Old Royal Naval College

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Greenwich, London, United Kingdom

Old Royal Naval College London Reviews

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160 reviews
Old Royal Naval College Chapel – Not All It Seems Feb 10, 2017
Wandering around the exterior of the Old Royal Naval College (formally a naval hospital to 1873 and now the University of Greenwich) and a look at the grandness of the buildings in a setting next to none will leave the visitor with little doubt that this was no ordinary hospital for convalescing seamen in the late 1700s. Enter some of the buildings and most notably the Chapel or the Painted Hall (dining room) and you will be in no doubt. These buildings were built in the days when Britain ruled the waves – the days of Rule Britannia, when the navy was the premier service and money was no object (though I will come back to that latter comment about money).

This tip relates to the Old Royal Naval College Chapel dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, both of whom had nautical connections.

The original, much plainer, chapel was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built by Thomas Ripley in 1751. On 2 January 1779 its was reduced to a shell by a horrific fire thought to have started in an adjoining tailors shop. The current chapel was designed by James “Athenian” Stuart, Surveyor at the Royal Hospital for Seamen, assisted by his clearly very talented Clerks of Works - Robert Mylne and William Newton, in a neoclassical Greek revival style. The beauty of the chapel is in very sharp contrast to the greyness and drabness of the college buildings (though they are not without class or grandness in their own right – they are just grey) and certainly an eye opener when you walk in.

The intricate Wedgewood look plasterwork on the ceiling and other areas created by master plasterer John Papworth in a neo-classical design of squares and octagons will probably be the first thing to draw your attention. The central ornaments were carved, and not casts.

The giant altar painting, some 7.5 metres high, is by American-born artist, Benjamin West and depicts the story of St Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta where he miraculously survived a viper's bite. The painting was specially commissioned for the chapel c1785.

The Organ is the creation of the leading organ builder of the day, Samuel Green and was installed here in 1789. Its case is of Spanish mahogany. Look at how beautifully it blends in with the ceiling and how wonderful it sits atop six fluted marble columns.

The text beneath the organ exhorts us to :

“Praise him (god) with the sound of the trumpet

Praise him with stringed instruments

and organs” - (Psalm 150)

Having a particular interest in fine furniture I found the James Arrow carved oak, mahogany and lime wood pulpit especially beautiful, simple and elegant. I have a particular liking for oak and mahogany so the pulpit and organ tick all the boxes for me.

By this stage you might be wondering why I suggested that the Chapel was not all it seems to be in the title of my review. Well, even in those days while the navy and its kindred organisations were not poor, at least at the “brassier” end, costs still had to be kept in check.

Have a look at the two sets of beautiful marble Corinthian columns at either end of the chapel - they are not marble but rather scagliola, a mixture of plaster chips coloured with pigment, and mixed with animal glue. And perhaps more striking are the life size figures of evangelists and apostles in niches around the balcony. Take a second and closer look and you will see that these are in fact paintings (by Biaggio Rebecca) which very cunningly and cleverly rely on the use of shadow and contrast to create their lifelike appearance – wonderful examples of trompe-l'œils for my more learned readers and who on VT isn’t that? You will also note that Wren’s dome which you see outside does not feature inside the chapel. So, as you see all is not as it seems in the chapel.

Just in case you are wondering the marble columns holding up the organ are real marble.

While the chapel underwent a major restoration in the 1950s the restoration was very strongly focused on restoring the chapel to its 1781 condition. All in all, a beautiful place to have a look around. On a previous visit there was a service in progress and while I couldn’t have a look around that time the singing was beautiful, helped by the wonderful acoustic properties of the curved ceiling.

Opening Hours

Mon-Sat – 10am – 5pm

Sunday – Church Service (which you can attend) 11.30am and open to visitors 12.30pm – 5pm

Closed December 24 -26 inclusive with restrictions on other specific days – see website.

Entrance Fee: Free

Guided tours of the chapel and other College buildings (some free some not) are offered. See website for further details. As I didn’t take a tour I cannot comment on them.
ORNC - Chapel
ORNC - Chapel - Altar Painting
ORNC - Chapel - Looking to Rear
ORNC - Chapel - Organ
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wabat wabat
160 reviews
Greenwich Palace (Placentia) and the Royals Feb 10, 2017
While this review is to draw your attention to the former Greenwich Palace commemorated by a, hard to see, stone plaque I will also outline, in a very summary form, the royal connection with Greenwich.

In 2012 and as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations the hitherto plain Borough of Greenwich became a member of a very exclusive club with only three other members (Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead). Greenwich was granted Royal status and became the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

While the word royal and words related to royal have been, and continue to be, used with gay abandon in Greenwich for hundreds of years it has been a long time since the Royal family has lived here.

The first recorded royal link with Greenwich is that of Edward I making offerings at the chapel of the Virgin Mary in the 13th century. Edward II acquired Eltham Palace (on the outskirts) in 1305 and it became a royal residence. This remained the main focus of royal activity in the borough until the 16th century when it was eclipsed by Greenwich Palace.

A royal manor called Bella Court belonging to Henry IV existed on this site before Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, half brother of Henry V, built Greenwich Palace here on the banks of the Thames in 1447. Subsequent occupants renamed the palace, Placentia, the pleasant place, and it became a royal favourite for the next two centuries.

In this time Placentia was the birthplace of three of Britain’s most famous (Tudor) monarchs - Henry VIII (1491), Mary I (1516) and Elizabeth I (1533). Henry was also christened in the nearby Church of St. Alfege. The stone plaque you see today, laid on 7 September 2003 (Elizabeth I’s birthday), is directly above the foundations of Placentia.

Elizabeth particularly liked this palace and it was here she signed the orders that dispatched her fleet against the Spanish Armada.

Post Elizabeth I, Greenwich lost its pre-eminent position amongst London’s royal residences – by this stage they had lots of choice. Henry VIII, in addition to his collection of wives for which he is most famous, had also amassed quite a collection of palaces – some twenty-one in fact.

After the English Civil War the royal court was swept from Greenwich and Placentia was first used as a biscuit factory and, between 1652 and 1654, for housing Dutch prisoners of war. By the 1660s it was in decay and was demolished (after an attempt to rebuild it) by Charles II.

From the seventeenth century onwards, royal attention focused on Greenwich’s relationship with the sea and this is what you can see around you to-day. The only remaining former royal property in central Greenwich is the Queens House – also put to alternative use post the English Civil War. This is a short walk inland from the former Greenwich Palace.
Former Site of Greenwich Palace
King Henry VIII - by Hans Holbein …
Queen Elizabeth I - by George Gower
Greenwich Palace - Placentia
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