Naval History

Room where Lord Nelson's body lay reopened after restoration

A room that has a fascinating history connected to Lord Nelson is being relaunched after a major conservation project to renovate and reinterpret it.

Visitors to the Old Royal Naval College, in Greenwich, can now explore the Nelson Room where Lord Nelson's body was kept until it was moved to lie in state.

Originally created by Nicholas Hawksmoor to the master plan by Sir Christopher Wren, the Nelson Room's unique architecture has been carefully restored, including its roof lantern, stonework and Swedish marble.

Claire Kirk, head of learning, interpretation and collections at the Old Royal Naval College, said: "There was a renovation project that was done in 2005 and that made huge improvements to the space. It was a kitchen, essentially, before then.

"When it was the Royal Naval College this space was fully tiled walls, it looked very different, so in 2005 they restored the fabric of the room, they replastered the walls.

"This is another step forward. We've taken historical paint analysis and brought an authentic colour scheme to the room."

Floor restoration involved replacing modern additions and repairs with the same stone as was originally laid in the room in the early 1700s.

The conservation team managed to locate the exact quarry, in Sweden, which had been used originally and they ordered the replacement stone from there.

The name of this stone was Orland stone – named after the Swedish island where the stone came from.

Claire Kirk added: "We've relayed the floors so the marble that we have now matches the original Christopher Wren marble. We've fixed the roof lantern and repaired all the stonework. 

"But the main change has been the interpretation scheme, so we've now got wall panels and a Navy programme telling the story of Nelson in Greenwich," she added.

Claire Kirk Head of learning, interpretation and collections inside the relaunched Nelson Room 25032022 CREDIT BFBS_1.jpeg
The Nelson Room has been carefully restored so visitors can explore the fascinating history of the naval hero.

The stonework around the room's doorways and beneath the Nelson maquette was carefully cleaned and restored by a specialist conservation stonemason.

All these elements of the room date back to the room's creation in the early 1700s. The conservation and restoration work on each element took around 4 - 6 weeks.

Head of marketing Sarah Codrington felt the room was worth restoring due to it telling such a "massive story".

"It was where the body of Nelson came after the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805," she said. "We just wanted to tell that story.

"We felt it was important to this place and an interesting story for the public to know."

Lord Nelson was highly regarded as a national hero during the Napoleonic Wars.

He was therefore given the honour of a lying in state in the Upper Hall of the Painted Hall, before which his body lay in a small room off the Painted Hall.

This chamber was named the Nelson Room in 1846.

At the time, Greenwich became the centre for mourning for the loss of the nation's hero, with carriages queuing back to central London.

Roof lantern sky light inside relaunched Nelson Room 25032022 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
As well as the unique architecture of the intimate room, the roof lantern is a new addition.

According to Sarah Codrington, visitors can now expect a "fascinating combination of audio and visual, a beautiful space with a wonderful lantern skylight at the top".

She added: "It's part of the wonderful architecture of the whole place but it pulls together the stories around Nelson's death.

"It looks out, interestingly, onto a courtyard that has something called the Nelson Pediment, which was created in 1812 and tells the story of him being sent up to heaven.

"It just finishes the story."