The Royal Charter of William and Mary dated 25 October 1694 established the Royal Hospital for Seamen (latterly known as Greenwich Hospital) as a home for retired seamen of the Royal Navy, and to provide support for seamen's widows and education for their children, and the improvement of navigation. The first Pensioners arrived at Greenwich in 1705. By the end of the century there were more than 2,000 pensioners living there.
With changing social conditions, and after more than 20,000 ex seamen had passed through the Hospital's care, the last Pensioner left in 1869. The Hospital then devoted its resources to paying pensions and educating children. It still pays charitable annuities today and provides sheltered housing for eligible elderly seafarers and substantial grants to naval charities. At present the main beneficiary is the Royal Hospital School which was founded in Greenwich in 1712 and moved to Holbrook, near Ipswich, in 1933.
The Royal Naval College used the Hospital's original buildings at Greenwich from 1873 until July 1998. The Hospital then gave a 150-year lease to the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College, a charity established to take responsibility for preserving, finding new uses for, and encouraging public access to the Royal Hospital site. The buildings once used by the Royal Hospital School in Greenwich were taken over by the National Maritime Museum in 1934.
After more than 300 years, we continue to enjoy royal interest through our patron, HRH The Duke of York, and we still strive to follow the spirit of our original Charter:- `The reliefe and support of seamen serving on board the shipps or vessells belonging to the Navy Royall who by reason of Age, Wounds or other disabilities shall be uncapable of further service at sea and being unable to maintain themselves.
And for the Sustentation of the Widows and the Maintenance and Education of the Children of seamen happening to be slain or disabled. Also for the further reliefe and Encouragement of seamen and Improvement of Navigation.'
As a unique Crown body, we are governed also by the Greenwich Hospital Acts 1865 to 1996, which have been passed over the years to reflect changing social circumstances and the evolution of the Hospital. We do not fall under the requirements of the Charities Acts of 1992 or 2006, nor the jurisdiction of Charity Commissioners, but we do try to follow the best practices in the charity sector while meeting the requirements of our own Acts.