The Painted Hall at Greenwich


When The Mister was an exchange officer with the Royal Navy (long, long ago), he received an invitation to dine in one of the holiest of Naval places, The Painted Hall at Greenwich. For reasons neither of us can remember, he didn’t attend. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that we had three small children under the age of 7, lived in Portsmouth and I wasn’t invited. Regardless of the reason(s), he didn’t attend and he’s still a little bit sad about it.  I couldn’t arrange a naval dining-in at The Painted Hall, but I did arrange a Maritime-themed day out in Greenwich, home of the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark.

The Painted Hall is the breathtaking crown jewel of Greenwich. The Hall, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, was meant to be a dining hall for Naval Veterans living at the Royal Hospital for Seaman.  The Hall itself is lovely, but the wall paintings by James Thornhill make it truly spectacular.  Mr. Thornhill was commissioned to decorate the walls with scenes depicting the glory and legacy of British maritime power.  He was either very confident in his abilities or a poor businessman as he failed to negotiate a fee before starting his commission.  It took Thornhill 19 years to complete the project for which he was paid £7000 and given (eventually) a knighthood.  Interesting side note: legend suggests that his commission was partially funded by the confiscated loot of the pirate, Captain Kidd.


When The Painted Hall was complete, it was deemed too elaborate for use as a “mess hall” and  became a tour-able attraction where Royal Hospital Pensioners would act as guides in exchange for a small fee.


In January of 1806, three months after the Battle of Trafalgar, the body of Horatio Nelson lay in state in The Painted Hall. Over 100,000 people paid their respects before Nelson’s body was placed on the King’s Barge and floated up the Thames for his funeral.


The Painted Hall became the National Gallery of Naval Art and remained as such until 1936 when the collection moved elsewhere. After an extensive restoration, the Hall opened again in 1939 as a dining venue for officers of the Royal Naval College.  When the Royal Navy left in 1998, the Greenwich Foundation took over stewardship of the site.


Today, The Painted Hall is open to visitors almost every day of the year, free of charge. You can also book it for a special event or wedding venue (can  you imagine?) if you prefer.  The west wall paintings are currently undergoing restoration and visitors are allowed to climb the scaffolding and watch the master conservators at work.  Rumor has it that once a year, The Painted Hall hosts a Trafalgar Night dinner.  I plan on spending the next 263 days hunting down tickets so The Mister can, at last, dine amidst the glory of British Maritime history. Hopefully, I’ll be invited.

Things to know:

The Painted Hall and other venues are occasionally closed for private events.  Check here  before you go.

The scaffolding/conservation tours are limited.  Check for times and availability here    Children must be over 12 only to participate in conservation tours. 

There is quite a bit to see within the Royal Naval complex.  You can plan your day out by checking the main website before you go.

The Thames Clipper boat is a great, scenic way to see London and get to Greenwich. Oyster card holders receive a 1/3 discount!

The Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark are all within walking distance.  Greenwich is a long day out, but well worth it.  Get there early and plan on spending a full day.

Lions and Tigers and A Few Polar Bears.

Do you remember me mentioning the photography exhibit I missed because I was playing in the snow?  I had the chance to go this morning with d3, so I woke her up early and hopped the bus to the Natural History Museum.

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit is showing at the Natural History Museum until 3 March.  The annual contest (currently in its 49th year) is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.  The judging panel received  48,000 entries from 98 countries, which they distilled to the final 100 photographs on display.


 Photograph by Larry Lynch, Warning Night Light, sourced here
Winner, Animal Portraits category, 2012

When I entered the gallery I was surprised to see that the photographs were not framed and hung on the wall. The gallery, arranged by award category;  Underwater Worlds, Wildscapes, Nature in Black and White, Creative Visions, Animal Portraits, Behavior: Mammals/Birds/Cold-Blooded Animals, Animals in their Environment, Botanical Realms as well as a “Young Photographer” category (10 and under, 11 – 14, 15- 17, presents the photographs in a stunning, backlit format.


Photograph by Francisco Mingorance (Spain), Spirit of the Volcano sourced here
Commended, Botanical Realms category 2012

Each photograph was accompanied by an interesting back-story about the subject and setting and a map showing  where the photo was taken. The display also noted the technical details involved in taking the photo (type of camera, lenses, filters and other things I don’t understand but wish I did).

The photographs were stunning.  One made my cry. They all took my breath away.  Patrons filled out an exit questionnaire (voluntary) asking us to list our favorite photograph.  We argued for a bit, went back through the gallery and settled on our favorite seven.  It was a difficult choice.


Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James (UK), Lookout for Lions, sourced here                   
Specially Commended, Nature in Black and White category, 2012


Photograph by David Maitland (UK), Sands of Time  sourced here
Runner up, Creative Visions category, 2012

Even if you have only a passing interest in photography, the exhibition is well worth it.  My daughter and I were incredibly inspired and spent a significant amount of time flipping through the photography books in the museum bookshop. Maybe there’s hope for my photography after all.

Things to know:

The exhibit ends 3 March.

Entry cost is £10 for adults, £5 for students/concessions, free for museum members.

Check for details here  before you go.

You can see some of the photographs online , using a search feature, although they are much better seen in person.

Russell Nash, Tour Guide Extraordinaire

I believe wholeheartedly that the best way to see a city is on foot.  Preferably, the best way to see a city is on foot on a sunny day when the temps are in the mid-seventies and there is a slight breeze. That was not to be, however.


We met our guide,Russell, amid freezing temps and snow flurries for an entertaining and informative jaunt through Mayfair on his Mayfair: High Born and Low Life walk.  Before the tour, I considered myself somewhat familiar with the area, yet around every turn Russell shared a fact, anecdote, architectural point of interest or scandalous tale I’d never heard or seen before. I was downright impressed by his depth of knowledge about the area. We saw the homes of royal mistresses and famous musicians, heard tales of private clubs and public scandal. We were even treated to a bit of a Royal lineage song.


Russell is a knowledgeable,engaging and entertaining guide and we thoroughly enjoyed our day with him. We decided that we would go anywhere with Russell and plan on booking his Men Who Made Menswear tour in March along with any other tour on his schedule. We found booking and tour information online at which seems to have the most up-to-date tour information.

The Snowmen of Green Park

I know, I know.  Enough with the snow.  I can’t help it.  It is SUCH a pleasant change from the gray, drizzly rain (reminds me of my years living in Seattle).  I don’t care how cold it is or how much snow piles up around your knees… at least you can do something in the snow…make snowmen, throw snowballs and act like you’re five.  The Mister and I were headed to a photography exhibit  at the Natural History Museum, but made a short detour through Green Park.  Which turned into a long detour.  The park was a veritable forest of snowmen filled with people of all ages rolling giant snowballs and adding artistic touches to their snowman masterpieces.  We stopped to talk to two girls who were building their very first snowman.  One was from California, the other from Crete, both now living in London as students.  Another young couple had just enough time to build a tiny snowman, take a picture and hurry off to the Palace to finish the day’s tour (you have to look hard to find the snowbaby in the picture).  Two girls broke open their bag of Oreo cookies and hastily ate the filling to create two choclate-wafer eyes and a series of buttons for their “snowgirl.” Locals invited the tourists to join the fun…old people shouted snowman-making advice over the fence, dogs ran through the park snatching the twig arms from snowman bodies. So many happy faces from so many different places and it was so beautiful.

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A Winter’s Day in Kew Gardens

Winter came to London yesterday and covered every surface with a blanket of freshly fallen snow.   The snow was beautiful in the city, but I talked The Mister into taking the train to Kew Gardens to see it dressed  in winter’s best. There was something magical about tromping through the snow, admiring the snow-laden branches and icy lakes on your way to warm up in the steamy, palm-filled tropical and temperate houses.  Lovely.  I hope you enjoy the photos.

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As I walked through the Tropical House, I remembered a book I used to read to my children...Miss Rumphius.  Do you remember it?