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Training ships on the River Thames

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'Warspite' boys singing, accompanied by the vessel’s mascot.
View full size imageWarspite boys accompanied by their mascot. © NMM
Training ships have existed on the River Thames since 1786, when the Marine Society opened the world’s first one, the Beatty

Within 100 years, there were another seven ships on the Thames alone, with others scattered across the country. The most famous training ship was the Conway, on the River Mersey, in Liverpool.

Ready for a life at sea

HMS 'Worcester' cadets spanning the yards.
View full size imageHMS Worcester cadets spanning the yards. © NMM
The ships were designed to provide boys with an education that would prepare them for life at sea. Cadets were taught the basics of seamanship – 'learning the ropes' - as it was known in the age of sailing ships.

The hope was that when they left the ships, they would be able to find work either in the Royal Navy, or on a merchant vessel. 

While on board, the cadets also received the same basic schooling as their friends attending normal schools on land.

Vital for defence

Marine Society recruitment advertisement, c. 1905.
View full size imageMarine Society recruitment advertisement, c. 1905. © NMM

As Britain relied so heavily on its fleet for both trade and defence, there were constant worries that there might not be enough trained seamen to man the ships.

These fears were greater during time of war. The idea behind the training ships was that there would be a steady flow of recruits available for the Navy, if needed.

Helping the poor?

The first training ships were set up to help the poor, and many of their recruits were orphans.

'Worcester' training ship.
View full size imageWorcester training ship. © NMM
Some recruits were attracted by the idea of a life at sea. For many, however, the fact that they would be clothed, fed and housed was important. 

The later ships, such as the Worcester, tried to provide a better standard of education, with the aim of producing officers for the Navy.

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