Inventory Site Record

Royal Hospital Chelsea, including Ranelagh Gardens, South Ground and Burton's Court * (Kensington & Chelsea)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

The Royal Hospital was founded in 1682 as an almshouse for army veterans. The site was selected by Christopher Wren, the King's Surveyor-General of Works, and paid for by Sir Stephen Fox, former Paymaster-General. The hospital land was added to under James II but in the reign of William III almost a third was made over to the Earl of Ranelagh. Part of his estate became famous pleasure gardens, Ranelagh Gardens, but later bought back by the Hospital's Board of Commissioners. Wren's formal gardens to the river were lost when the Thames was embanked between 1850-68. Ranelagh Gardens was laid out as a public park by John Gibson in 1860. In 1846 Royal Hospital Road was constructed, cutting off Burton's Court from the main site, whose northern boundary of St Leonard's Terrace has the main entrance gates to the Hospital approached by Royal Avenue, originally laid out to communicate with what was then the King's private road. South Ground is sports facilities managed by the local authority, and has been the location for the Chelsea Flower Show.

Practical Information
Site location:
Chelsea Bridge Road/Chelsea Embankment/Royal Hospital Road
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Kensington & Chelsea
Open to public?
Opening times:
Grounds: Mon-Sat 10am/Sun 2pm; closure: April: -7.30pm/May-Aug: 8.30pm/Sept -7pm/Oct - 5pm/Nov-Mar -4.30pm. Ranelagh Gdns closed daily bet 12.45-2pm
Special conditions:
no cycling. No dogs in Ranelagh Gardens. Closed Chelsea Flower Show Week
Royal Hospital: shop, museum, café. South Grounds: tennis, football, netball, sports pavilion, toilets
Tours can be organised through Adjutant
Public transport:
Tube: Sloane Square (District, Circle). Bus: 11, 19, 22, 211, 137, 239
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.rbkc.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

The Royal Hospital was founded by Charles II in 1682 as an almshouse for veterans of the regular army who had become unfit for duty either after 20 years' service or as a result of wounds. From early days the Hospital was managed by a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Crown. The site had previously been that of a theological college founded in 1609 by James I, now ruined, and was selected by Sir Christopher Wren who as the King's Surveyor-General of Works was responsible for the new hospital's design; the site was acquired by Sir Stephen Fox, who had for many years been Paymaster-General and who controlled the Pay Office through one of his sons. Fox surrendered his commission of fourpence in the pound deducted from army pay to build the hospital and personally bought the site. Additional land was purchased in James II's reign but under William III almost a third of the Hospital property was made over to the Earl of Ranelagh, the Hospital Treasurer and part of his estate became Ranelagh Gardens, a famous pleasure garden. However Ranelagh Gardens and most of the property formerly belonging to the Hospital were subsequently bought back by the Commissioners. In fact, Lord Ranelagh's mismanagement led to a delay in completing the Hospital until 1692.

Wren's original building was a single quadrangle, Figure Court, but before it was completed enlargement was necessary in James II's reign as a result of which Wren designed Light Horse and College Courts, completing his work under William and Mary. Robert Adam made alterations largely to the interiors when he was Clerk of Works from 1765-1792. Sir John Soane was Clerk from 1807-1837 and was responsible for most of the current buildings on the outer sides of the East and West roads and for the new infirmary in the north west corner, which was later destroyed by bombing in 1941. The current infirmary was opened in 1961 by the Queen Mother. Wren had designed magnificent formal gardens but these were swept away between 1850 and 1868 when the Embankment was created.

The Ranelagh Gardens were laid out by John Gibson in c.1860 on the site of the old pleasure gardens of the same name, Ranelagh House, the Rotunda and other buildings. In 1846 Royal Hospital Road was built across the Hospital land, to the north of which is Burton's Court whose northern boundary of St Leonard's Terrace has the main entrance gates to the Hospital. This is approached by Royal Avenue (q.v.), which was originally laid out to communicate with what was then the King's private road.

Chelsea Flower Show has been held on South Ground for many years, and this area is also used for sports facilities managed by the local authority. Chelsea Adventure Playground is also in the Royal Hospital Grounds, providing a playground on Fridays, Saturdays and summer holidays for children with disabilities and special needs, run by Kidsactive, a national charity promoting play for disabled children.

Sources consulted:

See EH Register. 'The Royal Hospital Chelsea' guidebook, 2002; Susan Palmer, ‘Sir John Soane’s Garden at the Royal Hospital Chelsea’, The London Gardener, vol.9, 2003/04; RBKC Royal Hospital Conservation Area Proposals Statement

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ280780 (528047,178036)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Royal Hospital, South Grounds leased to RBKC
Site management:
Royal Hospital. South Grounds: RBKC Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces
1682; 1860
Christopher Wren; John Gibson: Ranelagh Gardens, 1860
Listed structures:
LBI: Entrance Gate/Lodges to Burton's Court; Main Hospital Building; Statue of Charles II. LBII*: North-East Range; Building and Orangery and adjacent C18th building; Lodge and Stableyard. LBII: London Gate, Gates 7 railings to Lodge; C19th east railings; C17th gate piers, C19th wellheads; Gates and Obelisk; Creek Gate Lodge; Chelsea Gate Gates and railings to Lodge.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Royal Hospital
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Borough II Importance (Ranelagh Gardens)
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Thames Policy Area
Other LA designation:
Area of Metropolitan Importance

Royal Hospital Chelsea, including Ranelagh Gardens, South Ground and Burton's Court *

Royal Hospital, Chelsea - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 07/09/18 11:19

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

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