Top 10 must see details
There are lots of things to see at the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC). We have chosen ten of our favourite details not to be missed.
1. Wren's twin domes
The twin domes of the ORNC are an iconic Greenwich landmark and house the magnificent Painted Hall and Chapel. One of the best views of Sir Christopher Wren’s grand design is from the Water Gate. The domes have gilded weather vanes and feature clock faces; one tells the time while the other indicates the wind direction.
2. The Painted Hall ceiling
At a staggering 2612sqm the Painted Hall is the largest figurative painted interior in the country. The theme of Sir James Thornhill’s exuberant lower hall ceiling is the triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny. It pays tribute to King William and Queen Mary, seated in glory in the middle of the central oval, and the importance of naval power to the fortunes of the nation.
3. The Chapel rope and anchor
Naval motifs are depicted throughout the Chapel, reflecting the building’s original purpose as a place of worship for the inhabitants of the Royal Hospital for Seamen. In the centre of the black and white marble floor there is a ship’s anchor. A rope design runs along the edge of the pews which is said to match exactly the diameter of an anchor cable of a first-rate ship of the line.
4. Objects from Greenwich Palace
The remains of Henry’s VIII palace lie just a few feet below the ORNC site. More than 30 objects excavated on site are on display in the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, allowing us to picture the splendour of the Tudor palace. There is a reconstruction of the Chapel Royal where Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves, discovered in 2005.
5. The Nelson Pediment
The most splendid reminder of Nelson at the ORNC is the Nelson Pediment, which overlooks the King William Courtyard. Designed by Benjamin West and made of Coade stone, an artificial ceramic, it is 12m long. Erected in 1812, it pays tribute to Britain's great naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson. His body, surrounded by symbols of battles at sea, is being delivered into the care of Britannia by a figure representing Victory.
6. Thornhill's self-portrait
Sir James Thornhill took 19 years to decorate the Painted Hall, often described as ‘the finest dining hall in Europe’. He was knighted in 1729 – the first English artist to receive this honour – and you can see him on the west wall in the upper hall gesturing towards his great composition. Next to him lie the tools of his trade; a palette, scroll and paintbrushes.
7. The Chapel ceiling
The ceiling of the Chapel is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship and is almost certainly responsible for the superb acoustics of the space. It was designed by the master plasterer John Papworth in a neo-classical design of squares and octagons. The intricate central ornaments were carved, rather than cast in moulds. It is plastered in light blue and cream following a Wedgewood-inspired colour scheme.
8. The Old Brewery wellhead
The Old Brewery wellhead is 77m deep and it was discovered during building work in 2008. It supplied water to the brewery of the Royal Hospital for Seamen, which stood on the site of today’s Old Brewery. On your visit throw a coin down the well and make a wish. All donations go towards the upkeep of the buildings.
9. Franklin Memorial
Take a look to your right when you enter the Chapel vestibule. An imposing marble memorial commemorates Sir John Franklin and the crews of the ships Erebus and Terror who lost their lives in the ill-fated expedition of 1845 to search for the North West Passage. It was created by Richard Westmacott Junior.
10. Central Model of Greenwich
The best place to start your visit to the ORNC is at the spectacular central model in the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre. Screens surrounding the 3-d scale model of Maritime Greenwich show episodes from the site’s amazing history from the Romans to the present day.
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Explore our calender for events, activities and workshops at the Old Royal Naval College.