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The Tulip Staircase Ghost by Priyanka ,  Aug 19, 2013
The 17th-century Queen’s House represents a turning point in English architecture. It was originally the home of Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria. It now showcases the Museum's outstanding fine-art collection and provides a unique and beautiful venue for weddings, corporate and private events.

History of the Queen's House


The Queen's House, Greenwich, was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I (reigned 1603–25). James was often at the Tudor Palace of Greenwich, where the Old Royal Naval College now stands – it was as important a residence of the early Stuart dynasty as it had been for the Tudors. Traditionally he is said to have given the manor of Greenwich to Anne in apology for having sworn at her in public, after she accidentally shot one of his favourite dogs while hunting in 1614.

17th and 18th centuries

Greenwich and London from One Tree Hill.Greenwich and London from One Tree Hill.In 1616 Anne commissioned Inigo Jones (1573–1652), who had risen to fame as a designer of court entertainments and was appointed Surveyor of the King's Works the following year, to design a new pavilion for her at Greenwich. It was apparently a place of private retreat and hospitality and was also designed as a bridge over the Greenwich to Woolwich Road, between the palace gardens and the Royal Park.

James I, 1566-1625James I, 1566-1625Jones had recently spent three years in Italy studying Roman and Renaissance architecture. It was his first important commission and the first fully Classical building seen in England. Though generally called Palladian in style, its prime model was the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano, by Giuliano de Sangallo.

Anne of DenmarkAnne of DenmarkWork stopped on the House in April 1618 when Anne became ill: she died the following year. It was thatched over at first floor level and building only restarted when James's son Charles I gave Greenwich to his queen, Henrietta Maria (daughter of Henri IV of France), in 1629. It was structurally completed in 1635. Reflecting Renaissance ideas of mathematical, Classical proportion and harmony, the House's design was revolutionary in Britain at a time when even the best native building was still in red-brick, Tudor-derived style.

Leading European painters - including Jordaens and Orazio Gentileschi - were commissioned to provide decorative ceiling panels and other art works, and Classical sculpture was provided from the collection Charles had purchased en bloc from the Gonzaga dukes of Mantua. Of this original splendour all that survives in the House is the 'grotesque' style painted ceiling of the Queen's Presence Chamber, the ironwork of the 'tulip stairs' (the first centrally unsupported spiral stair in Britain), the much discoloured but original painted woodwork of the Hall, and its finely laid 1635 marble floor.

Gentileschi's ceiling panels, much altered, survive in Marlborough House, London, since Queen Anne allowed their removal in the early-18th century.

Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609-69Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609-69Henrietta Maria had little time to enjoy the House. The Civil War broke out in 1642 shattering the Stuart idyll. Always an object of suspicion because of her Catholicism, the Queen went into exile in France and Charles was beheaded in 1649, his property being seized and dispersed by the Commonwealth regime (1649–60). The House lost its treasures and became an official government residence. It however survived, while the Tudor palace on the riverside fell into decay.

Charles I (1600-1649)Charles I (1600-1649)After his restoration to the throne (1660), Henrietta Maria's son, Charles II, refitted the House for her temporary use in 1662 before she moved to Somerset House, though she died in Paris in 1669. His principal changes were the addition of two upper 'bridge' rooms to east and west over the road. This produced a square plan on the first floor, rather than the original 'H' of two separate blocks either side of the roadway only connected by a central first-floor bridge.

A Mediterranean brigantine wrecked on a rocky coastA Mediterranean brigantine wrecked on a rocky coastFrom 1673 studio space in the House was allocated to the Willem van de Veldes, father and son Dutch marine artists.

They came to England at the invitation of Charles and founded the English school of marine painting. Find out more about the van de Veldes in the Art of the van de Veldes gallery in the Queens' House.

The House continued to be used for various Royal 'grace-and-favour' residential purposes in the 18th century, when the replacement of most of its original windows with Georgian sashes gave it its modern external appearance.

19th century to present day

In 1805, George III granted the Queen's House to the Royal Naval Asylum - a charity caring for and educating the orphan children of seamen. This moved to Greenwich from Paddington the following year and eventually became part of the Royal Hospital School, which itself moved to Suffolk in 1933.

Playing cricketSchoolboys playing cricket in front of the Queen's House, c.1898

In 1807–12, to meet the need for dormitories, classrooms and other facilities, the architect Daniel Asher Alexander added the Colonnades and immediately flanking wings which still frame the House in its modern role as the 'jewel in the crown' of the National Maritime Museum which took over in 1934.

Staircase in the Queen's HouseStaircase in the Queen's House The House was first restored to something approaching its 1660s form and was fitted out to display the Museum's early collections in 1933–37. Further major restoration, including of all its services, was completed in 1990 with additional work in 1998–99.

The last included replacement of an unimportant 18th century service stairway with a new public stair and lift connecting basement, ground and first floor, augmenting the original 'tulip stairs' on the Hall (north) side.

From 1990 to 1998 the upper floor of the House was partly refitted as and furnished to give an impression of its use as a Royal residence of the 1670s, and to display the NMM's early art collection. It was also increasingly used as a place for appropriate events and corporate entertainment (analogous to some of its original courtly functions).

Images of Seapower, Queen's HouseImages of Seapower, Queen's House Images of Seapower, Queens HouseImages of Seapower, Queens House Since 2001 the House has been reorganised to showcase the Museum's fine-art collection, with an ongoing programme of displays and temporary exhibitions, including contemporary work. It has an active events and education programme and continues in its successful role as a place for corporate and private entertainment.

The Great Hall and Tulip Stairs

Closures: Parts or all of the Queen's House may occasionally be closed. Please see Latest visitor information for details of all closures.

Actress in the Great HallActress in the Great Hall Repro ID F3449-1

Surviving splendours

The whole of the Queen's House is of major architectural importance. England’s first Classical building, finished in 1638, it was designed by Inigo Jones, following study in Italy of Roman and Renaissance architecture. Of its original splendour all that now survives is the 'grotesque’-style painted ceiling of the Queen’s Presence Chamber, the ironwork of the famous Tulip Stairs, the painted woodwork of the Great Hall and its finely-laid marble floor.

The Great Hall

The first room that visitors would have come into was the visually-stunning Great Hall, a huge perfect cube (40 x 40 ft) that rises through the centre of the House’s north side. The design of the whole House and the Great Hall in particular reflects Renaissance ideals of mathematical, classical proportion and harmony. Probably the most striking feature of the Great Hall is the geometrically-patterned black-and-white marble floor, laid in 1635. The wooden balcony running around the Great Hall at first floor level was sometimes used by musicians.

Painted ceiling

The Great HallFloor of the Great Hall, set out for a corporate eventUnder the patronage of Charles I, the arts in Britain flourished. The Italian painter Orazio Gentileschi was commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall. This series of nine paintings, Allegory of Peace and the Arts under the English Crown, shows the female figure of Peace surrounded by 23 other women holding objects alluding to subjects that include astronomy, victory, reason, music and arithmetic. Removed in the early 18th century, the paintings (somewhat altered) now fill the hall ceiling of Marlborough House, London.

Venue hire

The magnificent Great Hall and other rooms in the Queen's House can be booked for a variety of corporate or private events including weddings. Find out more about venue hire

The Tulip Stairs

Looking up the Tulip staircase.Looking up the Tulip staircase.  The elegant Tulip Stairs in the Queen's House are the first geometric self-supporting spiral stair in Britain. Although called the 'tulip' stairs, it is thought that the stylized flowers in the wrought-iron balustrade are actually fleurs-de-lis, as this was the emblem of the Bourbon family of which Queen Henrietta Maria (wife of Charles I) was a member.

The Queen's House ghost

The Tulip Stairs are also the location of the Rev R. W. Hardy's famous 'ghost' photograph taken on 19 June 1966, which when developed revealed what appear to be two or three shrouded figures on the staircase. Find out more about the Queen’s House ghost.

Tulip Stairs

Please note: Parts or all of the Queen's House may occasionally be closed. Please see Latest visitor information for all details of closures.

Looking up the Tulip staircase.Looking up the Tulip staircase.  The elegant Tulip Stairs in the Queen's House are the first geometric self-supporting spiral stair in Britain. Although called the 'tulip' stairs, it is thought that the stylized flowers in the wrought-iron balustrade are actually fleurs-de-lis, as this was the emblem of the Bourbon family of which Queen Henrietta Maria (wife of Charles I) was a member.

The Tulip Staircase, Queens House

On Sunday 19th June 1966 a retired couple from Canada captured an extraordinary image on camera whilst visiting the Queens House in Greenwich. They took what is arguably the best known apparent photograph of a ghost. But this photograph is not the only piece of evidence that suggests The Queens House is haunted.

The Queens House was a late addition to the Palace of Greenwich (Royal Palace of Placentia - Tudor name), it was designed by Inigo Jones and commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I (reigned 1603-1625). It is said he gave her Greenwich as an apology for swearing at her in public after she accidentally shot one his dogs whilst hunting in 1614. It was as a building for private retreat and entertainment, but also to straddle the Deptford to Woolwich road that ran between the Palace Gardens and the Royal Park, thus providing a bridge for the Queen and guests enabling them to pass between the two unseen.

Work on the the Queens House started in 1616 but was short lived as the Queen fell ill in 1618 and passed away in 1619. Construction ceased when she became ill, and the building was thatched over at the first floor. It remained so for ten years, then King Charles I decided to recall Inigo Jones (1573-1652)and have it completed for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669). It was completed in 1635 and the design was considered revolutionary. She did not have long to enjoy the building before the the English Civil War started in 1642 which would lead to the execution of her husband King Charles I.

During the Civil War the Palace of Greenwich was allowed to fall into disrepair parts of it were used as a prisoner of war camp, and other parts as a biscuit factory. The Queens House, though losing its treasures, survived the Commonwealth regime and was used as an official government residence. In1657 the house used for the lying-in-state of Admiral Robert Blake.

In 1662 after the Restoration of the Monarchy and the return of Charles II, John Webb was commissioned to enlarge the Queens House for Henrietta Maria, the King's mother, whilst the Palace of Placentia was demolished and the Greenwich Hospital for Seamen built (now the Old Royal Naval College). Webb added two upper "bridge" rooms. Previously the first floor was designed as an 'H' with two blocks rooms joined by a single bridge over the roadway. The two new "bridge" rooms made the upper story into a square as the rooms also bridged the road. It is thought that Henrietta Maria used the house briefly before taking up residence in Somerset House. She died in Paris, France in 1669.

From 1673 space was provided in the House for the Dutchman Willem van de Veldes who was invited by the King to England and founded the English school of marine painting.

The Queens House became the official residence of the Ranger of Greenwich Park in 1690. Lord Romney, Park Ranger, moved the Woolwich road in 1699 to its present position between the Naval Hospital and the Park.

The Queens House was granted to the Naval Asylum School by King George III in 1805. This charity cared for and educated the orphans of seamen. They moved into the building in 1806. During 1807-1812 a series of colonades and wings were added by architect Daniel Asher to meet the needs of the charity. In 1821 it changed it's name to the Royal Hospital School. The school moved to Holbrook, Suffolk in 1933 and in 1937 The Queens House was opened as the National Maritime Museum.

In the 1980s the House was closed for six years for restoration. It re-opened in 1990. It now represents the style of the House circa 1660.

The Story Behind the Picture On Sunday 19th June 1966, the Rev R W Hardy and his wife visited the Queens House whilst on holiday from British Columbia, Canada. Around 5.00pm Rev Hardy was taking photographs of the interior of the building and after they were developed he discovered a strange hooded figure on his photograph of the Tulip Staircase. At the time the photograph was taken (between 5.15pm and 5.30pm) his wife was standing with him and confirmed there was nothing on the stair. The staircase itself was closed with a rope and 'No Admittance' sign. The Tulip staircase is thought to be the first unsupported spiral stair in Britain and dates back the earliest period of the house. The stairs are supported by a combination of support by cantilever from the walls and each stair resting on the one below.

The photograph negatives have been examined by experts at Kodak and they found no evidence of tampering or manipulation. Rev Hardy had taken the picture on a Zeiss Ikon Contina camera with a Zavar Anastigmat lens and skylight haze filter. He was using K2 daylight film. The camera was handheld, resting on a ledge and the exposure was estimated to be just over a second.

In 1967 the Hardy's returned to the Queens House and attempted to recreate the photograph with the help of Mr Brian Tremain (museums photographer). The photograph had also sparked the interest of the Ghost Club who on 24th June 1967 held a séance near the location of the Tulip Staircase but it produced little evidence of note.

Strange shadowy figures and unexplainable footsteps have been experienced in the vicinity of the Tulip Staircase by both staff and visitors. It is also suggested that a pale woman has been seen wiping blood from the bottom of the staircase which was supposedly from a maid who came over the highest banister and died at the foot of the stairs 300 years ago. It has also been said that the disembodied chanting of children can be heard within the Queens House.

Monday 20th May 2002 (9.45am):"Myself and two colleagues were talking about which breaks we were on, when something caught my eye. One of the doors (double) from the Bridge Room closed then he saw a woman and I thought at first it was the girl who does the talks at weekends, then realised the woman just glided across the balcony and went through the wall west side.I could not believe what I saw. I went very cold and the hairs on my arms and neck were on end. We went into the Queen's Presence Room and looked down toward the old Queen's Bedroom, and something passed through the ante-room and out through the wall. My two colleagues did also feel cold at that time.The lady was dressed in a white-grey colour, old fashioned, something like a crinoline type dress." - Tony Anderson, Gallery Assistant, Queens House.

There had been stories about this area being haunted for many years. Ghostly footsteps, children’s voices and banging doors are often reported. There have also been further reports of ghostly figures, one apparition mopping up blood from the foot of the stairs. It is said that a maid was thrown from the top and fell fifty feet.