PortCities London

Maritime Greenwich: A World Heritage Site

The National Maritime Museum and the Queen's House

'… illustrating for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people…'

View of National Maritime Museum, Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park from the air.
View full size imageThe National Maritime Museum, Queen's House and Royal Naval College from the air. © NMM
Founded by Act of Parliament in 1934 the Museum occupies the former buildings of the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich, which moved to Holbrook, Suffolk, in 1933. The Queen's House – to which the Museum was originally planned to be confined - was then restored by the Office of Works. 

Main entrance to the National Maritime Museum
View full size imageThe main entrance to the National Maritime Museum. © NMM

The other buildings, originally school wings (1807–76), were converted over a longer period and largely at the expense of the Museum's principal benefactor, Sir James Caird (1864–1954).  

Sir James's collection, together with the Greenwich Hospital Collection – mainly paintings and naval relics – and the collections of the former Royal Naval Museum (both transferred from Royal Naval College, Greenwich), formed the core of the original assets. 

Royal opening of National Maritime Museum by King George VI, 27 April 1937.
View full size imageThe opening of the National Maritime Museum by King George VI, 27 April 1937. © NMM

The Museum was opened by King George VI on 27 April 1937. The Royal Observatory became part of the NMM in the 1950s with Flamsteed House and what is now called Meridian Building being fully opened to the public in 1967. 



The Queen's House

A view of Greenwich and the Queen's House from the south east.
View full size imageThe Queen's House from the south-east. © NMM
The Queen's House is the first purely classical building in England, designed by Inigo Jones (1574–1643) for Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. It was begun in 1617 as two blocks, divided by the old Greenwich to Woolwich road.

From just before Anne's death in 1619 the House remained unfinished and thatched over at ground-floor level until 1629.

Queen Anne of Denmark, 1574 - 1619
View full size imageQueen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619). © NMM

Inigo Jones then completed it by about 1635 for Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. He added a single first-floor central bridge joining the two halves, over the road. It was richly decorated with paintings and sculpture.

During the Civil War and Commonwealth period (1642–60) the House was used as a government residence.

In 1661–62 Charles II altered the top floor to a square plan by adding an east and west bridge rooms for further but brief use by his mother, Henrietta Maria.

From house to school to museum

The Queen's House.
View full size imageInigo Jones's Queen's House. © NMM
From the mid-1660s the House became a 'grace-and-favour' residence. For some years around 1700 it was used by the Governor of Greenwich Hospital while the hospital was being built.

In 1806 it was handed over to the Royal Naval Asylum, later the Royal Hospital School, and extended by colonnades and new wings for school use.

After the School moved in 1933 it was restored and opened as part of the National Maritime Museum in 1937.

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