Until the early 19th century, the Great Hall was the dining room for the residents at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
It was furnished with sixteen long tables (one for each Long Ward) which would provide space for two sergeants, two corporals, a drummer and twenty-one private soldiers (in all twenty six, the number that lodged in each Long Ward).
Although the kitchen was placed by Wren adjacent to the Great Hall there was no connection until 1824. Prior to that all the food was conveyed along the Colonnade and through the main entrance. Heating was provided by an open fire in the middle of the Hall.
Towards the end of the 18th century the Chelsea Pensioners took to dining in the Wards, and from the early 19th century all food was collected from the kitchen. The Great Hall was then used for recreation, court martials and Army entrance examinations. It was also in this room that the Duke of Wellington's body lay in state in 1852. The table on which his coffin rested is just inside the entrance to the Great Hall. Today it holds two 5 gallon 'black jacks', leather jugs formerly used for bringing ale up from the beer cellar below.
In 1955 the Hall was restored to its original purpose, and oak benches have since been replaced by chairs.
The large mural painting at the far end of the Hall dates from about 1690 and represents Charles II on horseback surrounded by allegorical figures, with the Royal Hospital buildings in the background. It was begun by Antonio Verrio but is mainly the work of Henry Cooke. It was restored in 2002.
The portraits of George II and Queen Caroline, by Enoch Seeman (1739) and portraits of George III (1767) and Queen Charlotte (1762) by Allan Ramsay. The equestrian portrait of John, Duke of Marlborough (c. 1702) by John Closterman, which hangs in the gallery over the door, was presented by the Drapers' Company in 1954. The other 17th and 18th Century paintings are mainly copies of originals by Kneller. William II's coat of arms, carved by William Emmett, is on display above the entrance of the Great Hall.
The Great Hall is also hired out for private functions.