Monday 5th February 2018
Royal Hospital Chelsea
You don't often see snow in the City but at 11am, there was a snow flurry as I made my way from St Paul's tube station. It was cold. Very cold with a chilling wind from the northern Atlantic. Two hours later, the Mistress and I were welcoming those who had signed up for a tour of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The Mistress and I have been to the Chelsea Flower Show many times and had often looked at Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece on the other side of the gates. The newly restored King Charles II understood that if he has to keep the army on his side, he would have to look after his soldiers.
The Royal Hospital is a Grade I and II listed site, a beautiful architectural legacy left by Charles II and Sir Christopher Wren. In 1681, King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to care for those 'broken by age or war'. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building. Sir Stephen Fox was commissioned to secure the funds necessary to progress the build.
The chosen site, set adjacent to the River Thames in the countryside of Chelsea contained the uncompleted building of the former 'Chelsey College'. In 1692 work was finally completed and the first Chelsea Pensioners were admitted in February 1692 and by the end of March the full complement of 476 were in residence.
Some 300 army veterans live at the Royal Hospital today, including those who have served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and World War II. Others may not have served in campaigns, but all understand what it means to be a soldier and the potential sacrifice that it entails.
Our guide was Bill Bullick who had served as a technician for many years in Germany. He has been a Resident of RHC for 6 years. Resplendent in his scarlet uniform, Bill had us outside in the biting wind, describing the finer points of the architectural masterpiece, who lives where and the choreography of Founder's Day. They are made of stern stuff, these Chelsea Pensioners. We were taken into the warmth of the splendid Great Hall and then the magnificent Wren Chapel. Bill's tour was informative, full of anecdotes and fascinating. All good things must come to an end. When the tour finished at the museum, there was a mad dash for the warmth of a cream tea in the RHC cafe.
Our thanks to all who supported the event.