May 2014

The Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) is one of the UK’s most outstanding and popular heritage attractions with over 1.8 million visitors last year. Sixteen years ago The Greenwich Foundation took over responsibility for the site from the Royal Navy, since then there has been an ongoing programme of conservation both of the fabric of the striking baroque buildings and the interiors.

The most recent piece of history to undergo conservation is three of the four water pumps which sit in each of the courtyards. The pumps were originally used by the pensioners who lived at the Royal Hospital before the introduction of piped water and are now being restored by an ironwork conservation specialist to their original splendour. The work begins next week and media access will be available to the workshop of Brian Hall in Charlton to see the work being done.

ORNC Conservation Director, William Palin says "These curious and important relics of the Royal Hospital for Seamen have long excited the interest of visitors. They represent a precious survival which, like the lamps and fountains, gives the ORNC site its unique and authentic atmosphere. Two of these pumps (in King William and Queen Anne courtyards) are encased in stone structures which resemble Roman altars. These little altars will be repaired too.

This is one of those exciting projects that, as well as conserving valuable fabric, help us to develop a better understanding both of the way the old Hospital site was serviced how the daily needs of the pensioners were met."

The delicate conservation work on the pumps will be undertaken by ironwork specialist Brian Hall at his workshop in Charlton. Brian explains “Firstly each pump will be dismantled, carefully, and the parts will be removed, the surviving ironwork will then be cleaned and the missing elements and mechanisms will be fabricated and forged. They will then be painted back to their original colour and finally reassembled on site back to their unique form”. Each pump will take around 1 week to repair.

The water pumps are soon to be finished and will be back to their ‘old selves’. Although sadly they will no longer draw water, it will, however be possible for visitors at the ORNC to operate the handles of the pumps in imitation of the pensioners who once relied upon them for their daily needs.

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