Pepys Building at the Old Royal Naval College, where the current visitor centre resides. Courtesy The Greenwich Foundation
Designed by Christopher Wren, the Old Royal Naval College has played a key role in both the history of Greenwich and Britain.
A Royal Palace once stood on the site. Henry VIII and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth were born there, and it was one of the King's favourite places. In 1694, a Royal Charter saw it turned into a hospital for sick seamen – the first of whom arrived to the grand building in 1705. In the following years, illustrious architects including Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh completed Wren's design.
Now, a new £5.7m centre will tell the story of the site from these days through to its use as the Royal Naval College, which moved out in 1998.
A Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1.9 million towards the total cost has just given the go-ahead for The Greenwich Foundation, which is behind the project, to proceed with the creation of the centre.
An illustration of part of the proposed centre. Courtesy The Greenwich Foundation
The proposed centre, to be situated in the Pepys Building, has received praise from a high-profile historian; David Starkey.
“Discover Greenwich will tell the story of a place which has witnessed some of the most important events in our national history in the last five hundred years, from Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn to national mourning for the death of Nelson," commented the historian and broadcaster.
"I’m delighted this important project will do justice to such an extraordinary place.”
The centre will include a display of evocative objects from the 18th century, including items discovered during excavations of the palace, and architect's models and trial pieces from the design of the hospital. Greenwich armour from the Royal Armouries will be on show, together with objects from the collections of the National Maritime Museum and the Museum of London.
Henry VIII's Royal Chapel will also be reconstructed, with its tiled floor uncovered in 2005.
An impression of the new education centre. Courtesy The Greenwich Foundation
Another part of the project is a new education suite for hosting specialist workshops (supported by the Clore Duffield Foundation). School children and local people will be able to participate in a programme of activities, and a new oral history archive will draw on reminiscences of former and serving sailors who attended the Royal Naval College, and people who worked there or visited.
Duncan Wilson is the Chief Executive of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College. He said the Foundation is delighted with the HLF's backing, and called it a landmark in the interpretation of the World Heritage Site.
"It gives us the opportunity to tell the history of these wonderful buildings through the stories of the people who made them, and whose lives are bound up in them," he said.
Courtesy The Greenwich Foundation
The centre will tell visitors about the hospital Pensioners, who lived on a diet of bread, beer and boiled meat, and would have smoked their clay pipes on the Chalk Walk. It will also include important dates in the building's history, like January 5 1806, when Admiral Lord Nelson lay in state for three days in the Painted Hall.
The hospital was closed in 1869, and the complex became the Royal Naval College in 1873, when officers from all over the world came to train in naval sciences.
Sue Bowers, HLF Manager in London, commented on the development: "We are confident it will inspire visitors to explore all the iconic sites of Greenwich including Queen's House, the Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and of course the Old Royal Naval College itself."
The Greenwich Foundation has just £500,000 more to raise to reach its target. Discover Greenwich is scheduled to open in 2009.