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Old Royal Naval College uncovers the history of Black British mariners this October

Black Greenwich Pensioners

Saturday 3 October 2020 – Sunday 21 February 2021

Mezzanine Gallery, Visitor Centre, Old Royal Naval College,

King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN

Press View: Thursday 1 October 2020

This October the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, is delving into its rich and complex past, shining a light on the Black mariners that played a crucial role in its history. Their new exhibition Black Greenwich Pensioners explores the hidden histories of the Black Royal Navy personnel whoformed one of Britain’s earliest Black communities when they became pensioners at the Royal Hospital for Seaman on the site where the Old Royal Naval College stands on today.

Co-curated by Black British heritage consultant S. I. Martin, this vital and fascinating exhibition looks at the presence and impact of the recorded Black communities which have been resident in Greenwich for over 200 years. Telling the stories of Black seamen, some of whom were volunteers and others who were enslaved or impressed, the exhibition traces their dangerous and unpredictable lives in the 18th and 19th centuries. It will explore their diverse geographical origins, ranks and duties as well as their significant contribution to the development of Black revolutionary and abolitionist thought and writing.

The exhibition seeks to examine the role Black Mariners played in British naval conflicts as well as delving into the personal histories of prominent Greenwich pensioners such as John Thomas, who escaped slavery and was later returned to enslavement in Barbados; John Simmonds, a Jamaican

veteran of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar whose descendants still reside in the UK; and Briton Hammon, the author of the first slave narrative. Documenting the contribution of these men to theBritish abolitionist movement, the Royal Navy, and to their local Greenwich community, the exhibition will include paintings, prints and photographs and a small selection of objects from which we can discover more about the lives of the Black Greenwich Pensioners.

S. I Martin comments, Using the Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich as a lens, the exhibition shines a light the social and political history of Britain’s maritime and naval past and uncovers the remarkable and varied personal stories of the men who lived there. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all narrative. This is global story told on a local level. Our hope is that anyone who visits will come away with a deeper understanding of their cultural history having discovered a seldom told story about the roots of their local community.

There will be related workshops and tours during the exhibition.

Notes to Editors

TitleBlack Greenwich Pensioners
DatesSaturday 3 October 2020 – Sunday 21 February 2021
Social Media#OldRoyalNavalCollege #PaintedHall
Facebook and Instagram@oldroyalnavalcollege 

Old Royal Naval College

Old Royal Naval College is the centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a long and celebrated 500-year history. Today it is a diverse cultural destination and one of London’s most popular venues and visitor attractions, a site that attracts over 1.2 million visitors every year.

The classical buildings that adorn the site today were built as the Royal Hospital for Seamen between 1696 and 1751. Designed by England’s greatest architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, the buildings are considered amongst the finest in Europe, featuring the sumptuous Painted Hall and the neo-classical Chapel. Prior to that the site was home to the celebrated Greenwich Palace, the favoured Royal residence of Henry VIII. A small part of the excavated palace, revealed during recent conservation works, can be viewed in The Sackler Gallery in the King William Undercroft.

The rich maritime history of the site continued after the departure of the Royal Hospital in the 1860s. From 1873 to 1997 the buildings housed the Royal Naval College, one of the world’s foremost naval training establishments. After the departure of the Naval College an independent charity was established in 1997 to conserve the magnificent baroque buildings and grounds for present and future generations and to provide opportunities for wide and diverse audiences to enjoy and share their significance. Today this historic landmark is open to the public.

The Painted Hall, built as a ceremonial dining room, has the greatest grand-scale decorative painting in England and has been described as ‘Britain’s Sistine Chapel’. The abundant and complex painting scheme covers some 4,000 square metres and was designed and executed by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726. An extensive National Lottery Funded renovation project was completed in 2019. The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is a neo-classical masterpiece by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. Featuring a Samuel Green organ and an altarpiece painted by Benjamin West, it is one of the country’s finest 18th-century interiors.

All enquiries, high res images and further information:

Chloé Nelkin Consulting
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