Historic Maritime Greenwich – Trafalgar Day 21st October 1998
After a very close inspection of The Painted Hall ceiling, one recalls significant celebrations in The Painted Hall at Greenwich, when the Royal Navy lowered the White Ensign for the last time. A full banqueting Hall, packed to the gunnels with the good and the great, bade farewell to The Royal Naval College for ever.
A tearful ceremony was enhanced by the Royal Marines’ Band echoing around the Great Hall and, finally, the lowering of the White Ensign in the Grand Square. Each guest had received a rolled up print bound by a sailor’s hat ribbon – some 400 in number (I know because I created the drawing and signed every one!!).
Three years before this, a similar event was celebrated by the Friends of the National Maritime Museum in the great riverside room at the Trafalgar Tavern, the ‘immortal memory’ toasted by Rear Admiral Richard Hill RN Retd., who thanked Judy and me for our overnight hospitality with a copy of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, just published by Oxford and edited by himself – a noted naval historian.
Other memorable Trafalgar Days were celebrated in Boston Mass. USA, when a party of Friends of the National Maritime Museum were shown the ropes of the USS Constitution ‘Old Ironsides’. Her captain gave a cracking toast to Admiral Lord Nelson for the gathered company. A similar group (organised by Brian Lavery, a NMM historian recently retired to the Sussex vineyards) were shown over the historic naval dockyard at Portsmouth by one of the divers who discovered the wreck of King Henry VIII’s warship ‘Mary Rose’ 457 years after she sank off Southsea Castle in the Solent after action with a French fleet. A personal tour in my wheelchair will never be forgotten.
Another never-forgotten ceremony was a reenactment at the Old Royal Naval College of John Richard Lapenotiere delivering news of the famous Trafalgar victory to the steps of the Old Royal Naval College Chapel by post-chaise from Falmouth. This was followed by the reenactment of events from those same steps where the body, encased in rum, was delivered prior to a ceremonial flotilla up the Thames to HQS Wellington, then processing under the command of Admiral of the Fleet Alan Avest, to lie in state at St. Paul’s.
The farewell service in Westminster Abbey and the flotilla return voyage down to Greenwich Pier with a civic welcome was the first of many great happenings in Greenwich, with great musical events in our landmark churches and halls. Bravo!!
Are we losing the ‘Old Royal Naval College’ branding?
As I write, the ever-recognisable noise of paddle wheels echo around the sunset as the Clyde steamer ‘Waverley’ heads upstream after a day out in the estuary, passing Royal Greenwich in great style! (signs of another teardrop too!!)
However, the rumour that the powers-that-be are abandoning the ‘Old Royal Naval College’ branding from their marketing is somewhat disturbing – another ‘Brexit’!! The proposal is to replace this with the branding: ‘The Royal Palace and Greenwich Hospital’. Remember that the present Old Royal Naval College is a comparatively recent institution – it moved here from Portsmouth in 1873. But the buildings remain that occupied the ruins of one of the most historic of English palaces and the best-known of Tudor courts – the Palace of Placentia (of which very little remains). Sadly, there is only the so-called Tudor Undercroft left to tell us of its greatness (see ‘Royal Greenwich’ by Olive and Nigel Hamilton).
Be reassured that Frank Dowling has opened his refurbished Trafalgar Tavern where the greatest show of Thameside maritime paintings abound – a great celebration open for all to see and toast ‘the immortal memory’ of Admiral Lord Nelson on October 21st.
Greenwich is also a hub of Nelson memorabilia, what with the NMM and Warwick Leadlay’s collections at their market-side gallery. Frank Dowling of the Trafalgar Tavern – an American with a love for Greenwich and, of course, Lord Nelson, will demonstrate his newly-arranged collection of paintings in his magnificent newly-restored riverside tavern, upon which he surely must be congratulated. I am sure visitors will love to visit this much-enhanced attraction, especially as the Naval emphasis of the Old Royal Naval College is being steered away by other attractions in need of more obvious income generators from Joe Tourist.
I can well remember the government enquiries into the proposed departure of the Royal Navy from this hallowed site, when both the NMM and University of Greenwich gave evidence at the formal presentation. As a neighbour, we were invited to attend after discussion with the Commanders, one by one. The added attraction of Trinity College of Music moving from Marylebone, Central London, into the original Palace block was pure genius as its benefits have been applauded ever since.