Scarlet tour of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea

On Thursday March 7th 2019, a party of 26 from the Aldersgate Ward Club enjoyed a “Scarlet Tour” at The Royal Hospital Chelsea.  We were expertly guided by the resplendent scarlet-clad John, a Chelsea Pensioner since 2018 and veteran of the regular and territorial army.

An introductory film taught us that the Hospital had been founded by King Charles II who authorized building in 1681 to care for “those broken by age or war” and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design and erect the hospital. It became operational in 1692.

John took us first to visit the “heritage berths”. There were originally 476 residents housed in 6 foot square berths in “Long Wards” to the east and west of the central Figure Court.  These days, there are some 300 pensioners, still housed in the Long Wards, but with upgraded berths with a study area and en suite facilities.  All pensioners must be over 65, of good character and must have served with the British Army in some capacity.  At entry, they must be “alone” and not suffering from a terminal illness.   

The pensioners still have their main meals in the impressive Great Hall, resplendent with flags, a huge mural and also wall plaques remembering conflicts in which the British Army has been involved right up to the present day. The pensioners are extremely well cared for but, in return, many of them undertake some work, for example in the gardens, or tour-guiding.

We enjoyed a special visit to the Chapel, a Wren masterpiece with excellent acoustics, where the Chaplain, Steven Brookes, kindly pointed out the outstanding features, including the carving, the King’s chair made for George V! and some beautiful ceremonial vessels.

It was distinctly breezy for our walk to admire the gilded statue of founder Charles II, with the grand backdrop view of the Thames and Battersea Power Station across the site of the Chelsea Flower Show. A visit to the museum rounded off the tour nicely but this was somewhat curtailed by a sharp shower which sent us scurrying out of the Hospital grounds and next door to the National Army Museum, where we all soon revived with an excellent cream tea!

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