My first main aim in London was to go on one of the Painted ceiling tours at Greenwich before they ended – a more naval experience than it might appear, because the painted hall was originally intended as a dining room for the sailors of the hospital – but it took so long to finish that they had got used to eating in the undercroft and refused to move up to a great draughty hall (or maybe they didn’t want dozens of peculiar allegorical figures looking down on them while they ate – I’m not sure I would.
Before going up to the ceiling the tour started at this wall, depicting the new Hanoverian dynasty – according to the guide, the idea was that whatever you might think of George I himself, here presented in idealised fashion, the fact that he already had not just sons but grandsons was a guarantee of stability, lacking through the religious and other struggles of the later Tudors and Stuarts.
The slightly earlier ceiling is an enormous representation of the ‘Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny’, with William and Mary at the centre – in true baroque fashion anything that can possibly be crammed in is, so that it’s full of figures both real and symbolic and bits of imagery.
From up on the platform, of course, you don’t get the overall effect – it’s the details that are interesting, like the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed with his assistant in this corner.
The paper they’re holding gives the date of a solar eclipse which was still in the future when the ceiling was painted – a piece of magic intended to strike awe into French and other foreign visitors.
The dark circle, however, is varnish covering the signature of a later restorer – these have been found all over the ceiling, including on Queen Mary’s chest!
There is a bit of a seafaring theme to the ceiling, whether to please the sailors or just to mark the importance of naval power, with ships at each end – a Spanish galleon at one, and a British man of war at the other. (This is really a picture that they’d put up to let you get the whole impression, beecase you didn’t get much idea of the ships from directly under them.)
I decided that I just had time to nip into the maritime museum – I’m not very sure what this lot are up to, an easter egg hunt, maybe!
Sidney Smith at the left, Saumarez at the front, Pellew at the back, and then someone who doesn’t really belong, I think Robert Peel’s son, at the right.
A rather battered looking Nelson was standing on a small column, but I forgot to find out why when I went back to the ground floor.
I just slipped in to look at Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar – I do need to go back some time and do Greenwich properly, because it’s a very long time since I have.
Outside I found myslf unexpectedly walking through a graveyard, and past a monument to several governors of the hospital, including Hood and Hardy.