Military Wiki

Coordinates: 51°29′11″N 0°9′28″W / 51.48639°N 0.15778°W / 51.48639; -0.15778

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement home and nursing home for some 300 British soldiers who are unfit for further duty due to injury or old age, located on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea, London, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is a true hospital in the original sense of the word – that is, a place where hospitality was provided. The residents in the Royal Hospital are referred to as "in-pensioners" (or more colloquially, as Chelsea pensioners).

The Royal Hospital Chelsea shares the garden of its historic grounds with Garden House School, a co-educational independent school for 3–11-year olds, housed at the Cavalry House on Turks Row, Chelsea, a Grade II Listed Building which is part of the redeveloped Duke of York's Headquarters.[1][2]


File:Chelsea Barracks map 1897.jpg

Royal Hospital, Stanford's Map of Central London 1897.

Inscription on the statue of King Charles II outside the hospital.

The Royal Hospital was founded by King Charles II in 1682 as a retreat for veterans.[3] The provision of a hostel rather than the payment of pensions was inspired by Les Invalides in Paris.[3]

The Chapel, Royal Hospital Chelsea (1681–91), by Christopher Wren.

The site for the Hospital was an area of Chelsea which held an incomplete building — "Chelsey College", a theological college founded by James I in 1609.[3] The property was acquired by Sir Stephen Fox out of his own funds and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building.[3] In the 20th century, the building was the inspiration for some aspects of the College Hall at RAF Cranwell.[4]

The first patients included those injured at the Battle of Sedgemoor.[5] Wren expanded his original design to add two additional quadrangles to the east and west of the central court; these were known respectively as the "Light Horse Court" and the "College Court".[6] Due to mismanagement by Lord Ranelagh, the Hospital Treasurer, the building was not completed until 1692.[6]

The Great Hall

Sir John Soane, who was clerk of work in the early part of the nineteenth century, designed and constructed a new infirmary building which was located to the west of the main building on the site of the current National Army Museum and destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.[6] This was replaced by a modern infirmary which was located to the east of the main building and opened by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1961.[6]

Chelsea Pensioners enjoy a game of bowls in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, in 1945

In 2002, the Sovereign's Mace was presented to the hospital – up until then, the hospital had had no colours or distinctive device – the Mace is now carried at all the ceremonial events at the Hospital.[7]

The 1960s infirmary was demolished to make way for the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary which was built in the classical style and completed in 2008.[8]

In March 2009 the first women in the Hospital's 317-year history were admitted as In-Pensioners. Dorothy Hughes (aged 85) was the first, soon followed by Winifred Phillips (aged 82). Hughes had joined the British Army in 1941 aged 18, later working as part of 450 Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery in the London Division. In 1945 the Battery was deployed near Dover to defend against V1 flying bomb attacks. She retired with the rank of Sergeant. Phillips trained as a nurse and later joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1948 before enlisting in the Women's Royal Army Corps in 1949 while serving in Egypt. After 22 years service she retired with the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2.[9][10][11]

Founder's Day

The Royal Hospital Founder's Day takes place close to 29 May each year – the birthday of Charles II, and the date of his restoration as King in 1660. It is also known as Oak Apple Day, as it commemorates the escape of the future King following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he hid in the Royal Oak to avoid capture by Parliamentary forces.[12] On Founder's Day, in-pensioners of the Royal Hospital are reviewed by a member of the British Royal Family.[13][14]

Statue of King Charles II in the Figure Court of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, surrounded by oak leaves for Founder's Day 2004.

The statue of King Charles II

The 7' 6" (229 cm) statue of King Charles II which stands in the central court (the Figure Court) of the Hospital was cast in copper alloy by Grinling Gibbons; it was originally gilded but was bronzed in 1787.[15] In 2002, the statue was regilded to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee.[16]

The Chapel

The Hospital's chapel was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and is a fine and rare example of Wren's pure ecclesiastical work: it rises 42 feet (13 m) high and was completed in 1687.[15] The chapel contains a fine painting of the Resurrection in the half dome of the apse, painted by Sebastiano Ricci and his nephew Marco (who assisted with the painting at the Royal Hospital) and dates from the end of Queen Anne's reign.[15] The Chapel was consecrated in August 1691, and services were formerly held twice daily. Nowadays services are confined to Sunday mornings.[15]

The Great Hall

The Great Hall was also designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was originally intended as a dining hall. Just before 1800 the pensioners started dining in the wards and the hall was then used for recreational purposes. It was here that the Duke of Wellington lay in state in 1852. The hall reverted to its original use as a dining hall in 1955.[17]

Royal Hospital Chelsea Museum

The museum features military artefacts and memorabilia that were donated by deceased in-pensioners. The displays include items associated with the Duke of Wellington, and other uniforms, medals, weapons, paintings and models.[7]

Public opening

The Great Hall, the Chapel and the Museum as well as some of its courtyards are open to the public.[18]


The hospital maintains a 'military-based culture which puts a premium on comradeship'. The in-pensioners are formed into four companies, each headed by a Captain of Invalids (an ex-Army officer responsible for the 'day to day welfare, management and administration' of the pensioners under his charge).[19]

Senior staff include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor (who are retired General officers), the Secretary (director of administration), the Physician & Surgeon, the Matron, the Quartermaster, the Chaplain and the Adjutant (an ex-Army officer of at least Lieutenant-Colonel rank who acts as the Hospital's 'chief operations officer').[20]

Since 1702 the Royal Hospital has been governed by a Board of Commissioners. The ex-officio chairman of the board is HM Paymaster General (whose predecessor Sir Stephen Fox was instrumental in founding the Hospital in the seventeenth century). The purpose of the Board is 'to guide the development of The Royal Hospital, ensuring the care and well-being of the Chelsea Pensioners who live there and safeguarding the historic buildings and grounds, which it owns in trust'.[21]

List of governors

The following is a list of those who have served as Governor:[22]

See also


  1. "Garden – The Design and Function of the Garden". Garden House School.. 
  2. "Garden House School – planning application". Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Guidebook, p. 3
  4. RAF Cranwell Aviation heritage trail
  5. Whiles, John (1985). Sedgemoor 1685 (2nd ed.). Chippenham: Picton Publishing. ISBN 978-0948251009. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Guidebook, p. 4
  7. 7.0 7.1 Guidebook, p. 6
  8. "New Infirmary, Royal Hospital Chelsea. London. 2005 – 2008". QFT Architects. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  9. "The ladies in red: Chelsea Pensioners welcome first female recruits in 300-year history". Daily Mail. 13 March 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  10. "First Women in Scarlets". Royal Hospital Chelsea. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  11. "Now I feel just like Cinderella at the ball". Daily Telegraph. 5 March 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  12. "Founders Day". Royal Hospital Chelsea. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  13. "Prince Harry's Review of the Founder's Day Parade". Metro. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  14. "Duchess of Cornwall Reviews Founder's Day Parade". 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Guidebook, p. 9
  16. "Where is it? No. 38". Exploring London. 20 July 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  17. Guidebook, p. 10
  18. Guidebook, p. 15
  19. Captain of Invalids Royal Hospital Chelsea
  20. Annual Report, 2011
  21. Corporate Information Royal Hospital Chelsea
  22. "Survey of London, volume 11, edited by Walter H. Godfrey (editor)". 1927. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  23. "No. 27319". 31 May 1901. 


  • The Royal Hospital Chelsea ("the Guidebook"). Jarrold Publishing. 2002. 

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).