Royal Hospital Chelsea
Royal Hospital Chelsea
Royal Hospital Road
020 7881 5246
020 7881 5203
020 7881 5204
020 7881 5643
The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded in 1682 by King Charles 11 as a home for old or wounded soldiers.
The King was inspired by Louis XIV's 'Hotel des Invalides' in Paris and wanted to create an equally splendid home for his veteran soldiers. He commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design the buildings. The project was later enlarged by King James II to be built around three courtyards. The first In-Pensioners were admitted in 1692.
Today the group of buildings is home for about 350 ex-servicemen. The permanent residents, known as 'In-Pensioners' wear a distinctive uniform, largely unchanged since the 18th century. Their undress uniform is navy blue but on ceremonial occasions the 'Chelsea Pensioners' are instantly known in their scarlet coats and tricorne hats.
Designed in an English baroque style, the Royal Hospital has two residential wings linked by the Great Hall and Chapel. The Chapel contains a fresco of 'Christ Rising from the Tomb' by Sebastiano Ricco. The panelled Great Hall, opposite, features a mural of Charles II, on horseback, by Verrio and Cooke. This room is still used as the Pensioners' refectory.
The entrance to the small museum has a large painting of the Battle of Waterloo by George Jones. The exhibition shows the history of the Chelsea Pensioners with a scale model of the Royal Hospital, records dating back to its foundation, a mock up of a residential room, as well as medals and uniforms.
In the central (Figure) court is a statue of Charles II by Grinling Gibbons (placed there in about 1692) and on the north front is a statue of a Chelsea Pensioner erected in 2000.
On a day close to Oak Apple Day on 29 May (the anniversay of King Charles' birth and restoration), the Chelsea Pensioners parade in Figure Court and are inspected, usually by a Royal dignatory. The statue of King Charles is dressed in oak leaves to commemorate his escape after the Battle of Worcester (1651) when he hid in the Boscobel Oak.
The grounds surrounding the Royal Hospital include Ranelagh Gardens and can also be visited. A small pavilion, designed by Sir John Soane (who was also the architect of other buildings at The Royal Hospital), has a display illustrating the history of the gardens as an 18th Century pleasure resort. Then Ranelagh Gardens was a fashionable meeting place for London society. Now, in May the gardens host the famous Chelsea Flower Show.
Museum, Chapel & Great Hall, Courts and grounds: Mon-Sat: 10:00-12:00, 14:00-16:00, Sun 14:00-16:00.
Guided tours, led by an In-Pensioner, must be booked in advance.
The Museum is closed on Sunday in winter and may be closed on Bank Holidays.
Pictures, documents and artefacts relating to the history of The Royal Hospital. Medals and other items left by In-Pensioners.
Architecture, Coins and Medals, Fine Art, Social History, Weapons and War
Key artists and exhibits
- Statue of King Charles 11 by Grinling Gibbons.
- Various pictures of English monarchs since 1660.
- Pictures of Chelsea Pensioners.
Visit our website to view virtual tours of the Figure Court, the Light Horse Court, the Great Hall, the Octagon Porch, the Chapel and the Council Chamber.