The Chelsea Pensioners are iconic figures, representing the UK’s community of veterans in their instantly recognisable red uniforms. More than 300 of them reside at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which offers accommodation and much-needed comradeship for retired veterans of the British Army.
The Royal Hospital is something of a living museum. Each and every resident has incredible stories to tell, not only about their life in the armed forces, but about their experiences as veterans. If you’re staying at the Grand Royale London Hyde Park, the Royal Hospital is less than half an hour away on the Circle line, and it truly is a must-visit for anyone wanting to discover the history of this iconic national institution.
Almost every day of the calendar year, the Royal Hospital Chelsea runs walking tours of the iconic site, led by one of the resident Chelsea Pensioners. You’ll get to marvel at the incredible architecture – one of Sir Christopher Wren’s most famous projects – as well as listen to intriguing stories from the inhabitants themselves.
Many of the Chelsea Pensioners served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus and World War II, and they all offer unique insight into what life has been like for British soldiers in the last hundred years.
You can book tours up to six months in advance, but you must have a minimum of ten people in your group. Independent visitors are still more than welcome to visit the Royal Hospital and explore the building and grounds themselves, but will be without a resident tour guide.
The on-site museum at the Royal Hospital Chelsea is certainly worth a visit. It displays a multitude of traditional and unusual items, ranging from contemporary portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, to a reconstruction of a typical berth – the kind which many Chelsea pensioners may have inhabited. The entrance area is dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, and you’ll also see a spectacular panorama of the Battle of Waterloo. Just outside on the lawn, there are two howitzers and two cannons which were captures from that particular campaign, on show for all visitors to inspect.
If you’re booked onto a tour with a Chelsea Pensioner, access to the museum is free and included within your tour. Access to the museum is easiest from the London Gate entrance, at the corner of Franklins Row and Royal Hospital Road. This entrance is just a short walk from Sloane Square station, which can get you back to your hotel London Hyde Park in no time.
The Wren Chapel
Should you choose to visit the Royal Hospital Chelsea on a Sunday, you’d be welcome to join any of the chapel services taking place. The Wren Chapel is a truly beautiful space, with each of its components (the wainscoting, the carving, the pews and the organ) constructed by some of the most talented craftsmen of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Concerts are also occasionally held in the Wren Chapel. Indeed, 27th March 2018 will see the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the London Mozart Players take on Mozart’s famous Requiem. Tickets are available at the Box Office.