For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

In the first of a series this week looking at aspects of royal weddings in London in days past, we canvas some of the venues which have hosted the sometimes glittering occasions.

First up is Westminster Abbey (pictured), the location of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding this Friday, which, despite its thousand year history, is only believed to have hosted 15 royal weddings.

Among them is said to have been the wedding of King Henry I to Matilda of Scotland on 11th November, 1100, as well as that of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of King Henry III, who married his second wife, Sanchia of Provence, there on 4th January, 1243, and Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward I, who married Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, on 30th April, 1290 (her sister Margaret married John, Duke of Brabant, at the same venue less than three months later). The abbey also hosted the wedding of King Richard II to Anne, daughter of Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia, on 20th January, 1382.

The abbey church has become increasingly favored as a venue for royal weddings in more recent times. Among the most prominent hosted there last century were that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), who married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 26th April, 1923 and that of their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) who married Prince Philip of Greece (later the Duke of Edinburgh) there on 20th November, 1947.

Two of the current Queen’s children were also married there – Princess Anne, who married Captain Mark Phillips on 14th November, 1973, and Prince Andrew, who married Sarah Ferguson on 23rd July 1986. (For more on Royal Weddings at the Abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/royals/weddings)

A notable break with the trend in recent times was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer – they were married in a fairytale ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981.

Other London locations for royal weddings have included the now non-existent Greenwich Palace (King Henry VIII married Katherine of Aragon on 11th June, 1509) and Hampton Court Palace (another of King Henry VIII’s marriages – that in which he was wed to Catherine Parr – was held here in a private chapel on 12th July, 1543).

Along with St George’s Chapel at Windsor, the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace  in London was particularly popular in Victorian times – Queen Victoria married Prince Albert there on 10th February, 1840, and their eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married Prince Frederick (the future German Emperor Frederick III) there on 25th January, 1858. On 6th July, 1893, the chapel also hosted the wedding of the future King George V and Princess Mary of Teck.

PICTURE: Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Hunkering down on the south bank of the Thames, the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is yet another Wren masterpiece and the centrepiece of the UNESCO-listed Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site.

What is now known as the college was originally designed as a ‘hospital’ or retirement home for old or infirm sailors. Established by Royal Charter in 1694, it was King William III who pushed the project into fruition as per the wishes of his then late wife Queen Mary II.

Wren was selected to design the building and along with the diarist John Evelyn, who had been appointed treasurer, laid the foundation stone on 30th June, 1696.

Wren’s initial design – for a three side courtyard facing the river – was rejected by Queen Mary who insisted the view from the existing Queen’s House to the river be maintained. So, instead, the hospital was built as a series of four pavilions, each with its own court, with the Queen’s House standing as it’s centrepiece when viewed from the river.

Wren himself never lived to see the building’s completion – it was in the end completed by a number of other famous architects including Sir John Vanbrugh, Thomas Ripley, and Wren’s pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. Fortunately Wren had laid out all the foundations which ensured the basic design conformed to his plans.

The first 42 pensioners moved in in 1706 and the numbers grew as buildings were completed to a peak of 2,710 in 1814. However, declining numbers of pensioners by the mid 1800s – thanks to a period of peace on the seas and the success of a program which saw more pensioners living with their families, eventually led to the hospital’s closure in 1860.

In 1873, the Royal Naval College took over the premises, assuming the role of both the former Naval College at Portsmouth and the School or Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering which had been based in South Kensington. The Naval Staff College opened on the site in 1919 and further navy departments including the Department of Nuclear Science and Technology moved there in later years. The Royal Navy left the college in 1998.

Now in the care of the Greenwich Foundation, the college is now used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music as well as for public events. The public can also visit certain parts of the former college including the grounds, the spectacular Painted Hall and the Chapel.

The domed Painted Hall, which features a series of classically themed paintings with King William III and Queen Mary II at its heart, was originally planned by Wren to be the hospital’s dining hall but due to the length of time it took for Sir James Thornhill to complete – 19 years – his paintings it was never used as such. Instead it stood empty until the body of Admiral Lord Nelson was brought there to lie in state in January 1806. In 1824 it became the National Gallery of Naval Art but in the 1930s became a dining room again with the gallery’s contents transferred to the National Maritime Museum.

The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, meanwhile was completed in 1751 to the design of Sir Thomas Ripley but was gutted by fire only 28 years later. It was then rebuilt, largely to the designs of James “Athenian” Stuart with some of the detailing designed by his Clerk of Works William Newton, and was reopened in 1789. Restored in the 1950s, it is said to look “almost as it was” when it opened in 1789. The chapel is still in use for services.

WHERE: Located adjacent to Greenwich Pier with entry from Cutty Sark Gardens, College Approach, Romney Road Gate, Royal Gate or Park Row, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: The Painted Hall and Chapel are open daily from 10am to 5pm (chapel used for worship on Sunday mornings, open for sightseeing  from 12.30pm); COST: Free (Booked guided tours are available for £5 an adult/children under 16 free); WEBSITE: www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org