PortCities London

Training ships on the River Thames

The Warspite

The Marine Society

View of the Warspite training ship moored at Woolwich.
View full size imageThe Warspite training ship moored at Woolwich. © NMM

The Marine Society was founded by Joseph Hanway at the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War (1756) in response to the shortage of volunteers for the Navy. As an incentive to volunteering, the Society provided the men with a complete sea uniform.

Marine Society's offices.
View full size imageMarine Society's offices at Bishopsgate Street. © NMM
The Society also took over the collection and clothing of poor boys, who were sent to the king’s ships as servants. The Society relied on donations and subscriptions made by merchants and leading members of the establishment, such as Nelson. By the end of the war, the Society had provided the navy with 5451 men and 5174 boys.


A new training ship

Minute book of the Marine Society Committee, 1862.
View full size imageMinute book of the Marine Society Committee confirming the loan of Warspite, 1862. © NMM

After the war, the Society focused its work on boys. An Act of Parliament in 1772 allowed it to apprentice poor boys to the royal and merchant services. In 1786 the Society commissioned the first pre-sea training ship in the world, the Beatty, to provide a regular supply of trained boys.

This was a small ex-merchant vessel moored off Deptford. The boys were educated while living on board. The 30 new recruits were supervized by a superintendent, mate, schoolmaster, boatswain and cook.

View of Greenwich in 1877 showing the training ship HMS Warspite.
View full size imageA view of Greenwich in 1877 showing the training ship HMS Warspite. © NMM

After several years, the Admiralty lent the Society a new vessel. In 1862, the Society was lent the first of a number of vessels named Warspite.

In 1901, Warspite was moved down the Thames to Greenhithe, ending Deptford and Woolwich's long association with the training ships.

Training ship 'Warspite' (1893).
View full size imageBoys on board the training ship Warspite (1893). © NMM

By 1940 the Warspite could accommodate up to 200 boys each year and had trained and equipped more than 35,000 boys for the navy and almost that number for the merchant service. The Warspite was decommissioned in 1940, as it was a potential target for enemy bombers.


The Society in later years

The Society continued its work with young people, offering:

  • funding to help boys with attendance at nautical college
  • uniform loans for young people 
  • financial support for maritime youth organizations.

It merged with a number of other seafarers’ charities in 1976 and continues its work promoting seafaring careers today.

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