PortCities London

Training ships on the River Thames

Arethusa and Fame

Shaftesbury and the 'Arethusa'

The Arethusa was a training ship established by Lord Shaftesbury in 1874, to join her sister ship, Chichester, at Greenhithe. He was a campaigner for social reform, and ran shelters for homeless children in London.

Shaftesbury viewed training ships as a way of securing a trade for boys who would otherwise have had little education or future. He appointed a shipping agent, with the aim of finding places on board suitable ships for his boys, mainly in the Royal Navy.

The Arethusa remained at Greenhithe until 1931, when she was replaced by a new vessel, Peking. But the Port of London Authority was worried by the competition between the training ships on the Thames. They ordered this new ship, renamed Arethusa, to leave her mooring, and a new home was found for her near Rochester, on the River Medway.

Fame and the Greenwich Hospital School

Royal Hospital School Greenwich
View full size imageFame at the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich. © NMM

A slightly different establishment to the others, Fame was a land-based training vessel. She was used by the boys of the Greenwich Hospital School to provide them with experience of life at sea. Their training ranged from how to climb the rigging, to knot tying and setting a sail.

The school had close links to the sea, having been set up to care for the children of sailors. It moved from Greenwich in 1933 and its original buildings now house the National Maritime Museum.

Boys from the Royal Hospital School exercising by the training ship Fame.
View full size imageBoys from the Royal Hospital School exercising by the training ship Fame. © NMM

In 1841, after the girls’ section of the school had been closed, the boys were provided with their own ship to practise on. Fame was built in sections in the grounds of the school, and lasted until 1860. Then she was declared unsafe and the boys were banned from going on board.

Royal Hospital School boys on the training ship Fame.
View full size imageBoys from the Royal Hospital School Greenwich going through their drills on the training ship Fame. © NMM

A second vessel was built from timbers salvaged from the ship. This served until 1870, when a specially designed vessel was installed. The boys manned the ship in watches, sleeping in hammocks and taking their meals on board. 

This final version of Fame lasted until 1933, when the school left Greenwich for Holbrook in Suffolk. The ship was broken up but her stern plate, and her beak, bowsprit and figurehead of 'Fame' blowing a trumpet, were saved. The bow and figurehead of 'Fame' (restored again in 2008) is on the south end of the rifle range at Holbrook, looking out across the Royal Hospital School playing fields and River Orwell beyond. The stern, complete with its Greenwich Hospital arms and ‘gingerbread’, was purchased for the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, USA, where it too can still be seen.