’s death and designed by the American-born artist Benjamin West.
A new passenger lift provides wheelchair access to the Nelson Room and the Painted Hall’s Upper Hall for the first time.
An admission ticket to the Painted Hall includes entry to the Nelson Room with a multimedia guide.
A ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ display illuminates Nelson’s lying-in-state, recreating the solemn atmosphere of the Painted Hall in January 1806.
This statue is a copy of the sculpture that stands at the top of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
It was designed by Edward Hodges Baily between 1840-43, and it is based on a column in the Forumof Augustus in Rome, drawing parallels with Julius Caesar and the power of the Roman Empire.
A newly commissioned bronze sculpture called Breaking the Line, by sculptor Antony Dufort, pays tribute to the many sailors who fought at Trafalgar and later became ‘Greenwich Pensioners’ at the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich.
It depicts six Greenwich Pensioners gathered on a bench outside the Chapel, celebrating TrafalgarDay and discussing Nelson’s tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar.