Until the 17th Century the state made no specific provision for old and injured soldiers. Care for the poor and sick was provided by the religious foundations. Most of this provision ended following the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII.
In 1681 King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to care for those ‘broken by age or war’. The provision of a hostel rather than the payment of pensions was inspired by Les Invalides in Paris.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building. The chosen site was adjacent to the River Thames at Chelsea. In 1692 work was finally completed and the first Chelsea Pensioners were admitted in February. By the end of March the full complement of 476 were in residence. In March 2009, the first women in the Hospital’s 317 year history were also admitted as Pensioners.
Within the hospital and in the surrounding area, Chelsea Pensioners are encouraged to wear a blue uniform but for ceremonial occasions the distinctive scarlet coats are worn. Then the pensioners wear their medal ribbons and the insignia of rank they reached while serving in the military. In general the Pensioners are entitled to come and go from the Royal Hospital as they please when they are permitted to wear civilian clothing wherever they travel.
The Royal Hospital Founder’s Day takes place close to 29 May each year, which is the birthday of Charles II and also the date of his restoration as King in 1660. It is also known as Oak Apple Day, as it commemorates the escape of the future King following defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he hid in an oak tree to avoid capture. On Founder’s Day, the pensioners of the Royal Hospital are reviewed by a member of the British Royal Family.
The on-site museum details the history and life of the Royal Hospital and its Pensioners together with displays of artefacts, documents, medals, cap badges and uniforms. Daily walking tours of the site and museum, led by Chelsea pensioners themselves, can be booked in advance. The South Grounds of the Royal Hospital are also used for large-scale public events including the world famous Chelsea Flower Show.
For further details go to http://www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk/
For your London Vacation Rental go to www.chsrentals.com/london