Queen’s House

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Things to do


Date of travel

October, 2016

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Inigo Jones designed extravaganzas at the Stuart court but when it came to buildings he could be the epitome of restraint. Four hundred years on and the house he designed for royal domesticity at Greenwich is a model of Palladian elegance.

We have always enjoyed visiting the Queen’s House, either for its own sake or as part of a day in Greenwich Park or after an exhibition in the National Maritime Museum. Since it was presented with the restored Armada portrait, for us its finest artistic treasure, we had to go again.

It was a squally day, so parking within easy walking distance was essential. Whether £2.40 an hour at a meter or £2.50 in the car park opposite the entrance is to be preferred depends entirely on weather conditions or fitness, although the meters take 20p coins for five-minute intervals and the car park deals only in full hours. There is no other choice.

We chose the car park and almost made it to the entrance before being caught by a sharp shower. Although the curved staircase suggests a way in the door is in fact at ground level. A spiral staircase inside takes visitors up to the spectacular black and white entrance hall. This bridges what was once a road from Greenwich to Woolwich, diverted some years after the house was built and now replaced by two colonnades to wings of the Royal Maritime Museum.

The house is now arranged to present a variety of aspects of seafaring and court life, sometimes coalescing as with the future James II or Elizabeth’s seadogs. Models and sailors’ designs in threadwork or primitive art support a folk tradition beside the courtly portraits and grand seascapes. All of history’s wars are on display. Some of the artists are also to be found in the National or Tate galleries. We were delighted to see an Alfred Wallis, well-represented both at the Tate and Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

We had our aim but no reason to ignore a range of interest, all of which is worth a good deal of attention. Having recently take the ferry to Spain it was poignant to see war damage to Portsmouth in a painting of a naval vessel leaving harbour. The Arctic convoy was also commemorated as were images of the claustrophobic submariners’ quarters.

From our point of view the exhibits offered a progression towards the royal audience chamber, where Tudor and Stuart portraits hang with the Armada image facing the door so nobody can enter without meeting the gaze of Elizabeth I. Easy to imagine the terror she once inspired in any who displeased her. The ships give it the name but they are distant wisps beyond the cascade of bling that encases the queen. She can hardly be said to wear it. Apart from its magnificence it is like nothing so much as a fairground frame people put their heads through for photographs or to have wet sponges thrown at them – not that even the most diehard iconoclast would get away with making an Aunt Sally of Elizabeth.

A good time spent on the portrait doesn’t detract from the other royalty, or another of Elizabeth: it is simply that there is nothing like it. At the opposite extreme I could see as equally iconic mock-Trump images from Jeremy Paxman’s TV documentary on the US presidential election.

We could have spent longer but – apart from parking fees – there was a journey home to be considered. Next time there will be an opportunity for the park with Flamsteed House, the original Royal Observatory, and perhaps the Maritime Museum, where Emma Hamilton figures in a new exhibition. Of course there is also the restored Cutty Sark around the corner.

The inevitable shop and refreshments are in the museum, housed in a new wing that is well presented. Whether or not they represent value for money, the museum and the Queen’s House with free admission certainly do.


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