13 August 2017

The team working on the major development of the Painted Hall in Greenwich have uncovered the remains of Greenwich Palace, notable as the birthplace of Henry VIII and of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth I. 

Greenwich Palace had a scale and magnificence comparable to Hampton Court Palace, in an idyllic riverside setting. It comprised everything from state apartments, courtyards, a chapel, elegant gardens, a substantial tiltyard for jousting with a five-storey tower for viewing, and was at the very heart of Tudor cultural life and intrigue.

Careful preparation of the ground for the new visitor centre below the Painted Hall led to the discovery of two rooms of the Tudor palace, including a floor featuring lead-glazed tiles. Being set back from the river, these are likely to be from the service range, possibly where the kitchens, bakehouse, brewhouse and laundry were. One of the rooms was clearly subterranean and contains a series of unusual niches, which archaeologists believe may be ‘bee boles’ for the keeping of skeps (hive baskets) during the winter months when the bee colonies are hibernating.  Bee boles have occasionally been found in historic garden walls, but it is very rare to find them internally, making this find even more significant. The niches were probably used for keeping food and drink cool in the summer months when the skeps were outside.

Nothing of Greenwich Palace survives above ground; with the coming of the Stuart dynasty, and the construction of the Queens House, the old-fashioned Tudor Palace was neglected in favour of the new renaissance style, and with the designs for a new Stuart palace, the Tudor buildings were swept away. In fact the new palace, which was being designed by Christopher Wren to be a little like the phenomenon that was Versailles, was never built, and instead, Greenwich Hospital was created instead, which today is the Old Royal Naval College.

Discussions are now underway over the possibility of displaying the Tudor archaeology in situ within what will be the new Painted Hall interpretation gallery.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said:

“This is a really remarkable find. The Tudor period is one which grips the public imagination like no other, probably because of the larger-than-life characters like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, as well as the magnificence of the buildings. To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting. The unusual and enigmatic nature of the structure has given us something to scratch our heads over and research, but it does seem to shine a light on a very poorly known function of the gardens and the royal bees. The most exciting aspect is that the Old Royal Naval College is able and willing to incorporate this into the new visitor centre, so everyone can see a small part of the palace, for the first time in hundreds of years.”

Greenwich Palace was built by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426, and rebuilt by Henry VII between c1500-06. The Palace was substantially demolished at the end of the seventeenth century to make way for the Royal Naval College built by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692-1728.  From surviving paintings and documents it is known that the palace covered much of the land on which the Old Royal Naval College stands.  

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, is currently undergoing a major transformation over the next eighteen months, including the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café developed by Hugh Broughton Architects. Visitors currently have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close to the ceiling of the Painted Hall through a series of ceiling tours, which are accessible to all.

A major gift of £1m from The Gosling Foundation was announced in January 2017. Other grants, including £3.1m awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2016 and support from some of the UK’s leading philanthropists, have enabled the £8.5m conservation project to begin. A further £2m is necessary to complete the project, and all donations will go towards the conservation fund and the conservation.

The Old Royal Naval College would like to thank Historic England for their advice and support on this project.

Listings Information

Ceiling tours of the Painted Hall

Daily, 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)

Adult ticket £10 / Child ticket (aged 6 – 17) free until 31 August 2017

Full disabled access


Press Enquiries:

Lara Delaney, Bolton & Quinn

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 020 7221 5000

About the Old Royal Naval College

The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich was established as the Royal Hospital for Seamen by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1694.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it is one of the most important ensembles of baroque architecture in Europe. From 1705, the Royal Hospital provided modest, wood-lined cabins as accommodation for retired sailors, housing as many as 2,700 residents at its peak in 1814. The last naval pensioners left in 1869, when the site became home to the Royal Naval College, an officers’ training academy, until 1997. When the Navy left, an independent charity was established to conserve the site for present and future generations, and create enjoyment, learning and rich cultural experiences for everyone.

Today this historic landmark is open to the public and is the home of three unique and free to visit attractions; the Painted Hall, the Chapel, and the Visitor Centre.

The Painted Hall is the greatest grand-scale decorative painting in England and has been described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’. The abundant and complex scheme covers some 40,000 square feet and was designed and executed by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726.

The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is a neo-classical masterpiece by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Newton. Featuring a Samuel Green organ and an altarpiece painted by Benjamin West, it is one of the country’s finest eighteenth century interiors in existence.

The Old Royal Naval College is free to all visitors and is open daily from 10.00-17.00.

The Old Royal Naval College charity is grateful to the following organisations for their support of this project: the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Sackler Trust, The Garfield Weston Foundation, the Fidelity UK Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement, the Pilgrim Trust, the Headley Trust, the 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust and many anonymous individual donations.


About the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery

Hugh Broughton Architects

Hugh Broughton Architects was formed in 1996 and has a reputation for producing carefully crafted contemporary architecture. The practice has designed projects for many high profile clients including the British Council, Institution of Structural Engineers, National Galleries of Scotland, Royal Society of Chemistry and the TUC. The practice is best known for the design of Halley VI Antarctic Research Station designed for the British Antarctic Survey, which was officially launched in 2013 and has received fifteen international awards to date; and a purpose-built gallery for the Portland Collection, on the Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire, which received an RIBA East Midlands Building of the Year Award 2016 and RIBA National Award 2016, and a commendation in the Civic Trust Awards 2017. 


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