It’s been closed for two years for a major conservation project, and reopened last weeked. I was able to book tickets on the opening weekend through week, and it was truly wonderful. At one point I thought we might not make it down into Greenwich at all as MOH was working (again), but just after 3pm on Sunday he escaped his laptop and we headed on what is a daily walk for me.
It was a lovely day and Greenwich Park was full, which was quite strange to see. I’m so used to seeing it with workers hurrying through and the dog walking community meeting for their daily - or least morning - constitution, that it’s easy to forget the weekend leisure users of the space. And on a sunny day, how that multiplies.
We’ve been to the Painted Hall many times before, in fact we visited with family including a cousin’s American husband the day after our wedding whose reaction was “gee, this is old!” Which of course is correct, it is.
It’s part of the Old Royal Naval College and was designed as a ceremonial dining room by Sir Christopher Wren, and some dining room! It took 19 years to complete the vast decorative scheme, painted by Sir James Thornhill and that started in 1707. He was the first British artist to be knighted and painted himself into the picture, which was pointed out in the new audio accompaniment - so look out for him later.
Previously entry was free, and is now £12 which before we went I thought was hefty. Having visited, I think it’s pretty good value, especially as you can use your ticket to gain entry for a year. That won’t work for everyone but they’re not the only organisation to do that, and it doesn’t stop you visiting, does it.
The entrance is new too, and much more focused. You enter through the Undercroft, now renamed the Sackler Gallery and there’s the obligatory shop and a cafe too. The cafe is particularly welcome as it’s yet another space for food and drink on campus, although despite only going this weekend I’d already forgotten that in the everyday busy-ness of the working day. And this week too, I’ve been less good about taking lunch to work and reverted to popping to the garage for a sandwich rather than trying something a little more social.
Looking up in what used to be the entrance area was spectacular, and only partly prepared you for the wow when you first glimpse the main event. It is truly breathtaking.
A photo really can’t do it justice, but it does give you an idea of how spectacular it is.
Before the hall was filled with large wooden tables, which took up most of the space. These have now gone and have been replaced with cushioned benches down the centre of the space, these allow people to view the ceiling lying down, and if you weren’t aware of that, the following photo could be quite amusing!
And it’s a vast improvement of a mirror that was there before.
I’m not usually much of a fan of audio guides, but I took one and it was impressive. You can dip into and out of the information in a way that works for you. It translates the latin inscription around the edge of the ceiling in an engaging way. It’s been many years since I studied Latin - amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant and all that.
Earlier I promised you Sir James Thornhill, well here he is with the tools of his trade behind him on the ledge - that’s just one of the useful facts on the multimedia guide.
It’s definitely worth a visit, and it’s definitely worth visiting Greenwich for. And if you visit give me a wave!