Royal Hospital

By royal appointment: Sir Christopher Wren's iconic Royal Hospital for Seamen (1694–1869)

Shortly before her death, Queen Mary II, who co-reigned with her husband King William III from 1689 until 1694, commissioned the construction of a new charitable institution for the care of retired men who had served in the Royal Navy.

Esteemed architect Sir Christopher Wren was appointed as surveyor in 1696. He offered his services free of charge. However, due to Wren’s extensive work commitments, rebuilding over 50 churches after the Great Fire of London, most of the work was carried out by his trusted assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor.

The scale and magnificence of Wren’s outstanding Baroque complex, that still stands today, was intended to reflect the wealth and power of Britain as the world’s dominant maritime power.

West Dining Hall interior, Illustrated London News.

Who was Sir Christopher Wren?

In addition to his Greenwich buildings, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) is best known for his work at Hampton Court Palace and his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral.

As well as being one of England’s most acclaimed architects, he was something of a polymath, with professions including anatomist, astronomer, mathematician and physicist.

A retirement home for naval veterans

The Royal Hospital for Seamen was more akin to an almshouse or retirement home than a hospital.

Medical provision was limited and seamen suffering from serious ailments or requiring amputations were often sent to other London hospitals.

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Pensioners outside the chapel at Greenwich ('An Old Tar doing Penance for his devotion to Jolly Bacchus'), Henry James Pidding, 1844 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The Painted Hall

The Painted Hall boasts one of the most spectacular Baroque interiors in Europe. The incredible ceiling and wall decorations were conceived and executed by British artist Sir James Thornhill.

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Naval officers dining in the Painted Hall

History of the Chapel

The Chapel was built in the mid 1700s for the Greenwich pensioners living on the site. The original chapel was destroyed by fire in 1779 and was rebuilt.

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