Most of the time I feel quite young and then suddenly I realise how the years have passed. When I first came to London vast swathes of Greenwich were out of bounds to land lubbers as Wren’s magnificent building were the Royal Naval College and for those in uniform only. Rumour had it that the interiors of the buildings were as spectacular as the exteriors.

Nowadays you no longer see sailors wandering around Greenwich and the site is known as the Old Royal Naval College, it turns out that the rumours were true. What’s more, anyone can visit the Painted Hall and the Chapel. At the moment the Painted Hall ceiling is being restored and whilst work is in progress tours enable you to climb the scaffolding to get up close and personal with the ceiling.

Painted Ceiling tour


Your visit starts with you donning hi-vis vests and hard hats, each group is colour coded, ours was a tasteful blue. Once safely clothed, you sit in front of the restored wall painting for a bit of background about the building. Originally Queen Mary II had the bright idea of creating a hospital for retired sailors along the lines of the famous Chelsea Pensioners Hospital for retired soldiers. Christopher Wren was summoned to come up with the designs and work commenced.

Unfortunately the Queen died but her distraught husband ensured the plan was completed. James Thornhill was commissioned to paint the dining hall of the hospital. He took his task seriously and took 19 years to cover all four walls and the ceiling with paintings. The whole room is a painterly work of propaganda showing the obvious and god-given connection between the Jacobean and Hanoverian Royal households.

Painted Hall tour

Climbing the scaffolding stairs up to the ceiling gives you a perspective on the hall that Thornhill must have had when he was creating it. When you arrive at the ceiling, you are in a place so slow low that those of us who are six foot could just reach up and touch it, not that you are allowed to.  So close that you can see the brush strokes, you lose the sense of the overall picture, it makes you realise just how very clever James Thornhill was with his design and execution.

Painted Hall ceiling tour

Once your eyes have adjusted to the nearness of the painting and by bending down a little, details begin to swim into shape. I particularly liked this depiction of Isis and Father Thames snuggling up to each other.

Greenwich Old Naval College Painted Hall ceiling Isis and Father Thames

Painting is not the only thing you get to take a close look at. This royal Coat of Arms which looks so impressive from a distance looks a bit dusty, as well it might after nearly four hundred years.

Greenwich Old Naval College Painted Hall Royal Coat of Arms

The Painted Hall is an amazing sight to see with or without scaffolding. When the restoration is complete, the opportunity of taking a close look at the brush work will be gone. Go and see this once in a lifetime sight whilst you can.

UPDATE: The restoration is now complete, check out my post about the Painted Hall to see the James Thornhill’s work in its full glory.

Whilst you are in Greenwich why not visit the Cutty Sark or the Queen’s House



  1. May 3, 2017 / 9:03 am

    Wow, what a treat. Amazing to see it so close (although it makes me feel slightly claustrophobic. #teamblue

    • Catherine
      May 3, 2017 / 9:08 am

      It felt like you were in a secret cave

  2. Wherejogoes
    May 4, 2017 / 6:48 pm

    When we visited Greenwich this was closed for a wedding so we never got to go in. You got right up close though what a brilliant tour! The ceiling is beautiful and I love the giltwork. I have a reason to go back! #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      May 4, 2017 / 7:12 pm

      No risk of any weddings whilst the scaffolding is in place!

      • Wherejogoes
        May 4, 2017 / 7:25 pm

        That’s the time to go! I quite like a hard hat tour – you get to see a different side to a place.

  3. May 5, 2017 / 5:46 pm

    Yet another reason to return to Greenwich! How magnificent 🙂

    • Catherine
      May 5, 2017 / 5:47 pm

      Always lots to see and do in Greenwich!

  4. May 6, 2017 / 6:48 am

    What a great experience to see the paintings so close. We passed by this when we went to Greenwich a couple of years ago. Now, I wish we had gone inside to admire it. How neat it would be to see this when it’s fully restored.

    • Catherine
      May 6, 2017 / 7:53 am

      It is an incredible interior and well worth investigating with or without scaffolding

  5. Clare Thomson
    May 6, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    What a wonderful opportunity to see inside the Royal Naval College! I’ll be heading to Greenwich even sooner now, Catherine. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  6. May 7, 2017 / 7:55 pm

    Hi Catherine, it’s not often we get the chance to get up close to something so amazing. The detail in the paintings must have been interesting to see up close.

    Thank you for linking up with the #MMBC.


  7. May 9, 2017 / 2:48 pm

    How wonderful, a truly unique opportunity indeed. The hard hats are a bit OTT though… 😉 What, exactly, could fall onto your head, and from where? (Please ignore me – I’m a bit sensitive concerning British “health and safety” regulations recently, ever since my son was not allowed to climb the tower of Lincoln Cathedral. The last time I looked, eleven-year olds were capable of safely using a staircase…)

    • Catherine
      May 9, 2017 / 3:05 pm

      More capable than a lot of adults!

  8. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    May 9, 2017 / 3:12 pm

    What a fantastic opportunity! You appreciate how talented the painter was when you see the close-up work and then wonder did he keep going up and down the scaffolding at the time to see what his work looked like from a distance?
    I still haven’t been to Greenwich!

    • Catherine
      May 9, 2017 / 3:18 pm

      Time for Mum to go to Greenwich!

  9. May 9, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    What a treat to get to see this so close up! I’m not entirely sure how much I would like climbing up there, but with these paintings to lure me, I’d definitely give it a go. #farawayfiles

    • Catherine
      May 9, 2017 / 6:16 pm

      The climb was OK no unlike climbing up those staircases by the side of swimming pool viewing areas

  10. May 11, 2017 / 12:10 am

    Oh how cool to be so close to the actual restoration work. Would love to see the process in person! Thanks for sharing wth #FarawayFiles, Erin

  11. November 7, 2017 / 10:11 pm

    How beautiful – and lucky to get so close #Citytripping

  12. November 12, 2017 / 10:40 am

    What a fascinating experience! I’m impressed, in these days of health and safety, that this tour exists. An incredible opportunity to get up close to the frescos. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    • Catherine
      November 12, 2017 / 11:09 am

      We were all hard hatted and hi-vised

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: