For as long as I can remember, the Chelsea Pensioners have been making a bright red impression on my life in Kensington. Whenever they leave their home at the Royal Hospital to parade around Chelsea, their scarlet robes and shining badges remind me of my country’s role in some of history’s most storied events.
By the middle of the 17th century, many soldiers no longer fit for service still had no means to live comfortably outside the armed forces and remained on active duty despite their impaired condition. In an effort to maintain the effectiveness of his armed forces, King Charles II commissioned his Surveryor-General of Works, Sir Christopher Wren, to design the Royal Hospital. The Royal Warrant authorising the work was issued on 22nd December, 1681. Construction took off quickly. So quickly, in fact, King Charles even got to inspect a large portion of the completed works before his death in 1685! The first wave of Chelsea Pensioners moved into their new home in 1692, and they have been occupying a special place in our Kensington community ever since.
The Royal Hospital is a must-see if you’re staying in the Regency Hotel in Kensington, London. Don’t miss the great dining hall, which is graced by a large mural completed by Antonio Verrio and Henry Cooke, or the exquisite greenery that spans the hospital grounds. Each time I walk along these fields, I am always struck by just how massive the complex is, and by how many brave men that sacrificed so much to defend my country it houses. The Royal Hospital has served as the home of the Chelsea Pensioners for over three centuries. And to think, it has operated for all that time without a single break in service. Now that’s commitment!
The Royal Hospital could very well never have been completed as it stands today. When Richard Jones, the Earl of Ranelagh, took over as Paymaster-General of the Armed Forces in 1685, he embezzled so much money from the army that construction stopped was delayed for years! Thankfully, he was suspended before he could bankrupt the project.
Today, the Royal Hospital stands as one of my favourite symbols of national pride near some of the best hotels in Kensington. London would not be the same without the “Men in Scarlet” and their beautiful home. For a special treat, visit the Hospital and the Pensioners at the end of May during the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The only addition that can make this site even more stunning than it normally is are the hundreds of breathtaking flower displays that grace the grounds on this special occasion. It’s a spectacle not to be missed!