Old Royal Naval College
London SE10 9NN
TfL Fare Zone 2
The stunning complex of buildings on the south bank of the River Thames at Greenwich is the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC). These beautiful buildings form the centrepiece of the UNESCO Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and are considered to be amongst the finest in Europe.
The grounds, the Painted Hall, the Chapel, the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre (Visit Greenwich) and The Nelson Room are open daily, free of charge with guided tours available. The remaining buildings are leased to educational institutions.
A wide variety of business and cultural events are held in the Painted Hall. The traffic-free area provides a variety of coffee shops, bars and restaurants, all incorporated within the old buildings.
Long before the current magnificent buildings were erected, this site was a 1490s royal palace associated with some of the best known names in British history. King Henry VIII and his two daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were all born at the Palace of Placentia and Henry married Anne of Cleeves there. It was Henry and the girls’ favorite home and they all spent a lot of their childhood there. A paving stone in the courtyard marks the site of the palace.
Placentia fell into disrepair during the English Civil War, serving time as a biscuit factory and a prisoner-of-war camp. In 1660, King Charles II decided to rebuild the Palace and a new King’s House for himself. The only section of the Palace to be completed was the east range of the present King Charles Court, but this was never occupied as a royal residence. Most of the rest of the palace was demolished, and the site remained empty until construction of ‘The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich’ (Greenwich Hospital) began in 1694.
Christopher Wren’s Design
Joint monarchs, King William III and Queen Mary II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the new Hospital. At the time, Wren was extremely busy rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral and other churches after the Great Fire of London but he did produce the design and architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor supervised the construction. The buildings provided accommodation for ‘old sea dogs’ and their dependants.
Wren designed the site to allow The Queen’s House to retain its view of the river. Each block stands at the corner of a square and is named after a monarch or their consort. Started in 1696, Wren died before the complex was finished.
During the fifty years it took to complete, several other well known architects had input into the building and decoration of each block. The first 42 pensioners arrived in 1706. Numbers grew steadily as the French wars continued and by 1814 there were in excess of 2,000 residents.
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New life as Greenwich Royal Naval College
By 1869 the Greenwich Hospital complex was closed. These buildings were taken over by the Navy in 1873 bringing together a number of naval training establishments. The Greenwich Royal Naval College trained naval officers from all around the world until 1998. These buildings are today occupied by the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.
The ORNC is now run by the Greenwich Foundation, a registered charity whose charter is to look after the College’s superb buildings and grounds.
The Chapel is in the Queen Mary Block (on the left in the picture) and the Painted Hall is in King William Block (on the right in the picture). The entrances are beneath the domes.
The Painted Hall
Situated in King William Court this amazing room was originally designed as the dining room for the Hospital but it was too small so the pensioners ate their meals in the Undercroft underneath. The ceiling is typical of the period – extravagant.
The roof and dome were completed in 1703 and James Thornhill started on the ceiling paintings. As he completed a square yard of the ceiling painting he got a payment of £3.00 and for the walls £1.00. The ceiling took 19 years to complete. During this time the pensioners could not use it either because Underhill was painting, or tourists were admiring his work.
The ceiling is an allegorical representation of Peace and Liberty triumphing over Tyranny with due tribute being paid to William and Mary and British maritime power.
Within the oval frame are depicted the four seasons. A reprobate Greenwich pensioner, John Worley, modelled for ‘Winter’. At age 96 he was still being punished for drunkenness and swearing!
The ceiling beneath the arch in the east end shows Queen Anne regarding the continents of the world (Pocahontas representing America). The western end is a tribute to King George I and his family.
The Painted Hall is probably the largest painting in Europe.
The Chapel of St Peter & St Paul
Situated in the Queen Mary Block, the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul was the last major building to be completed in the Royal Hospital. Finished in 1752 to the design of Thomas Ripley it is a typical English Baroque building relying on space and proportion for its effect. It has a coffered ceiling picked out in gold, and galleries down each side. Plain windows above the galleries fill the chapel with light.
The chapel is open for tourists to visit and attend services. At 11:00 on Sundays there is a Sung Eucharist with a fine choir. The chapel is often host to concerts and recitals.
The Nelson Room
This is the room where Admiral Horatio Nelson’s coffin was held prior to his being laid-in-state, The little side room contains a statue of Nelson replicating the one in Trafalgar Square, memorabilia, paintings and information.
Plan your Visit
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Monday - Sunday: 10:00 – 17:00 hours.
Closed between 20 December & 2 January.
Please note that the Painted Hall and/or Chapel may occasionally be closed at short notice for private functions or maintenance. You can view our upcoming closures at Web: ORNC/ Opening Times
Open daily 08:00 – 23:00 hours.
To get the most out of a visit it is worth joining a Guided Tour. There are a number of tours to choose from.
Free 45 minute guided walks
Experience a short journey through the magnificent history of the ORNC. Walks begin from the Visitor Centre
Monday – Friday: 13:30 & 15:00 hours.
Saturday & Sunday: 11:00, 12:30, 13:30 &15:00 hours.
Painted Hall Talks
Discover the story of this unique masterpiece that took Sir James Thornhill over 19 years to paint!
Daily: 11:45, 12:45, 14:45 & 15:45 hours.
These should be booked at the nearby Discover Greenwich Visitor Information Centre (Visit Greenwich).
Tel: +44 (0)2082 694 799 to check availability on one of these tours.
Web: Talks & Tours
Independant Visitors – Suggested Route
Follow the scenic visitor route from the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre to the Painted Hall and Chapel.
Every effort has been made to make the site accessible to disabled visitors.
Accessible toilets, ramps and lifts have been provided where possible.
Assistance dogs are welcome in all areas of the ORNC, including the Visitor Centre, Painted Hall and Chapel.
Pet dogs are allowed in the grounds on a lead.
- Detailed information and enquiries
Tel: +44 (0)2082 694 799
Web: ORNC/ Accessibility
Events & Exhibitions
A variety of special exhibitions and events for singles and families are held throughout the year, from regular character actor performances to archaeology workshops. For full details go to Web: ORNC/ Events
Picnics and take-away food may be consumed outdoors (weather permitting. Sit on the lawns of the ORNC and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Please remember to throw your rubbish away in the designated bins.
The Old Brewery, located next to the Visitor Centre, is a relaxed café during the day and a lively restaurant in the evening. There is also a cosy bar that serves hand drawn Meantime beers and a large alfresco courtyard. Web: The Old Brewery
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)20 8269 4747
The ORNC can be approached from Greenwich and Maze Hill stations, Greenwich and Cutty Sark DLR stations, by river to Greenwich Pier and local bus stations on foot.
Driving and parking in London is always difficult and public transport is generally good. We recommend the public transport option as a preferable method of Getting Around.
- By River
Greenwich Pier is located on the river, a two minute walk away from ORNC and the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre.
Regular riverboat services leave from Westminster, Embankment and Tower Piers to Greenwich Pier. Thames Clipper run an express service (with discounted tickets for travelcard holders) every 20 minutes.
For more information to help you plan your journey, visit Thames Clippers and/orCity Cruises website which run a service with commentary.
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
The ORNC is a five minute walk from the DLR Cutty Sark (for Marine Greenwich) Station. Visitors can travel by DLR from Tower Gateway, Lewisham, Stratford and Limehouse.
The DLR can be accessed from the following London Underground stations:
Bank Central, Northern,Waterloo and City lines;
Monument District and Circle lines;
Canary Wharf Jubilee line.
For more information to help you plan your journey, visit:
Tfl Fare Zone 2 Transport for London Journey Planner
- By London Underground
See DLR information above for stations with London Underground junctions. You can also take the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich (the O2) and then change to a bus.
- By train
Greenwich Mainline station is located in Zone 2 and 3 and is a 12 minute walk away from the ORNC. Turn left when you leave Greenwich station to head for the town centre. You can also take the DLR from the station to Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich.
Mainline rail services run from Cannon Street, London Bridge and Dartford to Greenwich.
For more information to help you plan your journey, visit National Rail Enquiries website and/or the Transport for London Journey Planner website.
- By bus
Several buses pass near the ORNC. For route numbers and details go to Web: ORNC/ Getting Here
- By car
From the north use M25 via the A2 or M11/A12 Blackwall Tunnel. Please note that there is limited parking in Greenwich, particularly at weekends. There are many alternative modes of public transport. Paid car parking is sited in Park Row (SE10 9NL) and Cutty Sark Gardens.
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