Trafalgar Quarters and Park Row (S)

Park Row, SE10

I bet I’m not the only person who’s walked past those lovely old railings opposite The Old Royal Naval College in Park Row on the way to Trafalgar Tavern and wondered about the rather elegant building set in neatly-clipped grounds beyond them.

A low-set, brick-built building with a colonnade of Doric pillars is set back about 15 metres from a row of pollarded limes, its windows a parade of Georgian arches. At the top of the second floor (there only seem to be two) is a very naval-looking frieze incorporating a coat of arms with sea creatures, tridents – you know the sort of thing. But those railings are far too high for even a phantom to scale unnoticed by the security guard opposite in the Naval College and those gates are always locked.

Such an elegantly simple building down such an elegantly simple street – fabulous old York Stone paving slabs, original iron street lamps and a view down to the Thames that includes the Trafalgar Tavern (not that it always looked this smart – the Trafalgar Tavern, until within living memory – not my own, I hasten to add, had a chequered history – from being a meeting place for the fashionable Victorian gent to being, in the 1930s a centre for the unemployed where, according to In the Meantime, a book by Julian Watson and Kit Gregory which I urge you to own if you don’t already, unemployed men could get a meal, play football, learn skills and mend the family’s shoes for 1d. Luxury. It then became a fire station for a bit – am I being facetious if I say that it wasn’t in the most practical of locations for that, before becoming an apartment block – which, by the way, it was when C. Day Lewis, oops, sorry, Nicholas Blake, wrote The Worm of Death.)

But I digress once again. Sorry. I had wondered if The Trafalgar Quarters still belonged to the navy, its being so very tightly buttoned up and there seeming to be no action going on at all whenever I walked past. It was beautifully maintained by an army of invisible people.

Greenwich Hospital Trust is an organisation treated with suspicion by the Good Burghers of Greenwich. To us they are the big bad landowners who drive out small individual shopkeepers with massive rent hikes and want to turn our town centre into Bluewater to make more cash.

And I must say, it don’t look good from where we’re standing. Believe me, I’m first in the queue with the letters over the market. I seriously don’t trust them further than I could throw them over the development of what we now have to call “The Island Site” (wonder when it will get a sponsor? Maybe we could call it the “T Mobile Island Site” so that another phone compnay could get in on the advertise-around-greenwich act.)

But there is a group of people who actually like these guys, and that is the Greenwich Pensioners. Yes, we still have them. But let me go back to the beginning – or at least the bit I’ve been able to winkle out. If anyone can add anything to the sketchy stuff I’ve found about this, please add away…

Trafalgar Quarters were begun in 1813 as offices and storeooms for the Royal Naval Hospital. That, of course, was when they knew how to build offices and storerooms – it’s a mini work of art in itself. It was designed by the Hospital Surveyor John Yenn, who presumably didn’t get much opportunity to make his mark on Greenwich and didn’t care to be found wanting in the history of Greenwich next to such luminaries as Sir Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones. And I reckon the boy done good. It has a Regency restraint which contrasts well to its earlier neighbours, yet manages to say something of its own too.

The coat of arms I mentioned on the frieze is, of course, the Seamen’s Hospital Arms – no wonder it looks familiar. It’s Coade Stone, of which we have a fair amount in Greenwich. I’ll talk about it another day though or this will lead to yet another digression.

Apparently there’s a courtyard inside. perhaps it will be open on Open House Day one day – but in the meanwhile, if anyone’s ever been in, do tell us about it (or even better, mail me photo…)

Apparently it became servants quarters after the Hospital closed, and because it was now for the Naval College, it was given a military name – Trafalgar “Quarters.”

The history becomes a bit murky after that – at least to the amateur eyes of a vaguely-interested-phantom. Letters in the Nautical Almanac Office relate to the use of the building in 1937 – a correspondence with Royal Obsevatory which I guess might imply it was linked with the astronomers.

It became sheltered housing in 2001, owned by Greenwich Hospital Trust; administered, by the Church of England Soldiers and Sailors and Airmens Clubs.

It has 21 one-bedroom flats and appears to be specifically for ex mariners or widowed spouses. Sadly they can’t bring their parrots as pets are not allowed. Maybe that’s the real reason for the
parrot-ical invasion in Greenwich Park…

BTW – does anyone know anything about Trident Hall? All I can find is that they don’t seem to be filing any legal documents…

3 Comments to “Trafalgar Quarters and Park Row (S)”

  1. william pearce says:

    Hi there, i’ve lived in Greenwich all my life and only just come across your web site, very interesting indeed. the reason why i email is i’ve been visiting trafalgar quarters now for a few years, after reading your comments i went in there today and took some pictures, would you like me to email some to you. Regards, Will.

  2. Will – nice to have you aboard! Of course I’d love to see pics. I’ve never been inside the gates, and I’m willing to guess neither have most of the people here. My email is on the ‘contact’ buttons at the side – either ‘ask’ or ‘tell’ the Phantom…

  3. Paul says:

    Hi not been in there but have had the pleasure of going into number 25 next door, it belongs to an aquaintance and is amazing inside outrageousley so. This apparently used to belong to the people and administrators of the hospital quarters next door and is i am pleased to say quite original still