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Old Royal Naval College: Painted Hall, Chapel, Visitor Centre

Painted Hall ceiling by Sir James Thornhill 1708-27. Neo-classical Chapel designed by James 'Athenian' Stuart 1789.


Thornhill, Sir James and Stuart, James



Main entry West Gate (King William Walk), or East Gate (Park Row) and Romney Road crossing. Entry also from pier via Cutty Sark Gardens SE10 9NN

Sat/Sun 10am-5pm. Tours throughout the day and 'Meet Hawksmoor' 12noon, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm. Meet on Grand Square for tours.

Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich

Greenwich, Maze Hill

177, 180, 188, 199, 286, 000

  • Bookshop at location
  • Partial disabled
  • Regularly open to the public at no charge
  • Toilets available

Old Royal Naval College – Painted Hall, Chapel, Discover Greenwich The Painted Hall The Painted Hall is often described as the _finest dining hall in Europe_. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was originally intended as an eating space for the naval veterans who lived here at the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Its exuberant wall and ceiling decorations are by James Thornhill and pay tribute to British maritime power. The Painted Hall sits within the King William Court. Wren submitted designs in 1698 and the roof and dome were in place five years later. When in 1708 James Thornhill began decorating the interior, he was instructed to include as many references as possible to the importance of the navy in Britain_s fortunes. His _great and laborious undertaking_ was finally completed after 19 years, by which time the Painted Hall was felt to be far too grand for its original purpose. Respectable visitors were allowed admittance, after paying a small fee, and the residents of the Royal Hospital _ Greenwich Pensioners _ acted as tour guides. Thornhill was paid only œ3 per square yard (about one square metre) for the ceiling, and just œ1 per square yard for the walls. However, he did receive a knighthood in 1720 and his legacy is the finest painted architectural interior by an English artist. In 1806, three months after the Battle of Trafalgar the previous October, the body of Horatio Nelson was brought to lie in state in the Painted Hall. A plaque marks the spot where his coffin was placed before it was taken for burial in the crypt of St Paul_s Cathedral. Between 1824 and 1936, the Painted Hall was known as the National Gallery of Naval Art, with over 300 naval-themed paintings on display. These paintings, together with portrait busts, drawings, ship models and relics of Nelson, formed the basis of the National Maritime Museum_s art collection. In 1939, following extensive restoration, the Painted Hall was used for dining (including breakfast) by the officers of the Royal Naval College. It was also the venue for many grand dinners including in 1946 a banquet to celebrate the formation of the United Nations. The Chapel The Chapel, constructed by Thomas Ripley to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, was the last major part of the Royal Hospital for Seamen to be built. Following a disastrous fire in 1779, it was redecorated by James _Athenian_ Stuart in the Greek revival style, and today is a wonderful example of a complete neoclassical interior. The first chapel The interior of the original chapel was much plainer than today, with a flat panelled ceiling, an apse (alcove) at the east end, and much smaller galleries. For many years there were no pews, and the injured sailors had to stand during their daily service. At 6am on 2 January 1779, a tremendous fire gutted the building, leaving only a shell. It was thought to have started in a tailors_ workshop in the adjacent building and there are various theories about how it started. It is possible that a candle was knocked over during an uproarious party. Others believe it was arson, with the fire started by a sailor recently expelled from the Royal Hospital. James Athenian Stuart James Stuart, as Surveyor at the Royal Hospital for Seamen, was appointed to re-design the Chapel in 1781. He acquired his name following a visit to Athens when he became fascinated by ancient Greek architecture and design. The Chapel reflects these influences and Greek style and patterns are used throughout. Stuart left much of the work to his Clerks of Works, Robert Mylne and William Newton who deserve much of the credit for the way the Chapel looks. The Chapel is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, both of whom have connections with water and the sea. The chapel is full of naval symbols, intended to remind the residents of the Royal Hospital for Seamen, who had to worship there daily, of their former lives. Features that merit a special mention include the vast altarpiece painting by Benjamin West, the Samuel Green organ (the only one of its kind to remain in situ) and the outstanding examples of craftsmanship, including numerous items made from Coade stone. see www.ornc.org