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Opening Saturday 26th March 2022
Nelson Room, Old Royal Naval College,
King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN
The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, is relaunching the Nelson Room after a major conservation project to renovate and reinterpret this fascinating room off the Painted Hall, which has a rich history and is a crucial part of Nelson and the Old Royal Naval College’s story. The Nelson Room restoration follows the award-winning conservation of the Baroque Painted Hall, which reopened in March 2019.
On Christmas Eve in 1805, Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s body arrived in Greenwich, having been transported back to Britain on HMS Victory after his triumph at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson’s body was preserved in a casket of spirits on the long trip, and his men brought him from the River Thames, where they had docked, to the Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich, now known as the Old Royal Naval College. Nelson was highly regarded as a national hero during the Napoleonic Wars, and was therefore given the honour of a lying in state in the Upper Hall of the Painted Hall, before which his body lay in a small room off the Painted Hall. This chamber was named the Nelson Room in 1846. During this time, Greenwich became the centre of the nation’s outpouring of grief with tens of thousands of people descending on the area to see the lying in state and to pay their respects. The crowds were so vast that the local militia were brought in to control the crowds and the queues of carriages stretched back to central London.
The Nelson Room has been carefully restored so visitors can explore the fascinating history of Lord Nelson’s lying in state. The unique architecture of this intimate room has been conserved, including its imposing roof lantern, monumental stonework and Swedish marble flooring, called Öland Stone. The room was created by Nicholas Hawksmoor to the original masterplan by Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the buildings on site.
The new audio-visual experience in the Nelson Room explores the story of this national figure and looks at how people react when a much-loved celebrity dies. It also explores what public ceremonials say about culture and politics. A newly commissioned bronze sculpture by Antony Dufort, Trafalgar Day at Greenwich: Victory Breaks the Line, will pay tribute to the many sailors who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar and later became ‘Greenwich Pensioners’ at the Royal Hospital for Seamen. A new multimedia guide also gives the visitor an insight into the room itself, its history, restoration and artworks. New benches will allow visitors the chance to stop and linger, learning more about Lord Nelson and his relationship to Greenwich and viewing the Nelson Pediment in the courtyard outside through the window. The pediment was installed in 1812, designed by American-born artist Benjamin West, whose exceptional altarpiece can be seen in the nearby Chapel of St Peter and St Paul.
Entry to the Nelson Room with a multimedia guide is included in the Painted Hall ticket. A new lift provides wheelchair access to the Nelson Room and the Upper Hall for the first time.