PortCities London

The welfare of seamen

The British and International Sailors' Society

George Smith and the Port of London Society

The British and Foreign Sailor's Institute.
View full size imageThe British and Foreign Sailors' Society Institute in Shadwell. © NMM

In 1814 the Methodist preacher George Charles Smith started prayer meetings for merchant seamen in the port of London. The first recorded meeting was held on the brig Friendship in June of that year.

In 1818, the Port of London Society was set up to promote preaching to seamen in the port. In the following year, the Bethel Union Society was formed to co-ordinate the activities of several societies inspired by George Smith's activities. 

The British and Foreign Sailors' Society 

British Sailor's Society Jacks Palace.
View full size image'Jack's Palace'. © NMM
In 1833, the Port of London, Bethel Union and other societies merged to form the British and Foreign Sailors' Society. Its stated aim was the 'moral and religious improvement' of seamen.

The BFSS became an international organization with a branch in all major British ports and many representatives abroad. Eventually, it expanded its activities, and became increasingly involved in practical assistance to seafarers.

British Sailor's Society, Jack's Palace, West India Dock Road and Beccles Street, London.
View full size imageA room in 'Jack's Palace'. © NMM
Its most visible presence in London was its Residential Hostel for Marine Officers on the East India Dock Road. This opened in 1903 and soon became known as 'Jack's Palace' or the 'Sailors' Palace' because of the quality of its facilities. This fine building also housed the King Edward VII Nautical School, founded in 1902. The building still survives as private housing.

Decades before, the BFSS had built the Sailors' Rest and Institute at a site near the Millwall Docks on the Isle of Dogs.

The British and International Sailors' Society 

In 1925, the BFSS changed its name to the British Sailors' Society. Then, in 1995 it became the British and International Sailors' Society, and it still works for the 'material, moral and spiritual welfare of seafarers in ports throughout the world'.

To find out more, go to the Society's website: