Standing in front of the modern exterior of the National Army Museum it is hard to believe that this was the home of Britain's first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Appointed by George I, the two governed England surprisingly well in bad Latin, as one spoke no English and the other no German or French.
George II detested Walpole but his wife Queen Caroline of Aspach persuaded the King to retain him. He entertained the Queen and her children in the greenhouse shown here in 1729. During George II frequent absences abroad Walpole and the Queen ran the country. Much state business was conducted at Chelsea, so much so that Walpole was nicknamed the Chelsea Monarch. Later Walpole became as adept at managing the monarch mainly through George's many mistresses.
The house was built in 1690 and remodelled by Sir John Vanbrugh. The Crown acquired it in the early 19th century. Sir John Soane incorporated parts of the old mansion in his Infirmary for the Royal Hospital. Walpole's drawing room became Ward 7 complete with the splendid original white marble fireplace.
The Infirmary was hit by a land mine on 16 April 1941, many lost their lives and the building was largely destroyed.
The National Army Museum now stands on the site. The building, designed by William Holford & Partners, was started in 1961 and completed ten years later. The museum tells the story of the British Army from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 to peace keeping in the 21st century. Extensive collections, models and reconstructions help visitors to share the soldier's experience.
Two of the most popular attractions are the huge model of the Battle of Waterloo and a recreated WWI trench. Currently the galleries are being extensively reorganised.
Outside two canons can be seen. In front of the building is a Blomefield Pattern Siege gun in use in the Peninsular War (1800-1814) to penetrate rammed earth. The canon at the entrance was used in Siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War (1854-1856) against formidable Russian fortifications.
Directions: Continue to walk along Royal Hospital Road until you reach the Royal Hospital.
The Orangery, Walpole House in 1830, a watercolour by Elizabeth Guston
The entrance to the National Army Museum in 2006