Often described as the “finest dining hall in Europe”, the Painted Hall in Greenwich was originally designed to be the Royal Hospital for Seamen’s communal dining hall. 

But the domed hall, which forms part of King William Court – the image, right, is taken from the west end, wasn’t used as such following its completion in the mid 1720s – designed by Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor with spectacular interior paintings by Sir James Thornhill, it was deemed too grand for such a mundane purpose and instead the veteran seamen, who had moved their dining hall to the undercroft, acted as tour guides for those who would pay to see its splendour.

The paintings, for which Thornhill received his knighthood, took almost 20 years to complete. They were designed to show Britain’s naval power as well as a variety of royal subjects in their splendour. The Stuart dynasty are featured on the ceiling of the Lower Hall while the West Wall depicts the Hanoverians – King George I surrounded by his children and grandchildren including the future King George II. Thornhill himself is also present on the lower right hand section of the West Wall painting while in the background is the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – a reference to Sir Christopher Wren.

The hall has since served a variety of purposes but among the most significant events to take place there was the lying in state of the body of Admiral Lord Nelson following his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. A plaque at the top of the hall marks the spot where the coffin stood.

Between 1834 and 1936, the Painted Hall served as the National Gallery of Naval Art during which more than 300 paintings around naval themes were displayed there (today these form part of the basis of the National Maritime Museum’s art collection).

After an extensive restoration, in 1939 it was again used as a dining room for officers attending the Royal Naval College and for other grand dinners, including one celebrating the formation of the United Nations in 1946.

It’s now available for hire and has also served as a film location – including for films such as The Madness of King George, Quills and the more recent film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

An appeal has been launched to restore the hall with the expected nine month, £450,000 restoration of the West Wall paintings slated to begin after the Olympic Games. To donate, head here.

WHERE: King William Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich (nearest Docklands Light Rail station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich). WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ornc.org/visit/attractions/painted-hall.

The third Story of London Festival kicked off at the start of the month with a programme of events aimed at celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain. This year’s festival is being coordinated by the Museum of London in partnership with the Southbank Centre. It also involves five London borough museums – that of Brent, Dagenham, Haringey, Redbridge and Wandsworth – which are hosting free displays and events around the theme of how they celebrated in 1951. The festival runs until the end of the month, so there’s still plenty of time to get involved. Among the highlights still to come is the Floral Bicycle Parade around the Southbank Centre on 28th August (‘decorating stations’ will be set up at the centre prior to the parade). For a full listing of what’s happening, see www.london.gov.uk/priorities/art-culture/storyoflondon.

The City of London has released a new filmlovers’ walking tour of London which takes in locations featured in films and TV shows. Lights, camera, action starts on Millennium Bridge (destroyed in the opening sequence of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and takes in 23 other locations including St Paul’s Cathedral (The Madness of King George and Great Expectations), Bank Junction (28 Days Later, National Treasure II), St Bart’s Hospital (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), Moorgate (Ocean’s 13 and The Bourne Ultimatum) and Tower Bridge (BranniganThe Mummy ReturnsThunderbirdsTomb RaiderSherlock Holmes) before finishing at Postman’s Park (Closer). The walk has been mapped out by the City’s film team which works with location managers and film directors when they’re working in the Square Mile. The leaflet can be picked up free-of-charge from the City of London Information Centre (opposite St Paul’s) or downloaded here.

• Interested in a snapshot of what London was like during a particular historical era? The Museum of London has launched a series of 16 “pocket histories”, each of which, in up to 1,000 words, tackles a particular aspect of the city’s history based around five objects or images. The subjects covered range from a look at the River Thames in prehistory to life in medieval London, from an examination of the history of Jack the Ripper and the East End, to a detailed look at the London’s plagues. While designed for a general audience, the histories are expected to be particularly useful to school students. They can be looked at online or downloaded as a PDF. Further subjects are expected to be added in the future. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk/pockethistories. The museum has also launched Picturebank, a collection of images which can be accessed online and viewed, printed or copied for educational use.

• On Now: Your 2012. The Museum of London Docklands is hosting a free exhibition featuring images capturing the construction work at the Olympic site in East London and the impact on the surrounding boroughs and the environment as well as archival images which show the history of the site. The free exhibition runs until 5th February. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/.