Royal Hospital Chelsea in London
The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement home and nursing home for British soldiers who are unfit for further duty due to injury or old age, located in the Chelsea region of central London, now the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is a true hospital in the original sense of the word, that is a place where hospitality was provided. There are just over 300 soldiers (310, as of 10 June 2004) resident in the Royal Hospital, referred to as "in-pensioners" (or more colloquially, as Chelsea pensioners).
The grounds of the Royal Hospital have been the site of the annual Chelsea Flower Show since 1913.
The Royal Hospital was founded by King Charles II, who issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Hospital on 22 December 1681, in order to make provision for old or injured soldiers (to succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war). Many of these soldiers, who were no longer fit for service, had been kept on regimental rolls so that they could continue to receive payment, because there was an inadequate provision of pensions for them.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building. His design was based on the Hôpital des Invalides in Paris.
The site for the Hospital was an area of Chelsea which held an incomplete building — "Chelsey College", a theological college founded by James I in 1610. The area had been donated by Charles II to the Royal Society in 1667, but since the Society had been unable to find a suitable use for the site, it was repurchased by the King in February 1682 to provide the site for the Hospital.
Construction took place at a rapid pace and by the time of Charles II's death, in 1685, the main hall and chapel of the Hospital had already been completed. The first patients included those injured at the Battle of Sedgemoor. In 1686, Wren expanded his original design to add two additional quadrangles to the east and west of the central court.
Work was completed in 1692, and the first in-pensioners were admitted in February 1692. By the end of March that year, the full capacity of 476 former soldiers were in residence.
In 1694 a Royal Charter was established for a direct naval equivalent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Building began in 1696 on the Greenwich Hospital, and it opened in 1705.
Because of its elevation, from 1796 to 1816 the Royal Hospital Chelsea hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in Portsmouth.
In 1809, Sir John Soane designed and constructed a new infirmary building, with space for 80 patients, located to the west of the Hospital building on the site of the current National Army Museum. The infirmary was damaged by bombing in the Second World War and later demolished.
The first televised church service in the United Kingdom was broadcast from the hospital Chapel in 1949.
In 2002, the Sovereign's Mace was presented to the hospital — up until then, the hospital had had no colours or distinctive device — the Mace is now carried at all the ceremonial events at the Hospital. In 2009 the hospital was opened to women for the first time.
Seven of the Chelsea Pensioners are releasing an album on the 8th November 2010 called Men In Scarlet - all royalties will go to the Chelsea Pensioners' Appeal which is currently raising money to refurbish the 300 year old living accommodation.
The Royal Hospital Founder's Day takes place close to 29 May each year — the birthday of Charles II, and the date of his restoration as King in 1660. It is also known as Oak Apple Day, as it commemorates the escape of the future King following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he hid in the Royal Oak to avoid capture by Parliamentary forces.
On Founder's Day, in-pensioners of the Royal Hospital are reviewed by a member of the British royal family. The statue of Charles II in the central court (or Figure Court) of the Hospital is shrouded in oak leaves, and all participants and spectators wear sprigs of oak leaves.
The statue of King Charles II
The 7' 6" (229 cm) statue of King Charles II which stands in the central court (the Figure Court) of the Hospital was cast in copper alloy by Grinling Gibbons in 1676, and originally stood in the precincts of Whitehall Palace.
Following the death of King Charles II, the statue was moved to the Royal Hospital, where it has stood since 1692. In 2002, the statue was regilded to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee.
The great hall and the chapel, the Hospital's museum, and some of its courtyards are open to the public. The site of the 18th century pleasure gardens known as Ranelagh Gardens now forms part of the grounds of the Hospital, and is open to the public. The National Army Museum is adjacent to the Hospital.
The Hospital’s chapel was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and is a fine and rare example of Wren’s pure ecclesiastical work. It was designed to accommodate about 500 people, all the staff and pensioners, and rises 42 ft high. The chapel was built between 1681 and 1687.
The chapel contains a fine painting of the Resurrection in the half dome of the apse, painted by Sebastiano Ricci; the work dates from 1714 when Ricci, accompanied by his nephew Marco (who assisted with the painting at the Royal Hospital) were working in London before travelling on to Paris. It is thought the work was a donation from Queen Anne.
The Chapel was consecrated in August 1691, and compulsory services held twice daily. Nowadays services are confined to Sunday mornings, a Choral Matins and a shortened service of Holy Communion immediately following. In-Pensioners also parade in Figure Court on Sunday mornings.
Music and Liturgy
The Chapel's main Sunday service — Choral Matins — is led by the Chapel Choir, a professional group of twelve singers. The choir is directed by the Organist Ian Curror, and accompanied by an Organ Scholar.
List of Church Music Organ Scholars
- Michael Cayton - 1999 - 2000
- James Duddle - 2000 - '01
- Noel Charles - 2001 - '02
- Gabriele Damiani - 2002 - '03
- Jonathan Bunney - 2003 - '04
- Lewis Brito-Babapulle - 2004 - '05
- Timothy Wakerell - 2005 - '06 (later Sub Organist, St Paul's Cathedral)
- Stephen Moore - 2006 - '08
- Benjamin Horden - 2008 - '09
- Peter Holder - 2009 (commences post in September, 2009)
The Chapel houses a 2 manual Walker instrument, details of which can be found at the National Pipe Organ Register.
The Hospital is run by a Governor, currently General The Lord Walker GCB CMG CBE. He is assisted by a Lieutenant-Governor, Major-General A.P.N. Currie CB. Both of these men are also retired, like the rest of the pensioners. They also sit on an eighteen-strong Board of Commissioners, who hold the Hospital in trust.
Royal Hospital Chelsea Museum
Opened in the Great Hall in 1866, the Royal Hospital Chelsea Museum features military artefacts and memorabilia that were donated by deceased in-pensioners. The displays include items associated with the Duke of Wellington, and other uniforms, medals, weapons, paintings and models. The Royal Hospital Chelsea also has a small Souvenir Shop right next to the Museum, frequented by the In-Pensioners and tourists.
Admission of women
In March 2009 the first women in the Hospital’s 317 year history were admitted as In-Pensioners. Dorothy Hughes (aged 85) was the first, soon followed by Winifred Phillips (aged 82). Hughes had joined the British Army in 1941 aged 18, later working as part of 450 Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery in the London Division. In 1945 the Battery was deployed near Dover to defend against V1 rocket attacks. She retired with the rank of Sergeant. Phillips trained as a nurse and later joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1948 before enlisting in the Women's Royal Army Corps in 1949 while serving in Egypt. After 22 years service she retired with the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2.
List of Governors
The following is a list of Governors:
- Brigadier General Thomas Stanwix 1714-1720
- Lieutenant General Charles Churchill 1720-1722
- Lieutenant General William Evans 1722-1740
- Field Marshal Sir Robert Rich 1740-1768
- Field Marshal Sir George Howard 1768-1795
- Field Marshal The Marquess Townshend 1795-1796
- General Sir William Fawcett 1796-1804
- General Sir David Dundas 1804-1820
- Field Marshal Sir Samuel Hulse 1820-1837
- General Sir Edward Paget 1837-1849
- General Sir George Anson 1849
- General Sir Colin Halkett 1849-1856
- Field Marshal Sir Edward Blakeney 1856-1868
- Field Marshal Sir Alexander Woodford 1868-1870
- General Sir John Pennefather 1870-1872
- Lt-General Sir Sydney Cotton 1872-1874
- Field Marshal Patrick Grant 1874-1895
- Field Marshal Sir Donald Stewart 1895-1901
- Field Marshal Sir Henry Norman 1901-1904
- Field Marshal Sir George White 1905-1912
- General Sir Neville Lyttelton 1912-1931
- General Sir Walter Braithwaite 1931-1938
- General Sir Harry Knox 1938-1943
- General Sir Clive Liddell 1943-1949
- General Sir Bernard Paget 1949-1956
- General Sir Cameron Nicholson 1956-1961
- General Sir Frank Simpson 1961-1969
- General Sir Charles Jones 1969-1975
- General Sir Anthony Read 1975-1981
- General Sir Robert Ford 1981-1987
- General Sir Roland Guy 1987-1993
- General Sir Brian Kenny 1993-1999
- General Sir Jeremy Mackenzie 1999-2006
- General Lord Walker 2006–2011
- General Sir Redmond Watt 2011-Present
- Chelsea Flower Show
- Royal Hospital Kilmainham (equivalent in Dublin)
- Institution des Invalides de la Legion Etrangere (French Foreign Legion equivalent)
- Royal Hospital Chelsea website
- Selected Royal Hospital Chelsea Service Records available from the UK National Archives
- RHS Chelsea Flower Show official site
- Royal Hospital Chelsea Museum