A small but important room off the side of Greenwich’s famous Painted Hall that most people don’t notice is there is about to become much more noticeable. The room, originally a small records office, is now known as the Nelson Room because of something that happened there one night in 1805.
On Christmas Eve 1805, on a cold night, the body of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson arrived at Greenwich Hospital, now known as the Old Royal Naval College. Following his death during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, his body had been brought back to England aboard HMS Victory in a casket of spirits, travelling up the Thames and arriving by yacht at Greenwich, where it was taken to the small records room off to the side of the Painted Hall in preparation for his grand lying-in-state.
The room is still there, and open to the public, although few who visit the Painted Hall will have ever noticed it, looking rather plain at first glance, and more of a side storage room than something to visit. Inside though there is something worth seeing — a scale model, or maquette, of the statue of Nelson that stands on top of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. By scale model, while much smaller than the statue in Trafalgar Square, it’s still about the same size as Nelson was as a man.
Today that small records office – or ‘Nelson Room’, as it later became known – is undergoing major rennovation.
Designed by Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor according to Wren’s masterplan, the room is being conserved and the story around Nelson and his connection to Greenwich is explained. Its roof lantern, stonework and Swedish marble flooring are being restored to their former glory. Historic paint analysis is providing the basis for a colour scheme. The visitor information is being replaced by an upgraded interpretation highlighting the time Nelson’s body spent in Greenwich before being taken by barge to St Paul’s Cathedral for his funeral.
The re-opening of the Nelson Room is scheduled for January 2022.