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The Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich: 'A Refuge for All'

The foundation of the Hospital
Funding and building
The Pensioners
The decline of the Hospital
The Greenwich Hospital collection
Cradle of the Navy: the Hospital School then and now
The invisible Hospital
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The decline of the Hospital

The 'out-pensioners'

Handyson, a Greenwich Pensioner.
View full size imageHandyson, a Greenwich Pensioner. © NMM
'Out-pensions' of £7 a year were paid under an Act of 1763. These enabled more of the naval casualties of the Seven Years War to be supported 'in the community' than could live in the Hospital as 'in-pensioners'. 

However, despite the Hospital’s growing income, extra government funding was still needed. Although it was a modernizing trend, out-pensions became a financial burden. There were some 30,000 such men on the books by 1820, costing more than £300,000 a year. In 1829 the costs were taken over entirely by government.

Beginning of the decline

Naval pensioners in the grounds of the Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich, 1840s.
View full size imageNaval pensioners in the grounds of the Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich, 1840s. © NMM
This marked a decline towards the Hospital's closure. Before 1848 there was always a waiting list for entry, but after that date vacancies increased rapidly:

  • 400 in 1853
  • 1100 in 1860.

When the Navy was enforcing the 'Pax Britannica' on the world's oceans, there were fewer candidates for Greenwich, and being an out-pensioner was more attractive.


The end of in-pensioners

In 1860 a Royal Commission proposed the end of in-pensions in exchange for an annuity to all existing inmates. In October 1865, under a new Act, 987 of the 1400 remaining in-pensioners left the Hospital.

Old pensioners leaving hospital.
View full size imageOld pensioners leaving hospital. © NMM
In 1869 the last 'helpless' and incurables left to receive other care, except for a few who remained in the Infirmary, now taken over by the (merchant) Seamen's Hospital Society.

Wren's great complex closed and stood empty until the Royal Naval College moved in from Portsmouth, in 1873.



Find out more
GalleriesThornhill's painted ceiling
Early sketches for Thornhill's Painted Hall in Greenwich Hospital.
GalleriesThe Greenwich Hospital collection
Examples of famous paintings and artefacts donated to the Greenwich Hospital.
StoriesMaritime Greenwich: A World Heritage Site
A unique historical landscape
GalleriesGreenwich through the ages
Greenwich has been the site of many prestigious buildings including a royal palace, the Royal Observatory and the Naval College
StoriesTraining ships on the River Thames
Preparing boys for a life at sea
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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