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Five years since the Painted Hall re-opened: showcasing the power of heritage


Fri 22 Mar 24

The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, a magnificent awe-inspiring space at the heart of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Since it’s re-opening five years ago, it has made a significant contribution to enjoyment, education and enterprise. 

This March, the Old Royal Naval College is celebrating five years since the Painted Hall reopened after a £8.5 million award-winning and pioneering conservation project between 2016-2019, which saw the Painted Hall restored to its full glory. The major transformation project also included full refurbishment of the King William Undercroft below, which now houses a vibrant public space with a shop, café and gallery.  

The conservation project also made the Painted Hall more accessible, through the explanation and interpretation of the artwork for a broad and diverse audience to enjoy the significance and beauty of the hall and physically accessible through the installation of two lifts for wheelchair users and visitors with limited mobility.  

The transformational project was made possible through lead support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as well as several major charitable foundations and hundreds of members of the public from across the world. 

Thanks to this conservation project, an extraordinary discovery was made, the Tudor remains of the Greenwich Palace, where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born. These building remains are incorporated into the design, giving visitors an opportunity to look at Tudor archaeology and the remains of palace bee-boles, unusual niches thought to be where beehives were kept during winter. 

Archaeologists document the Tudor finds beneath the Painted Hall shortly after their excavation. August 2017.

The Painted Hall has won 11 industry-leading awards celebrating excellence, including in 2019, Restoration or Conservation Project of the Year at the Museum + Heritage Awards – a true testament to the exemplar and specialist work led by Hugh Broughton Architects and Surveyor of the Fabric, Martin Ashley Architects, alongside Conservation specialists, Paine & Stewart and a passionate and dedicated team of staff and volunteers.  

Since March 2019, the Painted Hall and King William Undercroft has welcomed over 815,000 visitors, some of whom have joined guided tours and others have visited the art installations of Luke Jerram’s Gaia and Museum of the Moon and Paul Cocksedge’s Coalescence 

Museum of the Moon at the Old Royal Naval College. December 2023. Photo credits: Annabel Moeller

In 2020, the Old Royal Naval College won Gold in the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category at the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence, and in 2021 it won Tiqets Best Museum of the Year, UK & Ireland. More recently we have also won Best Guided Tours and  Best Historical Venue from London for Groups. 

Throughout the pandemic of 2020, when the site was closed for much of the year, the Painted Hall was still able to accommodate some photo and film projects, hosted in and around the Hall. We introduced a virtual tour that was nominated for a TimeOut award and recorded a virtual performance of Phillis in London, from acclaimed playwright, Ade Solanke. 

Tour guides have delivered approximately 10,000 Painted Hall Talks, bringing to life the stories of the colourful cast of characters on the ceiling, from Greek gods and goddesses to scientific pioneers and royal icons. Volunteers have dedicated over 34,000 hours welcoming visitors. 

The Painted Hall has been enlivened with many events over the past five years, some as part of the public programme and many through private hire – from major art shows, theatre, music concerts, over 7,000 children school visits, over 2,800 families for storytelling events, and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) community activities to corporate events and weddings.  

‘A Modern Regency’, wedding photoshoot. Photo credits: Jeff Oliver.

Each event, big or small, has encouraged a significant and diverse number of people to engage with art and culture and has provided the Old Royal Naval College with vital funding for heritage projects. 

The Painted Hall is enjoyed by a global film and TV audience, people who have never experienced the hall in person but know its grand iconic painted interiors as a location for films such as the recent Oscar-nominated Napoleon and TV shows like The Crown and Bridgerton. In many productions the historical essence is largely unaltered and increasingly becoming recognisable to those ‘in the know’. 

Matthew Mees, Chief Executive, Old Royal Naval College, said; “The Painted Hall is the jewel in our crown for many reasons. The one reason the trustees, staff and volunteers and I are most proud of is the contribution we have made to people’s lives providing exceptional moments for people who visit this incredible hall from across the world. Moreover, it has created a sense of pride and brought people together with countless opportunities for learning, enjoyment of one of the most beautiful spaces in London and provided a real feeling of wellbeing for many.”

The year 2022–2023 was full of success for the Old Royal Naval College. The Nelson Room, located through the Painted Hall, with an imposing roof lantern, monumental stonework and marble floor was fully restored with new interpretation installed. This careful specialist attention was made possible through generous philanthropic support. The year saw over 733,000 visitors to the buildings and grounds of the site, including 50,000 people to see Museum of the Moon exhibition in the Painted Hall. For highlights of the past year, read our latest annual review here.