Greenwich has for centuries been associated with the Royal Navy, and from 1705 until 1869, writes Richard Ollard, the Royal Naval Hospital was the home of pensioned veterans.
The connexion between Greenwich and the Navy has been long and persistent. It was at Greenwich that Henry VIII conducted his early experiments in gunnery that were to have such far-reaching effects on the development of the warship.
It was the same king who established the shipyards at Deptford and Woolwich, thus placing Greenwich at the centre of naval affairs as firmly as Flamsteed was to do in the next century when he ran his prime meridian through the royal estate.
It was at Greenwich on May 20th, 1553, that the court and common people cheered Willoughby and Chancellor as they set out for that voyage of discovery which marked the beginning of England’s expansion overseas.
Fifty years later the Council were meeting there to organize the naval defence of the country against the great Armada. In 1657 Blake lay in state at Greenwich before making his last voyage up river, as Nelson was to do in 1805.
Since 1873 the Royal Naval College has been the principal seat of naval learning and almost, one might say, the home of the Navy, if such a word can be used of a service whose chief characteristics are ubiquity and movement.
But of all the strands in the rope that binds Greenwich to the Navy none is stronger or stouter than the charity of Queen Mary which in 1694 created the Royal Naval Hospital. Two hundred and fifty years ago the first naval pensioners appeared at Greenwich.
They were to be a familiar part of the landscape in their blue cocked-hats, tail-coats and breeches until 1869. For more than a hundred and fifty years Greenwich was the home of the Navy in a different and perhaps more real sense.