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Encyclopedia > Royal Hospital, Chelsea
Figure Court of Royal Hospital Chelsea

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement home and nursing home for British soldiers who are unfit for further duty due to injury or old age, located in the Chelsea region of central London. There are just over 300 soldiers (310, as of June 10, 2004) resident in the Royal Hospital, referred to as "in-pensioners" (or more colloquially, as Chelsea pensioners).

The grounds of the Royal Hospital have been the site of the annual Chelsea Flower Show since 1913.



The Royal Hospital was founded by King Charles II, who issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Hospital on December 22, 1681, in order to make provision for old or injured soldiers. Many of these soldiers, who were no longer fit for service, had been kept on regimental rolls so that they could continue to receive payment, because there was an inadequate provision of pensions for them.

Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building. His design was based on the H˘pital des Invalides in Paris

The site for the Hospital was an area of Chelsea which held an incomplete building - "Chelsey Colledge", a theological college founded by James I in 1610. The area had been donated by Charles II to the Royal Society in 1667, but since the Society had been unable to find a suitable use for the site, it was repurchased by the King in February 1682 to provide the site for the Hospital.

Construction took place at a rapid pace and by the time of Charles II's death, in 1685, the main hall and chapel of the Hospital had already been completed. In 1686, Wren expanded his original design to add two additional quadrangles to the east and west of the central court.

Work was completed in 1692, and the first in-pensioners were admitted in February 1692. By the end of March that year, the full capacity of 476 former soldiers were in residence.

In 1694 a Royal Charter was established for a direct naval equivalent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Building began in 1696 on the Greenwich Hospital, and it opened in 1705.

The Sovereign's Mace

In 1809, Sir John Soane designed and constructed a new infirmary building, with space for 80 patients, located to the west of the Hospital building on the site of the current National Army Museum. The infirmary was damaged by bombing in the Second World War and later demolished.

The first televised church service in the United Kingdom was broadcast from the Hospital Chapel in 1949.

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.

The Statue of King Charles II

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

The 229 cm (7ft 6in.) 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 in 1676, and originally stood in the precincts of Whitehall Palace.

Following the death of King Charles II, the statue was moved to the Royal Hospital, where it has stood since 1692. In 2002, the statue was regilded to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee.

Founder's Day

The Royal Hospital Founder's Day takes place close to May 29 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.

On Founder's Day, in-pensioners of the Royal Hospital are reviewed by a member of the British royal family. The statue of Charles II in the central court (or Figure Court) of the Hospital is shrouded in oak leaves, and all participants and spectators wear sprigs of oak leaves.

Public opening

The great hall and the chapel, the hospital's museum, and some of its courtyards are open to the public.

External links

  • Royal Hospital Chelsea website (http://www.chelsea-pensioners.org.uk)

  Results from FactBites:
Royal Hospital Chelsea - Museum - 24 Hour Museum - official guide to UK museums, galleries, exhibitions and heritage (552 words)
The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded in 1682 by King Charles 11 as a homee for old or wounded soldiers.
The exhibition shows the history of the Chelsea Pensioners with a scale model of the Royal Hospital, records dating back to its foundation, a mock up of a residential room, as well as medals and uniforms.
A small pavilion, designed by Sir John Soane (who was also the architect of other buildings at The Royal Hospital), has a display illustrating the history of the gardens as an 18th Century pleasure resort.
  More results at FactBites »



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