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Training ships on the River Thames

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President and Exmouth

The Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve

HMS 'President'.
View full size imageHMS President. © NMM
In 1903 the Naval Forces Act established the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). This was a group of civilian volunteers who supplemented the Royal Navy in times of need. The drillship of the London Division was HMS President.

The RNVR played an important role in both World Wars. For example, it supplied more than three quarters of the Navy’s personnel (about 500,000 men) during the Second World War. In response to the growing size of the division, HMS President was joined by HMS Chrysanthemum in the 1930s.

Training centre at Tower Bridge

HMS President, 1911-1921, moored off the Embankment.
View full size imageHMS President moored off the Embankment, c. 1920. © NMM

Both ships were sold in 1988 and the Division was moved to a purpose-built training centre by Tower Bridge, a former P&O London ferry terminal.

The London Division now has more than 370 officers and ratings and is one of the country's largest. HMS President can still be seen moored off Embankment, where it is now used as a restaurant.

HMS Exmouth

The Exmouth at Grays, 10 Feb 1895.
View full size imageThe training ship Exmouth at Grays, during the 'big freeze' of February 1895. © NMM

HMS Exmouth was loaned by the Admiralty for use as a training ship for poor boys in 1876. The cadets were often from families that had been placed in workhouses, having fallen on hard times. 

The Exmouth replaced the previous training ship at Grays, HMS Goliath. This was destroyed by fire in 1875, killing 19 cadets. Exmouth’s first commander, Staff Commander Bouchier, survived the blaze.

The Training Ship Exmouth.
View full size imageThe Training Ship Exmouth. © NMM

The first Exmouth, built in 1840, saw more than 30 years service in the Navy. She had accommodation for 750 boys and staff, who were usually former members of the Royal Navy. The ship was run along naval lines with regular inspections. But by 1903, Exmouth was felt to be too old for service and she was replaced by a new, purpose-built vessel.

This ship remained in service until the outbreak of war in 1939. The boys were moved inland, while the Exmouth was taken over by the Admiralty for use as a depot ship.

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