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London Gardens Online


Old Royal Naval College Greenwich


The Old Royal Naval College is on the site of what had been a royal palace from 1447, known as Placentia or the Palace of Pleasaunce, a favourite haunt of monarchs until 1688, when William and Mary chose Hampton Court as their palace. At Queen Mary's wish a naval hospital (almshouse) for seamen and their dependants was built here, designed by Christopher Wren. Although incomplete, the first pensioners arrived in 1705 and by 1814 there were over 2,700 residents. Numbers declined and the Hospital closed in 1869, the buildings taken over by the Royal Naval College in 1873 for officers' training. After the Royal Navy left Greenwich in 1998, responsibility for the Old Royal Naval College passed to the Greenwich Foundation. Enclosed by fine railings, the landscaped grounds consist of a series of formal squares and gardens, with lawns crossed by paths, avenues of trees, ornamental fountains and lamp standards; a statue of George II stands in Grand Square.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
Bella Court, Placentia or Palace of Pleasaunce, Greenwich Hospital, Royal Naval Hospital

Site location:
Romney Road/King William Walk/Park Row, Greenwich

SE10 ( Google Map)

Type of site:
Public Gardens; Institutional Grounds

1694 onwards

Buildings: Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, John Vanbrugh

Listed structures:
LBI: Royal Naval College South-West, North-West & North-East buildings, Queen Mary's Quarters; gates, gate piers & lodges to west entrance, gate lodges at East Gate. LBII: Pepys Building; Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital, gates/railings in front of Hospital, forecourt railings/gates north of Seamen's old burial ground and Nurses Home, monument south of Nurses Home; Royal Naval College railings to west boundary of grounds, gates & railings to south and east & along north boundary, posts & railings to riverside terrace, New Zealand campaign memorial, fountains in grounds, lamp standards surrounding Grand Sq., George II statue, 1914-1918 War Memorial


Site ownership:
leased to Greenwich Foundation

Site management:
Greenwich Foundation

Open to public?

Opening times:
Grounds open 8am-6pm daily. Painted Hall & Chapel open 10am-5pm; Greenwich Gateway Visitors Centre open daily 10am-5pm; closed 24-26 Dec

Special conditions:
No dogs except Guide Dogs

Painted Hall and Chapel; Greenwich Gateway visitors centre, shop, café

Various events, guided tours. Permanent display and temporary exhibitions in Greenwich Gateway

Public transport:
DLR: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich. Rail: Maze Hill. Bus: 53, 129, 177, 180, 188, 199, 202, 286, 386. River service to Greenwich Pier

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/03/2010
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Further Information

Grid ref:

Size in hectares:

Green Flag:

On EH National Register :

EH grade:

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:

Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:

In Conservation Area:

Conservation Area name:
Greenwich Park

Tree Preservation Order:
Not known

Nature Conservation Area:

Green Belt:

Metropolitan Open Land:

Special Policy Area:

Other LA designation:
Historic Landscape

Fuller information

There were buildings on this site from early times, possibly a residence of Saxon Kings of Kent in the C12th and from 918 AD it may have been part of lands given to the Abbey of Ghent. In 1422 Henry V's brother, the Duke of Gloucester, became Regent after the death of the king, and here he built a riverside mansion, which he called Bella Court. When he was arrested for high treason in 1447, the new Queen Margaret of Anjou took over his house, and renamed it Placentia or the Palace of Pleasaunce, and it continued to be associated with royalty in the ensuing centuries. Henry VIII established his naval dockyards at Woolwich and nearby Deptford, and Elizabeth I used Placentia for festivities, including as the send-off for voyages of discovery by Francis Drake and others. Drake was knighted at Greenwich on his return from sailing round the world and Elizabeth signed the orders launching the fleet against the Spanish Armada. James I commissioned the Queen's House for his wife Anne of Denmark in 1616, designed by Inigo Jones, but it was not completed until c.1635 and is now part of the National Maritime Museum Complex (q.v.). During the Commonwealth the royal palace decayed and was used as a biscuit factory for troops; later Dutch prisoners were kept here, and the staterooms were used as stables for Cromwell's horses. At the Restoration Charles II proposed a new King's House, begun in 1664 to designs of John Webb, but only one wing was completed by 1669.

In 1688 the new monarchs William and Mary chose Hampton Court as their royal palace and the building of a naval hospital (almshouse) for the relief and support of seamen and their dependants to complete the King's House at Greenwich was the wish of Queen Mary. The intention was to match the Royal Hospital Chelsea (q.v.) established in 1682, and the Queen's decision was the result of her seeing wounded men returning from the naval battle of La Hogue in 1692. After her death in 1694 William set about the project, commissioning Sir Christopher Wren to undertake the project. Wren's plans for the buildings and their landscaped grounds were eventually completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, John Vanbrugh and other distinguished architects over the next 50 years. The foundation stone was laid on 30 June 1696 by Wren and John Evelyn, who had been appointed Treasurer. Although incomplete, the first pensioners came to Greenwich Hospital in 1705 and by 1755 there were 1,550 occupants. By 1814 there were over 2,700 pensioners but after this the numbers declined and the Hospital was closed in 1869 by Act of Parliament.

In 1873 the buildings were taken over by the Royal Naval College providing training for officers from the world over; the College retained the Infirmary as a Free Hospital for Seamen of All Nations. The Royal Navy left Greenwich in December 1998 whereupon responsibility for the Old Royal Naval College passed to the Greenwich Foundation, which in July 1998 signed a lease for 150 years, having been established as a registered charity to look after the buildings and their grounds for the benefit of the nation.

In 1999 the University of Greenwich moved into part of the site, using the Queen Anne, Queen Mary and King William Court, and in October 2001 Trinity College of Music was established in the King Charles Court. The site is part of the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage site, which was designated in 1997.

The Old Royal Naval College is enclosed by fine railings with a number of ornamental gates. The landscaped grounds consist of a series of formal squares and gardens between the buildings, with lawns crossed by paths, avenues of trees, and ornamental fountains and lamp standards; a statue of George II stands in Grand Square. On the west side the gardens lead down to the river path, with the New Zealand memorial just inside the boundary railings, the other side of which is the memorial to Bellot. The east side of the grounds near The Chapel are not grassed, and have slightly raised paved plats with a cobbled surround and some rose beds towards the river, with a line of trees along the east boundary railings, adjacent to which Edwin Lutyens' Gallipoli memorial obelisk was re-erected here in 1951 from its original site on Horse Guards Parade. The Thames Path runs along the riverside bordering the railed gardens; the path existed as an ancient public right of way that had to be accommodated by the Tudor Palace and later by Wren.

Sources consulted:

Greenwich Foundation website (; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Beryl Platts 'A History of Greenwich' 2nd ed. (Procter Press), 1986;

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