Behind a gray stone facade and up some plain steps can be found a riot of blue and gold — the Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College.
As was expected for a large residential site at the time, the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich required a religious heart, and so, opposite the Painted Hall, a chapel was built.
It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, although not completed until 20 years after he died, but what we see today is not a Wren chapel. Had it been, it would look like any other typical church of the time, rather dark and woody.
It’s today its more like stepping inside gigantic Wedgwood pot, as the interior was completely redesigned in the 1780s following a fire that gutted the interior. It’s formally known as Greek Revival, but looks frankly, like a Wedgwood design, which is not too surprising, as the redecoration took place just as Wedgwood’s Jasperware was at the height of its popularity.
The ceiling is rich in pale blues and creams, and was designed by the master plasterer John Papworth in a neo-classical design of squares and octagons.
The black and white tiles on the floor hide a secret in plain site – look at the rope design along the sides of the pews – which are said to match exactly the diameter of an anchor cable of a first-rate Naval ship of the time.
A magnificent organ above the door is almost drowning in the rich plasterwork that surrounds it.
The richness of the detail in the decoration is the main attraction – not just lots of decoration, but done to such fiddly detail that it’s almost fractal in depth. The closer you look the more you see.
It’s quite an astonishing effect, and even if the design doesn’t appear, the sheer vast quantity of it has to be impressive. While it could overwhelm, it doesn’t thanks to the use of plain windows to let in floods of light so that the effect is delicate rather than oppressive.
Open to the public to wander in most days, the Chapel is still an active place of worship with regular services, and concerts, so if you want to visit on a Sunday, either get in at 10am, or come back in the afternoon.
Location map and local interesting places
- 4] Old Royal Naval College
- 5] Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre
- 6] Queen's House
- 7] National Maritime Museum
- 8] Cutty Sark
- 9] Fan Museum
- 10] Royal Observatory Greenwich
- 11] Mudchute City Farm
- 12] Ranger's House (Wernher Collection)