Last Updated on September 19, 2023

Founded in 2019, the Chelsea History Festival is a partnership between the National Army Museum,  the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Chelsea Physic Garden. Its aim is to entertain, educate and inspire  through local, national and global history.

Every year, the Chelsea History Festival brings the past to life through an immersive program of physical and virtual events, featuring a brilliant blend of storytellers  and performers from different walks of life. The festival creates a stage in Chelsea, along the historic  Royal Hospital Road, for world class speakers and authors for a celebration of history. 

Festival Dates: 26 September-1 October 2023.  

Locations: 

• Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS 

• National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HT 

• Royal Hospital Chelsea, Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4SR 

Chelsea History Festival: 2023 Highlights 

Rav Singh from the Little History of the Sikhs leading a group on a walking tour outside the National Army Museum
Rav Singh from the Little History of the Sikhs leading a group on a walking tour outside the National Army Museum. Credit Chelsea History Festival.

Past Meets Present 

On Tuesday 26 September, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander NATO Europe and Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, will share his unique  perspectives into threats facing the United Kingdom today.

On Thursday 28 September, journalists  Caroline Wyatt and Jerome Starkey will discuss the challenges of reporting from war zones and  reveal how this vital work is being conducted today. 

On Saturday 30 September, historian Robert Lyman and former Chief of General Staff Lord Dannatt will delve into the captivating reasons behind the British Army’s journey from success to failure in between the two World Wars.

On Sunday 1 October, Justin Maciejewski, director of the National Army Museum, Chris Parker  MBE and Colonel Peter MacMullen MBE will discuss their involvement in one of the British Army’s  biggest war-fighting operations since the Second World War.  At the National Army Museum, discover the new Army at Home gallery opening, which  explores the role of the British Army on home soil in times of war and peace. 

Explore Chelsea  

This year, the Explore Chelsea Festival will celebrate the 350-year anniversary of the Chelsea Physic Garden with  free open days on Saturday 30 September and Sunday October. Visitors will discover the newly refurbished glasses houses, and enjoy a range of family activities including pond dipping, planting and  storytelling. 

To mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher Wren, the Royal Hospital Chelsea will  host tours of the iconic building, along with a performance by the Chapel Choir and the Wren Players,  who will play the music of Henry Purcell.  

On Sunday 1 October, former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman will share his unique perspective on  Chelsea’s development from village to global center for music, fashion, art and culture during the  1960s and 1970s. 

Enjoy the festival’s walking tours of the neighborhood, including a tour exploring Chelsea’s role in  the punk movement on Friday 29 September and Sunday 1 October, and a tour highlighting the  hidden military history of Chelsea, bringing to life some of its stories on Friday 29 September. 

New Perspectives 

On Thursday 28 September, Alison Weir, bestselling historical Tudor fiction novelist and leading  British historian, will present an original retelling of the life of Henry VIII, viewed from the King’s  perspective. Later that day, leading historian and biographer Simon Heffer will uncover the iconic  social, political and cultural events that shaped the years between the First and Second World Wars. 

On Friday 29, bestselling author David Reynolds will explore how Winston Churchill was influenced  by his ‘great contemporaries’ over the course of his unique career. That same day, renowned travel  expert Michael Palin will share the life and tragic death of his great-uncle Harry. A veteran of the First  World War, Harry’s extraordinary life was unknown until Michael began researching his family history. 

On Saturday 30 September, historian Joya Chatterji will offer a thrilling survey of the history of South  Asia, looking at how politics, food, leisure and household traditions have shaped the continent.  Additionally, writer, editor and journalist Alan Philps will investigate Stalin’s efforts to influence and  constrain British and American reporters during the Second World War. 

Rising Stars 

On Wednesday 27 September at the Chelsea Physic Garden, Honor Cargill-Martin will reveal the  true story of Messalina, one of the Roman Empire’s most powerful women.

The Royal Hospital will  host Estelle Paranque, who will explore the story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici on Friday 29  September. At the National Army Museum on Saturday 30 September, Rosie Harte will share what  royal fashion can reveal about the position and personalities of the British monarchy. 

Family fun 

Returning for the third year is History Street, an interactive outdoor experience taking visitors into  London’s past, from ancient history through to the present day. Expert living historians, alongside service military units and local cultural organizations, will come together to bring the history of London  back to life. 

The program will also offer a range of free events, including performances by the Band of the  Welsh Guards, The Chelsea Pensioner Singers, and the South London Jazz Orchestra. The  Chelsea Pensioner Pace Sticking Team will also put on a first-class display of this unique military  sport. 

About Chelsea Physic Garden 

Chelsea Physic Garden is London’s oldest botanic garden. Founded in 1673, it turned 350 in 2023. It  has been a teaching garden for all of these 350 years and the core principles of discovery, learning  and wellbeing are still realised today through its charitable activities.

Within the Garden visitors can  find over 4500 species of edible, useful and medicinal plants that help to tell the story of humanity’s  relationship with plants. The Garden is an independent charity which relies on public support to ensure  it can achieve its purpose of education and public access.

Chelsea Physic Garden offers a year-round  program of educational activities, walks, talks, tours and workshops. 

About Royal Hospital Chelsea 

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is the home of the iconic veterans of the British Army, the Chelsea  Pensioners. We offer excellent accommodation, comradeship and the highest standards of care in  recognition of their loyal service to the nation. Any former soldier of the British Army over the age of 65,  who is facing spending their advanced years alone, can apply for residence as a Chelsea Pensioner. 

Some 300 army veterans live at the Royal Hospital today, including those who have served in Korea,  the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and World War II. Others may not have served in  campaigns, but all understand what it means to be a soldier and the potential sacrifice that it entails. 

The Royal Hospital is a Grade I and II listed site, a beautiful architectural legacy left to us by Charles II  and Sir Christopher Wren. Maintenance of the site continues today with ongoing restoration work to  ensure that this legacy lives on into the future.

About National Army Museum 

The National Army Museum is a leading authority on the British Army and its impact on society past and  present. Offering free admission to all, we examine the Army’s role from the British Civil Wars to the  modern day. Through our collections we preserve and share stories of ordinary people with  extraordinary responsibilities. We explore the role of the Army and its relevance today.

The National  Army Museum is a fun, interactive space for all the family. Our engaging museum experience reaches  out to all. We want to connect the British public with its army, regardless of age, gender, race and religion. We showcase the breadth and depth of our collections in new and engaging ways and explore  thoughts and ideas as well as real stories of real people.

Author

  • Chadd Scott

    Chadd Scott is an arts contributor with Forbes and the founder of See Great Art, where he writes about his travels from big city museums to small town galleries in search of great art.

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