Continuing our new series, meet Will Palin, the Old Royal Naval College’s Conservation Director and the driving force behind the Painted Hall project, our major £8.5 million conservation project which took place between 2016 and 2019.

Will sadly leaves us later in the month, having been offered a fantastic position as the first CEO of Barts Heritage at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London. Before we say goodbye, we had to ask him a few questions first:

  1. Can you tell us more your role at the Old Royal Naval College?

As the Conservation Director, my job is to look after the buildings and the estate. This includes overseeing the ongoing programme of maintenance and repair, major stand-alone projects such as the Painted Hall project. I also look after the learning and interpretation teams.

  1. How long have you worked with / known about the Old Royal Naval College?

I’ve been here for nearly 6 years, having started in January 2014.

  1. What’s your favourite thing about Old Royal Naval College?

I came here because this is one of the most beautiful groups of historic buildings in the country, but I stayed because of the brilliant people.

  1. What’s your favourite thing to do in Greenwich?

Whenever I can, I get out and explore. An hour’s walk can take you from the baroque splendour of our estate, through the sylvan delights of Greenwich Park, to the perfection of Georgian houses on Croom’s Hill. The one essential stop for me is the Warwick Leadlay Gallery, with its beguiling collection of prints, drawings and paintings. 

  1. Tell us a story about Old Royal Naval College.

When the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich was first planned, some people considered the buildings too grand for their charitable purpose. But the architect Sir Christopher Wren defended his designs vigorously. He wrote, "Architecture has its political use; publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce, makes the People love their native Country."

I will miss the sublime beauty of the buildings and estate. But most of all I will miss the people.

  1. Tell us a secret about Old Royal Naval College.

Somewhere in the Painted Hall, and I’m not saying where, there is a secret door that leads up a spiral stone staircase to the roof.

  1. What has been your favourite experience during your time at the Old Royal Naval College?

Without a doubt it was seeing the newly conserved and lit Painted Hall after the scaffolding came down at the end of the project.

  1. So many fantastic achievements, is there anything you wish you could have achieved but didn’t get round to?

After the Painted Hall I would have liked to have undertaken a similar conservation project for the Chapel - cleaning and conserving every element of the ornate decorated interior, including the plasterwork, joinery and marble flooring, as well as introducing new lighting and visitor information to better present and interpret this unique and beautiful space. I always think of the Painted Hall and the Chapel as the two anchors to the fragile lives of the Naval Pensioners - they were fed in one space and they worshipped in another. 

  1. What’s your favourite chapter of the Old Royal Naval College’s history?

The period of construction between 1696 and 1750. I like to imagine how exciting it must have been to see these monumental classical buildings emerging from the mud and chaos of the construction site as the remains of the Tudor Greenwich palace gradually receding under a tide of Portland stone.

  1. Finally, what will you miss the most?

I will miss the sublime beauty of the buildings and estate. But most of all I will miss the people.


Will Palin joins Barts Heritage in November as their CEO:

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