The Dreadnought Building and its checkered past


The Dreadnought site in Greenwich has a diverse past – a stables, a hospital, a centre for tropical diseases, a film set and finally a place of learning.

The site of the Old Royal Naval College was originally that of the manor house of Bella Court, built in the 1420s.  It was rebuilt by Henry VII as Greenwich Palace but fell into disrepair during the Civil War.  Where the Dreadnought building now stands was once the Palace stables.

In the late 17th century, William III granted use of the Palace site for the Royal Hospital for Seamen - or 'Greenwich Hospital', as naval counterpart to the Royal Hospital for soldiers in Chelsea.  The building as it now stands was originally constructed (1764-68) by Greenwich Hospital as its infirmary for treating sick Greenwich Pensioners.  

A further ward (part of which is now incorporated in the Stephen Lawrence Building) was added in 1808 but was largely destroyed by a fire in 1811. Redevelopment in the mid-19th century have left the building as it appears today.

Greenwich Hospital finally closed in 1869 and the infirmary was taken over from 1870 by the (merchant) Seamen's Hospital Society.  It was renamed the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital and replaced the last of three hospital ships on the Thames. 

The Seamen's Hospital was funded by donations and the plaques in the Dreadnought building commemorate the societies and individuals who contributed towards its' running costs.  

The Hospital was closed after bomb damage during World War II - in 1940 a direct hit destroyed operating theatres and the chapel and in 1941 most of the roof was destroyed.  In 1948 the Dreadnought building was taken over by the newly created NHS and slowly refurbished.

The Dreadnought Hospital closed in 1986 and the building fell into disrepair.  During this time, sections of the building were used to film the ITV drama Bramwell.

In 1998 works began to remodel the Dreadnought building as a new main library for the University of Greenwich, with new entrances, a second floor link and its Vuillamy clock modified to work electronically.  The courtyard was covered in at ground floor level to create a reception and library space. 

In 2016 works began to transform the Dreadnought building once more into a state of the art student hub with facilities including a gym, performance space and office space.