Old Chelsea Hospital

Previous page: Greenwich

Now, on our way back, we see the burnt City rapidly rising from its ashes, and brick and stone flat fronted buildings replacing the ancient half-timbered and gabled houses of mediaeval London.

On the Surrey side there is not so much change. Although the river-bank is much built on, one still sees behind the houses the low flat fields, the remains of the ancient marshes. At Lambeth Palace the great hall has had to be rebuilt.

The palace was sold during the Commonwealth, and Scott the regicide and another who bought it of the Parliament, had dismantled the Great Hall for the building materials. The chapel was desecrated, the body of Archbishop Parker exhumed and buried under a dunghill.

Archbishop Juxon on his nomination to the Primacy had found it almost a roofless ruin, and it is to him we owe the present Great Hall, now used as the Library.

The opposite shore along Millbank, has one or two fine houses recently built. At Chelsea, the old college has been given by the King to the newly founded Royal Society, but the gift being rather of the nature of a white elephant they have sold it to Sir Stephen Fox, and on the site a splendid hospital for disabled soldiers has been built, facing the river, with extensive grounds.

Whoever first suggested this idea to Charles II. deserves great credit. Some people claim it was Mistress Eleanor Gwyn, who had been troubled at the sight of so many poor maimed soldiers begging in the streets. Others say it was Sir Stephen Fox, who was a large contributor.

Sir Christopher Wren was the architect, as he was also of the kindred Hospital at Greenwich for sailors. Perhaps Charles was only imitating his cousin, Louis the Fourteenth, who had founded the "Invalides" in Paris; the Merry Monarch not wishing to be outdone in good works any more than in the vicious example set to their courts and people by both Monarchs.

The foundation stone was laid 1681. Charles did not live to see the building finished, but James, his brother, during his short and inglorious reign, carried on the work. It was finally completed in the reign of William and Mary, and the redcoated pensioners have been a familiar sight to Londoners ever since.

Modern ideas have rather interfered with this foundation, as they have at Greenwich; but let us hope that, no matter what may be now the increased value of the site - the moving spring in all these alterations and tamperings with ancient foundations - Old Chelsea Hospital may be spared to us for a long time to come.

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