Greenwich councillors to discuss Old Royal Naval College name change proposal

Old Royal Naval College
The Greenwich Foundation has run the site for the past 20 years (Photo: Groucho via Creative Commons)

Plans to change the name of Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College will be discussed by councillors next week after local Conservative leader Matt Hartley put down a motion criticising the plan.

853 revealed last month that the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College, which runs the historic complex, is considering changing the site’s name to Greenwich Palace or Greenwich Royal Hospital as part of a wide-ranging relaunch to be introduced when the Painted Hall reopens in March.

The foundation is also considering a £12 admission charge for the Painted Hall, which has recently undergone a two-year restoration scheme.

Plans for the name change have already been criticised by local heritage societies and a former trustee of the foundation.

Now Hartley, Greenwich Council’s opposition leader, has placed a motion before next week’s full council meeting calling on the foundation to abandon its plans.

The motion “welcomes the Foundation’s underlying aim of attracting new visitors to the site and our borough, and pays tribute to its stewardship of the Old Royal Naval College over the past two decades, including the restoration of the Painted Hall”.

It adds: “Council strongly believes, however, that the Old Royal Naval College should retain its existing name, which accurately reflects the history of the buildings on the site, and their naval associations.

“Council applauds the work of the Greenwich Society, Blackheath Society and Westcombe Society in opposing the proposed name change.

“Council calls on the Greenwich Foundation to abandon any plans to rename the Old Royal Naval College, and reiterates its commitment to work with the Foundation and other stakeholders to help this treasured historic location continue to attract visitors from across the UK and the world.”

Name change ‘would undermine hard work’

Hartley told 853: “The Old Royal Naval College is widely treasured – and forms a key part of our borough’s cultural offer. The foundation’s underlying aim of increasing visitors is laudable, but renaming the site is the wrong decision.

“The current name accurately reflects the history of the current buildings on the site and any move away from that would be inauthentic – and risks undermining all the hard work that has gone into the foundation’s excellent stewardship of the Old Royal Naval College over the last two decades.

“Local amenity groups led by the Greenwich Society have been working hard to oppose the proposed renaming. I hope that councillors from across the council chamber will support these efforts and send a clear message by voting unanimously for this motion on 12th December.”

It is not yet clear how the council’s ruling Labour group will respond to the motion.

Opened up by foundation

Greenwich Palace would recall the birthplace of Tudor monarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, which fell into disrepair during the English Civil War and was demolished in 1660.

The current buildings, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, opened as Greenwich Hospital in the early 18th century, and were built as a naval counterpart for the army’s Chelsea Hospital. This closed in 1869, although the foundation that ran the hospital still exists and owns the freehold to Greenwich Market.

The Royal Naval College opened in 1874. It moved to Dartmouth, south Devon in 1998, and since then the Greenwich Foundation has opened up the previously off-limits grounds of the college to the public. It is now home to Greenwich University and Trinity Laban’s music courses.

The foundation confirmed to 853 last month that it was looking at the site’s “name and identity” but was “not yet in a position to announce any new name for the site”.

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