Queen’s House in ‘London From Greenwich Place’ – William Turner 1809
Christine Riding’s passionate talk at the University of Greenwich recently, described the history of the Queen’s House in Greenwich and the ongoing efforts to refurbish and restore the past glory of the House.
The talk brought to light the challenges of restoring the identity and image of an iconic building such as the Queen’s House, that is steeped in history and has survived centuries of constant change. The core question that emerges pertains to the cause of erosion of the identity of a place, and to the subsequent efforts required to restore and reinforce a definitive identity or image.
In order to address the issues about the future of the Queen’s House, it is imperative to review its past. The house was designed by Inigo Jones in 1616 for James I‘s wife, Anne of Denmark and was eventually completed in 1635 for Henrietta Maria, Queen of Charles I. The building was to become the first example of classical architecture in Britain.
Over time the site of the Queen’s House changed from being a royal residence and retreat, to a charitable school for orphaned children of seamen and is now part of the National Maritime Museum. With each major change in ownership and function at Greenwich, the Queen’s House lost both its original identity and historical significance. Key structural alterations and additions and the loss of many original artefacts have further contributed to the weakening of cultural and definitive identity of the site.
Despite its importance in British architectural history, the house today attracts very few visitors from amongst the over two million that visit Greenwich each year. The current challenge is to re-establish the identity of the Queen’s House as a royal residence and to remind people that Greenwich was an important royal site during the Tudor and Stuart periods. The refurbishment project of the Queen’s House is thus an attempt to create a new narrative for people and to highlight the history and reason for its existence. The current renovations and new displays take inspiration from the past and will help restore the royal splendour of the house to give it an image of an inhabited place.
The Queen’s House will hopefully be brought back to life through these efforts and will be seen teeming with visitors soon.