Tom Ryley, Communications and Digital Officer

10 April 2017

It’s an exciting time at the Old Royal Naval College. This month we launched our Painted Hall Ceiling Tours, allowing visitors to climb a 60-foot observation deck and experience the magnificent ceiling of the Painted Hall from just feet away. Almost 2,000 people have already made the climb: you too can book a ticket today!

Equally exciting is the progress that our skilled conservators are making as part of the Painted Hall Project. Layers of dust and grime have built up in the hall over the past half century, and ageing varnish applied in the 1960s has obscured the lustre of the original paintings. 

Conservators are currently focusing on the domed vestibule, the entrance to the hall and capped by one of Sir Christopher Wren’s famous domes. As well as the first part of the hall that our conservators are tackling, this was also the first part of the building completed by Sir James Thornhill, the mastermind behind the painted scheme.

As work continues, our conservators are making new discoveries and facing new challenges. Read on to learn the story so far!

Flaking paint

Flaking paint requires intensive work from our conservators

Flaking paint requires intensive work from our conservators to repair.

As work began in the vestibule, it was quickly apparent how badly the paintings were suffering. Large windows below the dome allow light to flood in, and this has wrought havoc on the paintings; to make things even worse, the dome has also leaked in the past.

The more difficult-to-reach areas of the dome have accumulated large swathes of dust, and in some places, the paint is even peeling away from the walls. This has required specialist measures to combat, such as injecting adhesives into the paint to reattach the paint to the walls.

Beautiful marine details

Before and after: beautiful marine details are returned to their former glory

Before and after: beautiful marine details are returned to their former glory.

As the conservators have worked their way from the top of the vestibule, it has been possible to get a closer look at the many beautifully-painted details that Thornhill worked into the scheme. Catering to his naval audience, Thornhill depicted marine symbols such as seashells, pearls and corals, a theme that visitors on ceiling tours will be able to see continued on the lower hall ceiling.

Royal symbolism

Carved foliage after regilding and reconstruction of paint

Carved foliage after regilding and reconstruction of paint

The Painted Hall was more than just a dining hall for retired sailors: it was an exercise in royal propaganda, boasting the triumph of William III and Mary II over the catholic James II in the Glorious Revolution. The vestibule cements this, hosting large, gilded symbols of the monarchy, such as the embellished initials of William and Mary. Much of the gilding has faded, and our conservators have had to re-gild and reconstruct the painting on much of the delicately-carved details.

Support us

Eager to support this project? We’ve raised £6.5 million so far, but we’ve still got £2 million to go to see the project through. You can help us reach this target by sponsoring a square foot.

Book a Painted Hall Ceiling Tour today


If you haven't already, now's the time to book one of our acclaimed Painted Hall Ceiling Tours. Ascend 60 feet and discover the secrets of London’s largest painted ceiling.

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