A report of the Society’s visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea on 15th April 2011

A delightful visit for 21 Members and their guests who were most royally entertained by Tom, one of the in pensioners, resplendent in his red ceremonial uniform which he admitted he avoided wearing outside the Hospital because of the unwelcome attention it attracted.  His 25 years service in the army (Royal Engineers) showed in his cynical and philosophical wit, which shone through.  Knowing when to salute and when to hide came second nature and he left us with the problem of deciding, at times, where truth ended and fiction began!  

The history of the Royal Hospital Chelsea is well documented and need not be repeated here.  Their web site (www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk) also contains much interesting information including a little about births (?) marriages and burials.  As we went around with Tom many additional interesting facts emerged.  Yes it is true that each pensioner’s ‘berth’ was a six feet by six feet timber windowless hut until relatively recent times but have now been upgraded to …. nine feet by nine feet!  And for every 36 men there are just 4 toilets and 2 showers.  There were other benefits in the past such as their own in house brewery and 5 gallons of beer between four men at dinner every day, served from a leather jug. 

A wooden marquetry alter piece in the chapel which was, allegedly, rescued from the Great Fire of London but its origins have been lost in time.  However, it is believed there is writing on the back which may indicate its history but removing the piece for confirmation would present too big a risk (also allegedly!).  The chapel is also used for private weddings, as a source of income.

There is a large ongoing refurbishment and redevelopment project which will eventually give each pensioner two rooms and an ensuite bathroom.  Some have already been completed and the recent admission of three lady pensioners raised a few grumbles when it was discovered that they were moving straight into the new
accommodation, ahead of men who had been there perhaps 30 years.  Until one gentleman was offered a place in the new wing but decided he was happier staying where he was!  Old soldiers never change.

Part of the redevelopment was a brand new infirmary, opened last year and named after Margaret Thatcher who remains a keen supporter of the Hospital.  The Hospital is still very dependent upon fund raising and Margaret Thatcher is credited with raising millions of pounds through her forceful determination with visiting dignitaries to the UK. The Hospital Chapel remains her regular place of Sunday worship.  The Chelsea Flower Show is held on the Hospital’s land which makes an important contribution to funds, together with other events through the year on the same site.  

An entertaining visit, ably enhanced by Tom’s good humour and I felt it was a privilege to meet him.

Barry Hepburn

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A report of the Society of Genealogists group Visit to the London Charterhouse

The Charterhouse, a former 14th century Carthusian monastery  is a short walk from the society’s premises, to  the north of what is now Charterhouse Square off of Carthusuian Street, near Smithfield.

The building is formally known as Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse and since the dissolution of the monasteries, it has served as a private mansion,  a boys’ school, and is home to 40 “Brothers”.
The Brothers were those who could supply ‘good testimonye and certificat of theire good behaviour and soundnes in religion’, those who had been servants to the King ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either  at sea or land’, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck or  other calamity’. The brothers are still there, and our tour was given by the very knowledgeable brothers Alan Scrivener and Stephen Green.

Entrance Court

We entered through the large medieval gateway, past Master’s Court to the buildings that housed the chapel. Portions of the medieval wall are still visible and include some wonderful memorials such as the one belonging to Sir Thomas Sutton. Other highlights were the  great hall, the old wood- panelled and galleried dining room and the Norfolk cloister. Inside the cloister, a single monk’s cell still remains, built 1349 and uncovered during post war restoration work.

society group visit

Master’s Court and the Great Hall

photos compliments of Barry Hepburn

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