The Old Royal Naval College, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site called Maritime Greenwich, is commonly recognized as one of the world’s finest examples of English Baroque architecture.
After our visit to the Trafalgar Tavern on our all-day trip to Greenwich (see previous postings) we crossed Park Row and entered the ORNC campus via its East Gate.
The four major campus buildings were designed by Christopher Wren in the 1690s on instructions by Queen Mary II, wife of King William III, to build what was originally called the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. Wren at first decided to build one large building with a huge dome but Queen Mary nixed his design because it would block the view of the Thames from her Queen’s House across Romney Road. So Wren went back to his drawing board and his second try featured twin domed buildings separated by a street as wide as the Queen’s house. Two other buildings fronting the river formed the campus quadrangle. The domed buildings are called Queen Mary Court and King William Court. The other two buildings are named Queen Anne Court and King Charles Court.
The Seamen’s Hospital closed down in 1869 and in 1873 the campus re-opened as the Royal Naval College and several buildings were added over the years. In 1998 the Royal Naval College moved to Dartmouth and the campus became the Old Royal Naval College under the management of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College. Today the University of Greenwich is the major tenant of three of Wren’s four major buildings and several of the newer buildings. The Trinity Laban Conservatoire Of Music & Dance (formerly the Trinity College of Music) leases most of the King Charles Court.
Each of the twin domed buildings contain treasures: the ORNC Chapel in the Queen Mary Court and the Painted Hall in the King William Court. One of the newer buildings hosts the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre. Another, the Old Brewery, is where they make Meantime Beer. It is on the site of the original brewery that was built to handle the daily allotment given to the old sailors who lived at the Seamen’s Hospital.
In recent years the ORNC has become a favorite setting for major motion pictures. Remember that opening scene in Patriot Games where Jack Ryan foils an IRA terrorist attack on a member of the Royal Family? How about the famous barricade scene in Les Miserables? Those buildings are supposed to be along the Seine in Paris but are actually along the Thames in Greenwich! The latest Pirates of the Caribbean was also filmed here recently and a few days after our visit they started filming a re-make of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
We had a leisurely ten-minute walk down the main campus street that parallels both the river and Romney Road and ends at the West Gate on King William Walk near the Cutty Sark, the same gate we passed several hours previously while on our way to visit the National Maritime Museum. And soon we were back on the DLR to Stratford City. My wife and I and our Irish cousins all agreed that our day in Greenwich was well-spent!
Christopher Wren was probably the greatest British architect of all time. We will take a look at his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, in my next posting.