Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Museums, Public Buildings and Galleries - Greenwich Hospital and Royal Naval College

Greenwich Hospital ... The principal features of this splendid British palace for poverty, are the chapel, and painted hall: the former, an elegant structure erected in the Grecian style of architecture, is sumptuously decorated, and adorned with an altar-piece, a fine painting by West, illustrative of the preservation of St. Paul from shipwreck, on the island of Melita, now Malta. The latter, the painted hall, formerly the dining-room of the establishment, a noble apartment, 106 feet long, 56 feet wide, and 50 feet high, is now made a depository for marine paintings, commemorative of the most splendid achievements of the British navy; and here are also portraits of many of our most distinguished admirals. It contains upwards of 130 pictures. The chapel may be seen during divine service, free of charge, and is shown at other times, Sundays not excepted, after the service. Both chapel and hall may be seen from 10 in the morning till sunset. The charge for seeing the chapel is 2d., the painted hall 3d.; and, if the dormitory is seen, 6d. is expected for the three. The pensioners dine in public at one, and a visit to this repast of the veterans affords a truly gratifying treat.

Greenwich Hospital, originally built as a palace by Charles II., was founded in 1694 by King William and Queen Mary, for the use of disabled English seamen and their children, and for the widows and children of such as were slain at sea. The edifice is built of Portland stone, it is erected in a beautiful situation, on the south bank of the Thames (along which there is a fine terrace, 865 feet in length), and consists of four distinct piles of building, called King Charles's, Queen Anne's, King William's, and Queen Mary's. The interval between King Charles's and Queen Anne's forming the grand square, which is 273 feet wide, the centre of which is adorned with a fine statue of George II., by Rysbrach, sculptured out of a single block of white marble, which weighed eleven tons, and was taken from the French by Sir George Rooke. King Charles's Building is on the west side of the great square; in the eastern part of which, erected by Webb, from a design of Inigo Jones, resided Charles II. Queen Anne's Building, on the east side of the square, is in a correspondent style, and behind them are King William's and Queen Mary's buildings, surmounted by magnificent domes, 120 feet in height. King William's Building, situated on the west side, was erected by Sir John Vanbrugh and Sir Christopher Wren. In one of the pediments is an emblematical representation of the death of Nelson, executed in artificial stone, from a design by West, in 1812. The Painted Hall, in this part of' the building was executed by Sir James Thornhill; in the cupola of the vestibule is represented a compass, surrounded by an emblematical representation of the four winds in alto relievo. From the vestibule a flight of steps conducts to the Saloon, or Grand Hall, a noble apartment, 106 feet long, 56 wide, and 50 high; the painted ceiling of which was repaired in 1808 by Mr. Rigaud. The walls are decorated with a collection of pictures, first placed here in 1804; they chiefly consist of representations of sea-fights, and portraits of naval officers; here are also statues of those great naval heroes, Lords Nelson, Howe, Duncan, and St. Vincent. The centre of the ceiling represents King William and Queen Mary, surrounded by the cardinal virtues, with other figures, allegorical and representative. At the west end of the ceiling is a representation of the Blenheim, man-of war, with a figure of victory, and another of London, accompanied by various rivers, and the arts and sciences; and, at the east end, a galley, with Spanish trophies, and portraits of Tycho Brache, Copernicus, and Flamstead. From this splendid apartment another flight of steps leads to the Upper Hall. The ceiling represents Queen Anne, and Prince George of Denmark, surrounded by various emblematical figures; and in the corners are the arms of England, Ireland, France, and Scotland, between which are introduced figures of the four quarters of the world, with the emblems and productions of each. The sides of the Upper Hall are adorned with paintings of the landing of William III., the landing of George I., and portraits of his family. Queen Mary's building contains the Chapel, unquestionably one of the most beautiful specimens of Grecian architecture in the kingdom; it is 111 feet long, and 52 broad, and is capable of accommodating one thousand of the inmates, besides the Governor, and other officers of the establishment. The portico, supporting the organ gallery, consists of six fluted marble columns, of exquisite workmanship; and the pulpit, on the circular plan, and the reading-desk, upon the square plan, are richly ornamented. Over the communion-table is a fine painting, by West, representing the preservation of St. Paul from shipwreck. The principal events in the life of our Saviour are depicted in chiaro oscuro round the chapel, and the vestibule is adorned with statues of Faiths, Hope, Meekness, and Charity, from designs by West. The council-room and the governor's apartments contain several fine portraits and sea-pieces, but these are not open to the public. The chapel, hall, dining-room, kitchen, and wards may be seen for a trifling donation to the pensioners appointed to show them, and all the money here given is appropriated to the support of the establishment. The governors of this hospital are the great officers of state and Queen's ministers, but it is under the immediate management of twenty-four directors, a governor and lieutenant governor, it is supported by a revenue derived from various sources, by a payment of 6d a month from every seaman, but principally from the rents of the several estates, and from unclaimed bounty and prize-money. The Royal Naval Asylum, in Greenwich Park, originally commenced at Paddington in 1801, was removed to its present situation, Pelham House (so called from having been the occasional retirement of the Home Minister Pelham). in 1807. The building, which consists of a. centre, connected with two wings by a colonnade, is intended for the reception and education of 800 boys and 200 girls, the children of seamen of the royal navy.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

see also Garwood's The Million-Peopled City - click here

    We stand on the beautiful terrace in front of the Hospital, the house in which Queen Elizabeth loved to dwell, and here at this very spot her courtiers used to take their walks. Their gold embroidered cloaks are gone, and in their stead you see long blue brass-buttoned coats on the mutilated or decrepid bodies of old sailors. A blue coat, a white neckcloth, shoes, white stockings, amid a large three-cornered hat with gold lace—that is the uni­form of the Invalids, who pass the evening of their lives in this delightful place.
    Greenwich Hospital presents the most beautiful architectural group of modern England. Take the most gifted architect of the world, bandage his eyes, put him on the terrace on which we stand, and then show him this splendid building, and he will at once tell you that this is and must be a royal palace. How could he ever suspect that all this splendour of columns and cupolas is destined to shelter a couple of thousand of poor, decrepid sailors! But that it does shelter them is honorable to the founders and to the English nation.
… The architectural splendours of Greenwich Hospital are by no means destined to hide poverty and misery within. The gates are open. You may walk through the refectories, the kitchens, the sitting and sleeping rooms. Wait until the “old gentlemen” sit down to their dinner, eat a
slice of their meat, smoke a pipe of their tobacco, take a pinch from one of their snuff-boxes, admire the irreproachable white­ness of their cravats, take a seat at their side on the green benches which stand on the smooth lawn from whence they view the Thames, its sails, masts, and flags, the cherished scenes of their early career. Talk to them. They like to fight their battles over again in conversation, and will tell you whether they have to complain of the ingratitude of their country, and which is best (no matter how disgusted our German enthusiasts would be at the mere idea), to be paid so and so much per limb, or to starve on the general dietary of an Austrian Invalidenhaus, or rot in the streets of Berlin on an annual allowance which would hardly suffice to find a Greenwich pensioner in tobacco and snuff.

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

Greenwich Hospital and Royal Naval College, Greenwich, S.E. — Greenwich Hospital is well worth a visit, although the old pensioners, which constituted perhaps its chief attraction, have been removed since 1871. The Painted Hall contains some fine pictures of sea-fights, and there are some noteworthy statues of celebrated sailors. The most interesting of the Greenwich sights, however, are the relics of Nelson—notably the Trafalgar coat and waistcoat. The public are admitted free. From Cannon-street (17 mm), 1st, -/10, 1/3; 2nd, -/8, 1/.; 3rd, -/5, -/8. Charing Cross (27 min.), 1st, 1/-, 1/6; 2nd, -/9, 1/2; 3rd, -/6, -/9; also by steamboat from all piers. 

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

    W E will now extend our rambles, and explore some of the suburbs and outlying parts of the great city. And first let us go a little way down the Thames.
    Our steamboat has carried us among the ships of all nations, and past the large storehouses on either side of the river, and now, five miles from the centre of London, as we turn a bend in the river, we see a pretty picture. The sun is shining on a tree-covered hill, whose masses of variously shaded green throw out into dazzling whiteness the palace- like building which nestles at its foot. It is a spot we ought to feel proud of, for this is the famous GREENWICH HOSPITAL.
    Like every building designed by Sir Christopher Wren, there is something here which is very pleasing to look upon. Though a Hospital, it looks every inch of it a palace. And I am told that in all Europe there is not a more beautiful building, used as this one has been, than this Hospital. For many years a royal palace stood on this spot, which, becoming old and allowed to go to ruin, was pulled down, and a new one commenced; and during the reign of William and Mary, the Queen made the good suggestion, that as the old and worn-out soldiers had their Hospital and Asylum at Chelsea, the old sailors ought to have one also. It was a happy thought, and the sailors for many long years have blest this good Queen Mary for it. And here was just the spot for such an asylum, where the old Jack tars could look out upon the younger ones, as they went down to the sea in ships.
    ' Why not,' said Sir C. Wren, give up Greenwich Palace, make of it a large building, and use that for the ' old tars' resting-place?' Wren's suggestion was accepted; he made his designs and presented them and his services as a gift. At first one hundred veteran sailors were admitted here; three years later three hundred and fifty had been admitted, and so on, until at length more than two thousand seven hundred bronzed and broken-down seamen, many of them maimed, most of them aged, found shelter within the walls of Greenwich Hospital. Here they had their library, reading-rooms, little cabins, their picture gallery, their open courtyards for exercise, their covered walks for bad weather, and a park in which to stroll in sunny weather. But they are gone, and Greenwich will no more be noted for its groups of merry-eyed, bronzed-faced, patched-up old sailors, spinning yarns of their seafaring life. In the quiet of their homes, amongst relatives and friends, they spend their last days.
    The picture gallery which the old sailors had, or the Painted Hall, as it is named, is what now attracts most attention from visitors; for, besides a finely painted ceiling, it has a good collection of pictures. These, of course, are chiefly representations of sea-fights, and portraits of our great seamen. Perhaps the most interesting sight is the Nelson room, where we find pictures illustrating Nelson's life, from the time when, as a midshipman, he tried to kill a bear in the Arctic regions, to his death on board the Victory. And amongst otner relics, we may see the coat he wore when he received his death-wound at Trafalgar. Models of ships and statues are amongst the other attractions of the museum here; as also the many articles found aniongst the ice and snow when Captain McChintock discovered that Sir John Franklin and his men had died in the Arctic regions.

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)

GREENWICH HOSPITAL, GREENWICH ... on the South bank of the Thames, five miles below London Bridge. These noble buildings designed by Inigo Jones, Sir C. Wren, and other distinguished architects, were long used as an asylum for old and disabled seamen of the Royal Navy, and formerly accommodated about 3,000 of them. Since 1864 the pensioners have received an increased money allowance, and have resided with their friends. A portion of the hospital is now devoted to the Royal Naval College, in which Naval officers of all ranks, above that of Midshipman, receive instruction in the higher branches of their profession. The Painted Hall, with its fine ceiling by Sir James Thornhill, 1707-27, contains a valuable collection of pictures and portraits commemorating England's Naval victories and heroes. In a separate building adjoining is the Naval Museum, comprising an historic collection of models of shipping and implements of Naval warfare; and amongst other objects of interest, relics of Nelson and of Franklin. Admission free, to the Museum and Painted Hall, 10 to 4, 5 or 6 p.m., daily, Friday and Sundays excepted. On Sundays the Painted Hall is usually open after 2p.m. Trains from Charing Cross and Cannon Street. Steamers from London Bridge.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

see also Naval Models Museum - click here

see also Royal Naval School - click here

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Greenwich Hospital

Greenwich Hospital - photograph


Greenwich Hospital occupies the site of a royal palace erected early in the fifteenth century on the south bank of the Thames four miles below London Bridge. To students of Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren the Hospital is of great architectural interest. It consists of four quadrangles, and is best seen from the river, whence the less worthy portions are invisible. "William and Mary deserve the credit of rebuilding the palace, and of converting it, 200 years ago, into a refuge for decrepit and disabled seamen.'' In the present reign, however, in the year 1871, the pensioners made way under an Admiralty scheme for naval cadets, who are here educated. The Painted Hall, the Nelson relics, and the ship models, regularly draw to the Hospital troops of visitors.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Greenwich Hospital : The Painted Hall

Greenwich Hospital : The Painted Hall - photograph


    In the south-west block of Greenwich Hospital, known as King William Building, is the famous Painted Hall, designed by Wren as a refectory. It is one hundred feet long by fifty feet high and broad, and has a raised upper hall, containing Nelson relics, and a cupola. Sir James Thornhill painted the allegorical pictures on the ceiling and the wall, during the years 1708-27, being paid three pounds per square yard for the former work, and one pound a yard for the latter. In 1823 this refectory was transformed into a not-too-well-lighted gallery for the exhibition of pictures, executed by some of our most famous artists, of great sea-fights and of distinguished naval heroes. The Painted Hall is open to the public on Sundays as well as on weekdays.

see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here