The Royal Hospital was founded by King Charles II in 1682 as a retreat for veterans. The provision of a hostel rather than the payment of pensions was inspired by Les Invalides in Paris. The site for the Royal Hospital was an area of Chelsea which held an incomplete building "Chelsey College", a theological college founded by James I in 1609. The Royal Hospital opened its doors to the first Chelsea PensionersTin 1692 for "the relief and succour" of veterans. Some of the first soldiers admitted included those injured at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Wren expanded his original design to add two additional quadrangles to the east and west of the central court; these were known respectively as the "Light Horse Court" and the "College Court". Due to mismanagement by Lord Ranelagh, the Hospital Treasurer, the building was not completed until 1692. Sir John Soane, who was clerk of work in the early part of the nineteenth century, designed and constructed a new infirmary building which was located to the west of the main building on the site of the current National Army Museum and destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. It was replaced by a modern infirmary which was located to the east of the main building and opened by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1961. The 7' 6" (229 cm) statue of King Charles II which stands in the central court (the Figure Court) of the Hospital was cast in copper alloy by Grinling Gibbons; it was originally gilded but was bronzed in 1787.
The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses, held annually, is based on a 300-year-old tradition which began in 1692, when the Royal Hospital Chelsea asked a local cheesemonger to provide in-pensioners with cheese to get them through the festive period. The Dairy Council is now in its 54th year of organising a special ceremony at the Hospital, where donations that come from cheesemongers from across the country are presented to the residents. A Chelsea Pensioner cuts the ceremonial cheese with a sword and the cheese is distributed among the pensioners around the Christmas period. Another annual tradition at the Royal Hospital is the Christmas Cake Ceremony, which commenced in 1949. It is a symbol of the enduring friendship between the UK and Australia and takes the form of a Christmas cake being presented to the Hospital from the Australian Returned and Services League, with each Australian state taking it in turns year by year. Again, a pensioner at the Royal Hospital cuts the cake with a sword. Prominently displayed in the grounds next to the flagpole is an inscribed cannon from Singora bearing the seal of Sultan Sulaiman Shah. The cannon was made in Singora around 1623, captured from the Sultanate of Singora by the Siamese in 1680, taken from the Siamese by the Burmese in the Burmese–Siamese war of 1765–1767 and transported to Burma. In the third Anglo-Burmese War (1885–1887) the cannon was taken by the British and shipped back to England. The on-site museum details the history and life of the Royal Hospital and its In-Pensioners together with displays of artefacts, documents, medals, cap badges and uniforms. Recent additions include the Sovereign's Mace and Parade Chair. A large Diorama depicts the Royal Hospital and Ranelagh Pleasure gardens as they appeared in 1742. Daily walking tours of the site and museum, led by Chelsea Pensioners themselves, can be booked in advance. The South Grounds of the Royal Hospital are also used for large scale public events including the world famous Chelsea Flower Show, held by the Royal Horticultural Society. The show has been held in the grounds since 1913 and attracts around 165,000 visitors. Tours last approximately 90 minutes and are offered at the selected time slots of 10:00 AM and 13:30 for a maximum of 50 attendees, Monday through Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). All tours must be booked a minimum of 4 weeks in advance for a minimum of 10 attendees. Requests for bookings made outside of this time may be accommodated, depending on availability.
Location : Royal Hospital Road, London. SW3 4SR
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 10:00 to 13:30.
Tickets : Free.
Tours : £10.00 per adult. Children £7.00
Tel: 020 7881 5200