After a day trawling through the washing and inbox, the Dr and I last night attended a soirée at the Royal Chelsea Hospital which included a talk and free fizz.
Chatted to a couple of other punters, all linked to art institutions of some kind. The Dr spoke knowledgeably of effigies of Queen Anne and what conservation cleaning can reveal, and I mugged a bit and ate canapés.
One of the pensioners showed us round the chapel, and explained the prominent baptismal font. Pensioners’ grandchildren are eligible to be baptised (and married) in the place.
Then it was on to the smart Council Chamber for two quick talks explaining the hospital’s role now (with 300-odd pensioners today, and a new infirmary in the works - donate here), and the history of its origination. The latter made use of portraits round the room of the founding heroes and villains.
Charles II (yay!) set up the hospital at about the same time as he did the country’s first standing army. Work got underway quickly, and then stalled for over a decade when the Earl of Raneleigh (boo!) ran off with the money.
The hospital didn’t just deal with the social problem of former soldiers now begging. Charles had been newly established as king by a government who’d cut his dad’s head off, and the “sentinels” – as the pensioners were originally described in all the documentation – had an implied remit to act, should he need them, as bodyguard.
Christopher Wren (yay!) positioned the building at a slight angle to the river, so that the pensioners are shaded from the sun in the summer and get maximum sunlight in the winter.
The design also includes shallow, wide steps ideal for old blokes and a clever mix of public and private space in the long wards. Pensioners can hide away in their berths, or sit chatting in the corridor. Which is all a bit clever, really.