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Oil Lantern, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Another hidden gem of Greenwich can be found tucked away on the Old Royal Naval College site attached to a building now used as a Student Union by the University of Greenwich. There on the wall unnoticed by most who pass it is an old oil lantern. You may ask what is so interesting about an old oil lantern? Well, this lantern was installed in the 18th century when the building was part of Greenwich Hospital and was originally lit by whale oil (1).

Saville, John. ‘Dreadnought Library’, 2011.

Whale oil was first used by humans in oil lamps and for candle wax; it was considered a liquid wax. It had the advantage of being clear and an ability to flow easily as well as burning longer with less of an odour. Whale oil is considered to be one of the first animal products to be used commercially, mass-produced and more 'affordable'. (2).

The Greenwich-based Enderby family ran a fleet of whaling ships from the 1790s until the decline of the industry due to over fishing. Enderby House which was the site of their rope factory still exists on the Greenwich Peninsula.

Hidden historical features are everywhere if you really look, can you spot one near you?


(1) Greenwich Student Union, ‘History / A New SU’, History of Dreadnought, accessed 15 March 2020,

(2) Maureen Katemopoulos, ‘History of Laterns’, History of Laterns (blog), 2010, 2,

(3) Saville, John. ‘Dreadnought Library’, 2011.

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