A wow visit to a reopened Painted Hall

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!

Admiring the ceiling is tiring work

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.

the multimedia guide
The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich

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.

Sir James Thornhill

It’s definitely worth a visit, and it’s definitely worth visiting Greenwich for. And if you visit give me a wave!

Exploring the RAF Oulton Museum at the Blickling Estate

Today I'm sharing the last in this series of posts from the Blickling Estate, and it's not quite the garden posts I've shared so far. Upstairs above the entrance to the gardens there's an exhibition about RAF Oulton which was built just west of the main estate close to Aylsham. 

In the Loft Exhibitions at Blickling

It was mostly a bomber base, with grass runways and a few buildings and flow alongside squadrons from what is now Norwich airport and was built and active during the Second World War, used to store aircraft after the war before being closed for good in 1949.

A serviceman's trunk with a serviceman's uniform and kit
cigarettes, matches and cigarette cards on the bedside cabinet

Most of the personnel transferred here from relatively nearby RAF Sculthorpe, as well as some from the American airforce, although the Americans were only here for four months. The exhibition showed many pictures from the time and had one area set out with a bed and another as a mess room, complete with games of the time, such as shove ha'penny, which reminded me of the board that mum and dad have. And of the time one Christmas, a while back, that they taught my youngest niece the game. From the look on her face, she was waiting for the rest of the game to unfold, before realising it really was quite simple and more fun than she first thought.

A gas mask in the loft exhibition at Blickling

There were plenty of memorabilia around too and we spent some time just marvelling at how life must have been at the time. It's not just the items though that captured my attention, but also the handwriting on things like this ration book, it really is of the time isn't it? And I wonder, how and why our handwriting style changed.

A ration book on display at Blickling
A traditional alarm clock and a Blickling postcard

It was a fascinating space, packed full of information about the Second World War, definitely worth a look if you're there.


Discovering the story behind the Baltic Exchange Gallery

Just a short post from me today, and another one that I've been meaning to share for a week or two. A couple of weeks ago I told you of my bonkers week and of my lunchtime visit to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. My plan for that lunchtime was to scout out inside places to spend my lunch hours, and to check out the cafe there too.

I decided to take in one of the galleries while I was there, but soon found myself diverted towards the Baltic Exchange Gallery. It's not something I'd seen before, either in person or on the signposts so I was intrigued to see what I'd find there. I never expected it to be this.

Stained glass from the Baltic Exchange at the NMM in Greenwich


I was mesmerised. So much so that I spent my lunch hour in this relatively small space taking in each of the windows, and the story of how they'd painstakingly been restored after they were damaged by a terrorist bomb in the early nineties. I think partly the fascination was I remembered that bomb as I was working in the City at the time. I remember the devastation and the shock of the event, but had no idea these windows existed, their story, how much they were damaged and how much work went into piecing them back together.

That all changed in that hour though.

The information boards alongside these windows were excellent and told their story in a compelling way. I can sometimes flit through a museum and its exhibits, but these held my interest.  So much so that I had no time to fit in a visit to the cafe, so I think that tells you all you need to know.

The windows were commissioned shortly after the First World War and formed part of a memorial to the sixty members of Baltic Exchange staff who lost their lives during the war. They were unveiled in 1922 and consisted of a half-dome with five large windows below it. 

The information board told me "the subject is heroic and likens the British Empire to the Roman Empire." 

A section of the restored Baltic Exchange stained glass window

Above and below are excerpts of the two outer panels of the dome which names the major battles of the First World War.

Part of the restored Baltic Exchange stained glass windows

The half-dome is over three metres in height and is just fabulous. Standing in the middle you get the most wonderful sense of history and my photo below hardly does it justice. If you're in Greenwich, then you really should make time to see this as however I describe this, I know I won't be able to do it justice.

The half-dome stained glass window from the Baltic Exchange London

While I stood learning about the restoration work I was completely oblivious to The Virtue Windows behind me. Originally these would have been under the panels of the half-dome. And you may have already worked it out but they're named for the Virtues of Hope, Fortitude, Justice, Truth and Faith, which the Romans established as qualities that all humans should aspire to.

What a way to spend a lunchtime.  

the Pigeon Pair and Me