PortCities London

Training ships on the River Thames

Thames Nautical Training College, HMS Worcester

Thames training ship proposed

Worcester training ship.
View full size imageThe training ship HMS Worcester. © NMM

After the introduction of competency examinations in 1851 it became clear that there was a need for pre-sea training for officers in the royal and merchant services. A training ship already existed on the Mersey called the Conway, so William Bullivant, a London merchant and Richard Green, a Blackwall shipbuilder, proposed a similar vessel for the Thames.

SV 'Cutty Sark' and HMS 'Worcester'.
View full size imageThe tea clipper Cutty Sark (1869) with HMS Worcester stationed to her right. © NMM

By 1861 the Admiralty had agreed to lend the Worcester, a 50-gun frigate, as a training ship. The Thames Marine Officer Training School was opened the following year with 18 cadets.

Several vessels succeeded her, but they all retained the name Worcester. The ship was initially stationed at Blackwall Reach, but was moved to Erith and then Greenhithe in 1871.

Cutty Sark acquired

The 'Cutty Sark' (1869) being towed by tug 'Muria' on the Thames.
View full size imageThe Cutty Sark (1869) being towed by tug Muria on the Thames. © NMM

By 1920 the College had about 200 cadets and Ingress Abbey was purchased providing a permanent shore base. It had offices, a sick room, laundry, playing fields and a swimming pool.

In 1938 the Cutty Sark was acquired by the College and berthed alongside the Worcester. She was used as a boating station until she was given to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society in 1953.

During the Second World War, the College was evacuated to Foots Cray Place, near Sidcup and the Worcester was used as a training base by the Royal Navy. The vessel, the ex-Frederick William, was in such poor repair that she was only kept afloat by a large salvage pump.

She was handed back after the war, but soon a new vessel, the former Exmouth, was lent to the College. There was a great demand for cadets throughout the 1940s and 1950s. But with the decline in British shipping in the 1960s, the demand waned. The College closed in 1968 and Ingress Abbey became the site of the Merchant Navy College, which itself closed twenty years later.

Old Boys Association

“The Dog Watch”, Easter 1946.
View full size imageThe Dog Watch, Easter 1946. © NMM

Although the College no longer exists, there is a thriving old boys’ association, The Association of Old Worcesters, established in 1887. All former cadets who served at least six terms are eligible for membership.

The experiences of many of the ex-Worcesters are described in the College’s magazine Dog Watch, which was issued from the ship.

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