Royal Hospital Chelsea Nine Bob Tour
Thursday 14th March 2019
The Learned Clerk and the Clerk's Assistant have strong links to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and over the years have brought our Company close to the Chelsea Pensioners. One of the Pensioners, Leo Tighe, is particularly interested in the Tobacco Pipe Makers and was kind enough to extend an invitation to the Master, Mistress, Clerk and Clerk's Assistant for what he calls his 'nine bob tour'. This was an opportunity too good to miss so we gladly accepted.
Weather-wise it was an odd day. Generally warm, it was intermittently bright and sunny and then suddenly pouring with rain as if some celestial being was rapidly turning a tap on and off. Dodging the hazard of a drenching was a challenge as the site of the Royal Hospital is a combination of the beautiful Christopher Wren-designed buildings and large open spaces...but, with our guide, we did it!
Leo walked us around Light Horse Court and Figure Court providing us with amusing historical details. He then showed us the living quarters of the Pensioners in the Long Wards including some of the orginal berths that have been retained for posterity. They were just six feet square. The dominating features of the complex are the Great Hall, used for dining, and the Chapel. Maintained in their original form, both are stunning. The Great Hall includes a vast mural at one end depicting Charles II on horesback with allegorical figures and the Royal Hospital in the background. The Chapel has an plain style overall except for a marvellous mural in the half dome of the apse which depicts the Resurrection.
With enough walking done, Leo entertained us to lunch in the Great Hall which was abuzz with the banter of old soldiers. Surrounded by wood panels inscribed with three hundred and fifty years of campaigns and with the table on which the Duke of Wellington's body lay in state at one end, this place was redolent with military success and sacrifice. Chatting with Leo, we gained a wonderful insight into the lives of the Pensioners and what it means to be residents of the Royal Hospital. He laughingly calls them 'inmates'.
After lunch we all retired to the Chelsea Pensioners' Club where we drank Guinness. Leo and many of his colleagues served in the Irish Guards, after all. A fitting conclusion to a wonderful visit just a head of St Patrick's Day.