The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement home to around 300 veterans of the British Army. Located on a large site in Chelsea, it offers fabulous walks in the gardens, beautiful art and architecture and an intimate view into the retired lives of the service men and women who live there. These former soldiers wear distinctive red coats and are known as ‘Chelsea Pensioners’. The word hospital refers to ‘hospitality’ – the treatment of illness was (and is) in a separate infirmary building on the east of the site.
The building was commissioned by Charles II in 1682 and completed around ten years later. The King was seeking to emulate the ‘Hotel des Invalides’ in Paris. Sir Christopher Wren was appointed architect.
The Hall and Chapel
The main north block is flanked by two magnificent wings housing the Hall and Chapel. The Hall is panelled and displays a very large painting of Charles II on horseback, by Antonio Verrio. It was in this Hall that the Duke of Wellington lay in state in 1852. The Chapel is panelled and over the altar is a painting of the Resurrection by Sebastiano Ricci.
Visiting the Royal Hospital Chelsea
You are free to walk around the landscaped gardens, that feature 300 year old London ‘plane’ trees. It’s astonishing how peaceful the gardens are given that Chelsea’s King’s Road is less than five minutes away. The buildings and grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are open all year round, but check the website in case of closures (and every May the grounds of the Royal Hospital make way for the famous Chelsea Flower Show). Also, note that the Chapel and Hall are only open from 11.00 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 16.00 each day.
After your visit, there is a great café on site serving light lunches and snacks.
Visit another seventeenth garden, also in Chelsea: