1 October 2013

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

When I last visited the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, it wasn’t “Old” – but it wasn't so long ago that it was the Royal Hospital for Seamen. A family wedding last month in the Chapel of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (left) was good reason to return and provided an opportunity to see both the Chapel and the Painted Hall again. The tiled floor of the Chapel represents ships’ cables (below) and the painting behind the altar is Benjamin West’s Shipwreck of St Paul, c1785 .
The Chapel was rebuilt after a fire in 1779 in an austere neoclassical style whereas the baroque Painted Hall from 80 years earlier remains much as Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor intended. The impressive painted interior (1708-1727) is by Sir James Thornhill and assistants and embodies British maritime supremacy in the form of the Royal Navy ensuring the triumph of peace and liberty over the forces of tyranny (below).

The problem with eating in the Painted Hall is that, however good the catering, it’s impossible for the food to match the splendour of the surroundings. The group of buildings at Greenwich, now being better looked after by the Foundation than for years, is probably, in its setting, the finest in London. Admission to the Chapel and Painted Hall is free and there is much else to see nearby – the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site ought to be a must for visitors to London.

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