Greenwich, on the south bank of the Thames, is a thriving suburb of London and almost feels like village in itself. A thriving hub of maritime history, visitors can see the Cutty Sark in dry dock and the Royal Observatory as well as taking in arguably the greatest attraction in Greenwich – the Old Royal Naval College.
Instantly recognisable by its twin domed exterior designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the College sits right next to the river and continues to watch over the water as it has done for hundreds of years. The building continued to serve as the college for the Royal Navy until 1998, at which time it was turned into a museum and centre for arts and culture.
History of the site
The site has long had a key role to play in the maritime activities of Great Britain. From the original establishment of the Royal Hospital for Seamen, later known as Greenwich Hospital, it was a focus for naval activities. Injured sailors were brought to the hospital from the time of the Battle of La Hogue until its closure in 1869.
Once the sick and the wounded had been moved out of the hospital, the site was taken over and turned into a training establishment for Royal Naval recruits. It continued to train sailors and officers into the late 1990s when the college was handed over to the Greenwich Foundation to preserve the Grade I listed buildings and ensure their revival and on-going cultural use.
Today at the College
The use of the College buildings today varies and provides a unique mix of historical, educational and cultural activities and is open to visitors on a daily basis. The grounds are open every day throughout the year for people to visit and enjoy the landscaped gardens and stunning facades of the buildings.
The University of Greenwich has secured a long-term lease on a number of the buildings from which to deliver teaching programmes and house academics researching in the area. In addition, Trinity College of Music has also secured use of some of the buildings bringing some of the finest music students in the country to one of the most scenic locations in London to learn and perform.
The dramatic Painted Hall
The remainder of the buildings on the site are open for viewing on a daily basis. Regularly scheduled guided tours of the buildings and grounds run daily from the Visitor Centre and allow visitors to learn about the history of the Hospital, the College and the modern inhabitants of the buildings. The stunning Painted Hall is a particular attraction and is currently undergoing extensive conservation work to bring the painted frescoes back to their original splendour under the careful guidance of art restoration experts.
The College holds a regular programme of events that link back to the heritage of the site as a place of great naval significance and draw in contributions from the newer occupants of the buildings on the campus.
From November to January, the Peregrine Trophy Photographic Awards will showcase some of the finest modern Royal Navy reportage photography and give visitors to the exhibition and insight into modern Naval service. Fans of classical music will also find a lively programme of events including the Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival taking place from 7-9 November focusing on music composed before the original hospital was even built.
The Old Royal Naval College is open daily from 10am – 5pm except between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Check before you visit and try to coincide your visit with one of the free events or concerts taking place at the College and make your trip a truly special one.