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Royal Hospital Chelsea
Royal Hospital Chelsea Review
Charles II founded this hospice for elderly and infirm soldiers in 1682 to reward the troops who had fought for him in the civil wars of 1642–46 and 1648. Charles wisely appointed the great architect Sir Christopher Wren to design this small village of brick and Portland stone set in manicured gardens (which you can visit) surrounding the Figure Court—the figure being a 1682 gilded bronze statue of Charles II dressed as a Roman general—the Great Hall (dining room), and a chapel. The chapel is enhanced by choir stalls created by Grinling Gibbons (who made the statue of Charles as well), the Great Hall by Antonio Verrio's vast oil painting of Charles on horseback, and both are open to the public at certain times during the day. There is a small museum devoted to the history of the resident "Chelsea Pensioners," but the real attraction, along with the building, is the pensioners themselves. Recognizable by their traditional scarlet frock coats with gold buttons, medals, and tricorne hats, they are all actual veterans, who wear the uniform, and the history it conveys, with a great deal of pride. They celebrate Founder's Day—the closest Thursday to May 29, Charles II's birthday—by draping oak leaves on his statue and parading in front of it, a tribute to a historic hollow oak tree that expedited the king's escape from the Civil War's final conflict, the 1651 Battle of Worcester, leaving him free to fight another day.
Chelsea Flower Show. Also in May (usually the third week), the Chelsea Flower Show, the year's highlight for thousands of garden-obsessed Brits, is held here. Run by the Royal Horticultural Society, this mammoth event takes up vast acreage, and the surrounding streets throng with visitors. 0844/338–7506 in U.K.; 121/767–4063 from outside U.K. www.rhs.org.uk.
- Address: Royal Hospital Rd., Chelsea, London, SW3 4SR | Map It
- Phone: 020/7881–5298
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Grounds, Chapel, Courts, and Great Hall open Mon.–Sat. 10–noon and 2–4. Museum open weekdays 10–noon and 2–4. Closed holidays and for special events.
- Website: www.chelsea-pensioners.org.uk
- Tube: Sloane Sq.
- Location: Kensington, Chelsea, and Knightsbridge
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