Dan Cruickshank meets to discuss the national heritage of the Royal Hospital
29th October 2021
Thanks to a development grant of £135,726 awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards a £7.2 million project, the home of the Chelsea Pensioners will be creating a new Visitor Centre to welcome more of the public to its historic site.
Thanks to National Lottery players, this important grant paves the way to restoring the Royal Hospital’s architecturally significant Grade II* listed stables. Designed by Sir John Soane, the stable block will become a new Visitor Centre to showcase the history of a unique working heritage site that has been caring for British Army veterans since 1692. This project will also realise a longstanding ambition to integrate the Royal Hospital’s award-winning care model with its significant heritage assets.
Today, eminent historian Dan Cruickshank, who has written extensively on the Royal Hospital Chelsea, met with the Chelsea Pensioners to discuss the exciting next phase of its architectural development. He said:
The stables, built from 1814 to 1817 at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, mark a milestone in British Architecture. With most minimal means, and relying on scale, form, proportion and abstraction of details, Sir John Soane created a memorable and characterful building that evokes the essence of architecture. There is something magical about the way in which such a powerful sense of solemn, classical nobility was achieved with such a seemingly simple -almost stark - architectural vocabulary. After these stables were built architecture in Britain was never quite the same. They were, in their idiosyncratic way, a brilliant harbinger of things to come, and must now be numbered among the nation’s most important buildings.
The Royal Hospital has exceptional historic significance as a unique example of a building designed as a home for Army veterans: it remains the only example of a charitable British military institution still in use. It will join the other cultural institutions on Royal Hospital Road, the National Army Museum and Chelsea Physic Garden, to create a heritage destination, blending local distinctiveness with national significance.
The Visitor Centre will create a new home for heritage, visitor and learning services as well as outreach programmes of support, including for older veterans who don’t live at the Royal Hospital. Visitors will be able to explore and discover more about the history of the Royal Hospital, its collections and the people who lived there, as well as meeting Chelsea Pensioners for whom it is home today. Improved and fully accessible interpretation across the site will allow visitors to explore the richness and diversity of its 66 acres of listed buildings, urban green spaces and socio-military heritage.
For more than three centuries, the Royal Hospital Chelsea has been a home for elderly veterans. This grant will enable us to share our unique architectural heritage, our collection of historical artifacts and the stories that go with them with a much larger number of visitors. Many of them will be Service Veterans benefiting from our new outreach initiative, which is designed to relieve loneliness and provide comradeship, assisted by Chelsea Pensioner volunteers, and deliver a number of benefits to health and wellbeing for a section of society in great need of such support.
Gary Lashko, Chief Executive, said:
It’s incredible to have been awarded the grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we are now looking for the public to get behind us and support us with fundraising for this ambitious project. We know that ‘active ageing’ contributes significantly to the quality and longevity of life enjoyed by the Chelsea Pensioners. This grant will help to develop greater interaction between our residents and the wider veteran communities, local residents and visitors, countering social isolation and increasing wellbeing.
Greater access to our heritage will improve the sustainability of our care provision, by overhauling visitor services, and making them accessible, particularly for those who may typically feel excluded from heritage. In response to future public health concerns, it will provide a safe environment for welcoming visitors without compromising the health security of our highly vulnerable population.
It’s a fabulous place to live, with an unparalleled history. We’re looking forward to sharing that with so many more people.
Stuart McLeod, Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:
We are thrilled to support The Royal Hospital Chelsea and help them to work up their proposals to restore their architecturally significant Grade II* listed stables. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, plans will continue to be developed to tell the remarkable stories linked to the hospital’s long-standing heritage and history of care for Chelsea Pensioners as well as involve a wider range of people from the local communities.