Old Royal Naval College review
My favourite moments at the Old Royal Naval College all involve me walking around in the sun (because it's always sunny here) and hearing classical music drifting out of the open windows. If ever a place was made for classical music it's this place. You feel like there should be some Regency dandies walking around the gravel paths, and people with big white wigs and parasols. This is Christopher Wren country. He certainly earned his wages when he designed this place.
Do me a favour: the first time you come here make sure you are sitting on a boat from Big Ben. You have to see the two wings from the middle of the river to get the full effect. When the boat pulls into the pier you will have the Cutty Sark on your right and the college on your left. Resist the temptation to walk inland and have a stroll along the waterfront instead. When you round the corner of the first wing the whole vista will open up and there's your first photograph, right there.
Back in the old days this was where we trained all of our sailors and admirals and captains, and you can just picture them, can't you... strolling around the grounds in their smart white uniforms and shiny stiff caps (I'm thinking of Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentlemen). But all you see nowadays are the tourists and teachers and music students carting around their big bassoons and trumpets and drums, because the righthand-side is home to the Trinity College of Music (that's where all of the classical music comes from).
It is certainly worth walking around the whole of the grounds, but there are only two real rooms that you can look inside. You will find them on the inside middle of each wing — the famous Painted Hall and Chapel.
The Painted Hall dates back to a time when the college was a hospital and a retirement home for naval seamen. It was supposed to be their dining hall until Hawksmoor made it too good to ruin. As soon as he finished the paintings they kicked out the eaters and used it for balls and important events. I feel a bit daft describing it -- because it's one of those rooms that you really have to see to believe. It's like trying to describing a pretty woman on paper... yes she's get blonde hair and blue eyes, but so did Margaret Thatcher, and you wouldn't put her on the cover of Vogue. Sometimes it's better just to say nothing and let you be shocked when you walk through the door. So let me just say this one thing: Hawksmoor spent nineteen years painting this one solitary room and it earned him a knighthood... so that goes some way to describing how grand it is.
The Chapel pales in comparison but it's still one of the prettiest religious rooms in London. It's not the painting that impresses, but all the carved plasterwork on the ceiling (did I really just say that?). It looks like one of those Wedgwood china teapots, with a raised white design on a pale blue background.
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