Victorian London - Health and Hygiene - Hospitals - Chelsea Hospital

Chelsea Hospital ... This grand national establishment is shown (from 10 till 4 every day, Sundays excepted), free of charge, with the exception of a small gratuity to the attendant on the visitor. The Royal Military Asylum, for the maintenance and education of children of soldiers of the regular army is in the vicinity, and is well worthy of a visit.

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

CHELSEA HOSPITAL. A Royal Hospital for old and disabled solders; erected on the site of Chelsea College, sold by the Royal Society, January, 1681-2, for 1300l. to Sir Stephen Fox for the King's use. The first stone was laid by Charles II in person, March 1681-2. It has a centre, with two wings of red brick, with stone dressings, and faces the Thames (Sir Christopher Wren, architect).

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

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Chelsea Hospital is one of the most interesting sights of London. It was built by Charles II. from the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. The foundation stone was laid in 1632 by the king himself, and the building was completed in 1690. It is generally supposed that it was Nell Gwynne's influence with the king which caused him to establish this splendid hospital for old soldiers. It is built of deep red brick with stone facings, and consists of two quadrangles and a grand central court open on the side facing the river. In the dining hall and chapel are battle flags taken by the British army in all parts of the world. The public are admitted to see these halls, and can also be shown over the wards. The hospital is of great interest from its tradition and history, and still more so from its quiet and old- world appearance. Walking among its silent courts it is difficult to believe that one is in the heart of London. NEAREST Railway Stations, Grosvenor-rd; Omnibus Routes, King's-road and Pimlico-road; Cab Rank, Oakley-street.

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

We will now turn about and, returning to London Bridge, take a little voyage up the river and view Chelsea's glorious pile,' as Mr. Rogers, the banker poet, phrases it. On our right, after we have steamed along for a few minutes, we come to the Embankment which extends from Battersea Bridge, near old Chelsea Church, to the grounds of CHELSEA HOSPITAL, furnishing a fine promenade of nearly a mile in length. At length we reach the Hospital, which is the counterpart of the one we have visited at Greenwich, since it provides an asylum for invalid and aged soldiers, just as Greenwich used to do for old sailors.
    This noble building was finished in the year 1690, from the design of Sir Christopher Wren. Its first stone had been laid several years before by Charles II. We get a summary of the history of the building from the inscription on the frieze of the large quadrangle, which tells us-in Latin-that it was founded by Charles II,, augmented by James II.. and completed by William and Mary, for the aid and relief of soldiers worn out by old age or by the labours of war. The north front extends a long way, and has before it avenues of limes and chestnut trees. In its centre is a fine portico, surmounted by a tall clock turret. If we enter the vestibule, we shall find on the eastern side the chapel-a lofty room, with arched ceiling, and paved with black and white marble. From its walls hang a large number of flags captured by the British army, and thirteen ' eagles' taken from the French at the famous battles of Barossa, Tahavera, and Waterloo. On the western side is the dining hall, where a dinner is served up for the pensioners every day, except Sunday, at twelve o'clock; but they are allowed to take it in their own separate apartments, and do not dine in public for the benefit of inquisitive visitors, who might want to know how they managed to chew without teeth, and other irrelevant matters.
    This excellent Hospital provides food and clothing and shelter for five hundred old soldiers; but the number of out pensioners is about sixty-four thousand, of whom nearly eight thousand are over seventy years of age. The inmates look very picturesque in their old-fashioned costume-long scarlet coats, lined with blue, knee-breeches, and three-cornered cocked hats. They have beef to dinner on Sundays, and mutton on week-days, varied by bacon on one day-the monotony of ' mutton, always mutton,' being too great even fqr these old campaigners to stand. It is pleasing to know that the wants of these poor old fellows-who are all of them incapable of earning anything by labour- are liberally provided for. Some kind hearts have thought of them in their feebleness, and have left various legacies for their benefit; and from the interest of these private funds the library is kept up for them, and extra comforts and amusements are provided. The inmates are portioned into six companies, and for the cleanliness and order of each ward the responsibility rests on the captain and officers of the company occupying it.
    That some of the predecessors of these venerable worthies have lived to a good old age, is evident from the records on the tombstones in the burial ground adjoining the Hospital; where we find that Thomas Asbey died in 1737, aged 112; Robert Comming, in 1767, aged 116; Peter Dowiing, in 1768, aged 102; and that a soldier who fought at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), died in 1772, aged 111! There were some tough warriors in those days, certainly. 

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

CHELSEA HOSPITAL ... Founded by Charles II. for old and disabled soldiers. In the hall and chapel are many royal portraits, and standards taken in battle. Admission on application.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896

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 - Chelsea Hospital

Chelsea Hospital - photograph


Untrustworthy tradition has it that Nell Gwynne induced Charles II. to begin building this vast structure; but, however this may be, a start was certainly made with it in that monarch's reign by Wren. It stands on the site of a famous college, is on the north bank of the Thames, not far from Chelsea Bridge, and was completed during the reign of William and Mary. The Hospital serves as a refuge for veteran invalid soldiers. Within its wall 540 pensioners are sheltered, and some 85,000 others receive outdoor help from its resources. The inmates, as here depicted, wear a characteristic dress. Portions of the institution and the gardens are open to the public; and in the gardens is an obelisk which perpetuates the memory of officers and men who perished in the Indian campaigns.