A parade from sea cadets will reopen Greenwich’s spectacular Painted Hall on Saturday morning after the completion of its two-year, National Lottery-backed conservation project.
A soft launch has been taking place this week, with the press invited in on Wednesday morning to take a look at Sir James Thornhill’s ceiling artwork and reopened King William Undercroft, which now houses a cafe and visitor centre.
Members of the Greenwich, Deptford and Rotherhithe Sea Cadets will perform a ceremonial parade through the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College at 9.30am, before the ribbon is cut for the first fee-paying visitors at 10am. A number of events will be taking place during the reopened hall’s first weekend.
Previously free, the restored hall will now cost £12 for adults – £8.50 for concessions – to enter, with tickets valid for a year. Visitors will also have access to multimedia guides which will tell the stories behind the hall and the figures depicted in it. The charge will not apply on the first Wednesday of each month, with visitors invited to pay what they wish.
The £8.5m project has also restored the King William Undercroft, previously used as a dining room, and accidentally uncovered part of the long-gone Greenwich Palace, the birthplace of Tudor monarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, which fell into disrepair during the English Civil War and was demolished in 1660. The palace remains have now been preserved for the public.
“We passionately believe that the story of Greenwich starts here, on this magnificent site, and so it is a great delight that through this epic project, below and above the ground, we are revealing 500 years of history,” Old Royal Naval College chief executive Angela McConville said.
The charity which runs the site, The Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College, hopes the painstaking conservation work – the first since the 1950s – will boost the Painted Hall’s profile so that it becomes the equal of the National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark.
Access will now be via the undercroft, little-seen since the 1930s, which the charity hopes will protect the hall from pollution. Other measures, such as draught-proofing, solar shading and a new heating system, have also been put into place.
A controversial name change for the whole complex – to Greenwich Palace or Greenwich Royal Hospital – is still under consideration.
The current buildings, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, opened as Greenwich Hospital in the early 18th century, and were built as a naval counterpart for the army’s Chelsea Hospital. This closed in 1869, although the foundation that ran the hospital still exists and owns the freehold to Greenwich Market.
The Royal Naval College opened in 1874. It moved to Dartmouth, south Devon in 1998, and since then the Greenwich Foundation has opened up the previously off-limits grounds of the college to the public.
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