October 2013

The Old Royal Naval College (ORNC), Sir Christopher Wren’s twin domed riverside masterpiece in Greenwich, is one of the UK’s most celebrated and popular heritage attractions. Since the Greenwich Foundation took over responsibility for the site from the Royal Navy fifteen years ago, it has been undertaking an ongoing programme of conservation both of the fabric of the striking baroque buildings and the interiors. The latest historic feature to undergo conservation is the 72 Victorian cast iron lanterns that illuminated and decorated the site from the days when it was a home for pensioner seamen. The lanterns feature naval iconography and are beautiful examples of 19th century craftsmanship. They are now being restored to their original splendour.

"The lanterns which date from the 1840 and 50s and which are a key feature of the Old Royal Naval College had been somewhat neglected,” explains Brendan McCarthy, CEO of the Greenwich Foundation. “The black and gold paint is peeling, original glass is missing and has been replaced with Perspex, and some of them were even found to have birds' nests inside them."

The restoration of the six decorative lanterns that adorn the dolphin fountains on the King Charles and King William lawns is now nearing completion. These lanterns were part of Philip Hardwick’s 1850s landscaping scheme which was created to enhance the grounds of the Royal Hospital for Seamen, as the ORNC was then known, and make them more pleasant for the naval veterans who lived there.

Earlier in the summer the metal work was stripped of all old paint - including gold paint that had at some point replaced the original gilding. Next the accumulated detritus and the Perspex panels were removed. The lanterns were then sent to the master craftsmen of Lincolnshire Stained Glass to have new panels, including the special curved glass at the top of each lantern, made and fitted. "Each lantern is unique," explains Adrian Attwood, Director, DBR (London) Ltd who are undertaking the restoration of the lanterns for The Greenwich Foundation, "so an individual pattern was traced for each panel of glass and bespoke replacements made."

The lanterns have now returned to London for the final work, including re-painting and gilding with gold leaf. The work will be undertaken in the onsite smithy shed and visitors to the ORNC will be able to see the specialist conservator, Nigel Woodford, working on the lanterns as they are made ready for their return to the Dolphin Fountains at the end of the month.

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