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Training Ship Ensigns, United Kingdom

Last modified: 2005-03-19 by rob raeside
Keywords: training ships |
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Between 1856 and 1986 the hulls of obsolete wooden warships at permanent moorings in harbours and rivers around Britain, were used as training ships. They were originally established to provide further education and nautical training to boys who had left school, but were not old enough to enlist in the Royal Navy, or obtain employment in the Merchant Navy. Some charged a fee, some were subsidised by ship-owners, some were run by charitable societies for the benefit of paupers and orphans, and some were organised by local authorities as reformatories for juvenile delinquents. Many of them, and some similar establishments on shore, had distinctive ensigns. They included:

David Prothero, 25 August 2003

See also:

Training Ship Arethusa

[Training Ship Arethusa Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 20 October 2003

Blue Ensign of Training Ship Arethusa.

Lord Shaftesbury (7th Earl) founded the National Refuge for Homeless and Destitute Children known as Shaftesbury Homes, and in 1866 persuaded the Admiralty to lend him a frigate, Chichester, so that some destitute children might be trained for employment at sea. Chichester was moored at Greenhithe on the south bank of the lower Thames. Additional accommodation was needed, and in 1874 another frigate, Arethusa, was acquired and moored astern of Chichester. The Admiralty are said to have issued a warrant in 1877 for both ships to fly a Blue Ensign though it is not clear whether it was for a plain or a defaced ensign, and if defaced, what badge was used. Arethusa was said, in 1927, to have flown a plain Blue Ensign and Union Jack as jack since 1874. The Captain Superintendent claimed that King's Regulations entitled him to do so as he was a retired naval officer in the Reserve, and his staff included reservists in excess of the minimum qualification. This was not correct as a warrant was required even if the qualifications for a Blue Ensign were met. Demand for merchant seamen fell as steam ships replaced sailing ships, and Chichester was returned to the Admiralty in 1889.

An Admiralty warrant dated 31 December 1927 was issued for Arethusa to fly a Blue Ensign with TS ARETHUSA in white. As with Worcester, the style and position of the letters was not recorded, so the appearance of the ensign is supposition. By 1933 Arethusa had deteriorated beyond repair and was replaced by the ex-German nitrate carrier Peking, which was converted and moored on the River Medway at Upnor in Kent. The ship was renamed Arethusa and a new warrant issued on 18 July 1933 for the same ensign to be flown on the replacement ship. In 1940 the ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty and reverted to her old name Peking. After the war the ship was returned to the Shaftesbury Society and reverted to the name Arethusa. The school was closed in 1974 and the ship bought by an American consortium that converted her into a museum ship. She is, I understand still afloat at the South Street Seaport Museum, New York, with her original name Peking.

David Prothero, 20 October 2003

[Training Ship Arethusa Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 11 March 2004

[Training Ship Arethusa Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 11 March 2004

Henryk Matysiak, the Honorary Treasurer of the Arethusa Old Boys' Association has provided a picture of the badge. By 1956 a Blue Ensign with a badge had replaced the Blue Ensign authorised in 1927. It was the ship's ensign until 1974, and is still used at formal ceremonies of the Old Boys' Association, "and sadly at funerals of shipmates that have passed away".

David Prothero, 11 March 2004

Training Ship Conway

[Training Ship Conway Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 20 October 2003

Blue Ensign of Training Ship Conway, the school ship of the Liverpool Mercantile Marine Association.

1859. The school was established on a small frigate, the Conway, moored in the Mersey at Rock Ferry, Birkenhead.

1861. Replaced by larger frigate Winchester which was renamed Conway, while the original Conway was renamed Winchester and use as an RNR drill ship at Aberdeen.

By 1875 the second Conway was too small and was replaced by the Nile built in 1839 as a 92 gun Ship of the Line. She was renamed Conway, while the second Conway, which had been Winchester, was renamed Mount Edgecombe and went to the Devonport and Cornwall Industrial Training Ship Committee at Plymouth.

4 May 1896. Admiralty Warrant for defaced Blue Ensign; design not known.

1903. Request for plain Blue Ensign refused.

31 December 1927. Admiralty Warrant for Blue Ensign defaced with yellow castle.

1940. To avoid damage from bombing the ship was moved to a new mooring off Plas Newydd in the Menai Strait which separates Anglesey from North Wales.

1953. School was moved ashore to Anglesey after the ship ran aground and broke her back while being towed to Liverpool for a refit.

1974. School closed and ensign laid-up in Liverpool Cathedral.

David Prothero, 30 October 2003

Flag with badge of 1927

[Training Ship Conway Ensign] by Graham Bartram, 1 November 2003

This illustration is of a Ministry of Defence drawing of the ensign (based on a drawing supplied by the Conway Club), which is still in use as the authorized ensign of the Conway Club Cruising Association.
David Prothero, 1 November 2003

The "colours" of HMS Conway were laid up in Liverpool Cathedral on 11 July 1974. This appears to have been a special flag and not an ensign. No details of the design of the flag are visible in a Liverpool Post photograph of the ceremony, except that it was fringed. These colours were stolen soon afterwards, and replaced by a replica in 1976. This caused some controversy. Mr. D.G. Fletcher Rogers of the Conway Club, was quoted in the Liverpool Echo of 15 October 1976 as saying, "The stolen colours were consecrated; they had been borne by the cadets and were consequently a part of the ship's life. Anything else is just a copy. It is a matter for the Cathedral what they wish to hang there, but we consider the replica to be just bunting." The cathedral treasurer was reported as saying that the flag, although not the one presented at the special service, was an exact replica, correct in every detail, and was displayed with the full authority of the governors of the Conway.

Mr. Rogers had the "ship's last colours" which had been given to him by Lawrence Holt, a director of the Blue Funnel Line. Holt was also chairman of HMS Conway's management committee, and had rescued the ensign that was flying when the ship went aground in 1953. Three days later the paper ran an item about Mr. John Southwood, a former Conway cadet, who had approached the Ministry of Defence to see if boat-owning old boys could fly the Conway flag to perpetuate its memory. Permission was given providing that a proper yacht club was formed, and registered with the Royal Yachting Association. The club ensign was first flown later in October 1976 when the yacht Fresh Wind sailed from its moorings in the River Conway, and went via the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal, to be laid up for the winter in Northwich.

The ensign featured in the Liverpool Echo again on 6 April 1977 when an article announced that the Conway Ensign would be seen on Merseyside, after an absence of 34 years, now that the Conway Club Cruising Association was using the Royal Mersey Yacht Club facilities at Tranmere.

Details and photograph from a book of newspaper cuttings in the Flag Institute Library. It was compiled in the 1970s by Robert C'Ailceta of Bebington, Cheshire.
David Prothero, 26 November 2003

Training Ship Cornwall

[Training Ship Cornwall Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 16 September 2003

In 1859 The School Ship Society established a reformatory in the redundant ship-of-the-line HMS Cornwall moored at Purfleet on the lower Thames. She retained the name TS Cornwall until 1868 when she was transferred to a Nautical School at South Shields near the mouth of the Tyne and renamed TS Wellesley. At the same time the School at Purfleet obtained a ship built in Bombay by the East India Company. She had been HMS Wellesley but was renamed TS Cornwall. This ship was moved further down the Thames to Gravesend in 1928, where she was sunk in 1940. One of the few ships-of-the-line to be attacked by aircraft. She was raised in 1948, and some of her timbers used in the re-building of the Law Courts in London.

It is probable that a plain Blue Ensign was flown until 1927, when an Admiralty warrant was issued on 31 December for a Blue Ensign defaced with a letter C in white. In 1932 Admiral Commanding Reserves suggested that the ensign should be red, since boys from the ship were not eligible to enlist in the Royal Navy, and found employment ashore, or in the Merchant Navy.
David Prothero, 16 September 2003

Training Ship Exmouth

Blue Ensign of TS Exmouth with shield of Metropolitan Asylums Board.

[Training Ship Exmouth Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 6 September 2003

In 1875 the Metropolitan Asylums Board set up a Poor Law Training School in the 2nd rate ship of the line Exmouth, moored in the lower Thames off Grays in Essex. She replaced Goliath, another training ship that had been destroyed by fire. By the turn of the century she was unfit for further service and replaced by a new ship built of steel but similar in appearance to a ship of the line.

The first ensign of which I have found any record was granted by Admiralty Warrant on 6 January 1928. It was for a Blue Ensign defaced with the shield of the Metropolitan Asylums Board, blazoned, argent on a cross gules the rod of Aesculapius or, a bordure engrailed sable. A note added that it represented 'the red cross of medicine and ambulance work, and the golden staff of the heathen founder of the art of healing.'

The image shown here is derived solely from the description. Martin and I had originally decided that the shield would have been given a white outline, rather than a white circle, to separate the shield from the field of the ensign, but I then found and although the design of the badge is not distinguishable, it is obviously on a white circle, which would not seem necessary for the London County Council badge (below).

David Prothero, 6 September 2003

Blue Ensign of TS Exmouth with shield of London County Council.

[Training Ship Exmouth Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 6 September 2003

The Local Government Act of 1929, transferred the functions of the Board to the London County Council and an new Admiralty Warrant was issued.

"By the Commissioners for Executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.
Whereas we deem it expedient that the Training Ship Exmouth of which the Length is 300 feet, the Breadth 53 feet, the Tonnage 4,300, shall be authorised to wear the Blue Ensign of His Majesty's Fleet with the distinctive Marks of the said ship in the Fly thereof, to wit, barry wavy of six azure and argent on a chief of the last the cross of St George charged with leopard of England. The shield is ensigned with a mural crown.

We do therefore by virtue of the Power and Authority vested in us hereby Warrant and Authorise the Blue Ensign of His Majesty's Fleet with distinguishing Marks aforesaid to be worn by the said Training Ship Exmouth. This our warrant shall be recoverable at our discretion at all times, and shall determine and cease to have effect when the Ship named and described herein shall cease to be employed by the London County Council in the training of boys.

Given under our Hands and the Seal of the Office of Admiralty this Fifteenth day of April in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Thirty."

The image is based on a sketch that I made of an illustration in National Archive (PRO) ADM 1/8744/122. It had an unusual mural crown with turrets. The image is not quite right but close.

In September 1939 the school was moved on shore and the ensign lapsed. The ship was bought by the Admiralty, but she will turn up again later as the TS Worcester with a different ensign.

David Prothero, 6 September 2003

The ensign was resurrected after the war when the London Nautical School applied to the Admiralty for permission to fly it on shore at Woolverstone, Essex. Permission was granted in a letter dated 3 November 1947. [National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/20882]
David Prothero, 18 October 2003

Training Ship Foudroyant

[Training Ship Foudroyant Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 25 August 2003

Foudroyant, launched in 1793, was purchased from the Admiralty for use as a training ship, but wrecked in 1897. Trincomalee, a frigate built in Bombay, was bought to replace her, and renamed Foudroyant. She was moored, first in Falmouth, and then Milford Haven, before going to Portsmouth, where she was used in association with TS Implacable. Implacable was scrapped in 1949, but Foudroyant continued as a training ship until 1986. She was moved to Hartlepool for restoration and renamed Trincomalee in 1992. Foudroyant means Thunderer, so the badge is quite appropriate.
David Prothero, 25 August 2003

Training Ship Indefatigable

[Training Ship Indefatigable Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 22 September 2003

TS Indefatigable was established by John Clint in 1865 to provide a home and nauticaltraining for destitute and orphan boys from Liverpool. Financial assistance was provided by James Bibby, owner of the Bibby Line shipping company. The ship, built in 1848, wasone of the last wooden frigates of the Royal Navy. She was moored at Rock Ferry on the Birkenhead side of the Mersey, in the same area as two other training ships, Akbar and Conway. Another training ship, Clarence, was later moored nearby at New Ferry.

The old frigate was scrapped in 1914 and replaced by the masted cruiser Phaeton, renamed Indefatigable. She had been one of the last Royal Navy ships fitted with sails and engines. The school moved ashore in 1940, found a permanent site at Plas Llanfair, Anglesey, in 1944, and remained there until the school closed in 1995.

An Admiralty Warrant for a Blue Ensign defaced with a Liver Bird was issued 31 December 1927. The only information about the appearance of the badge was the description, 'a Liver Bird, with an ivy leaf in its beak, standing on a red and white torse'. Martin's image is derived from the badge of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club's
Blue Ensign which is a Liver Bird surmounted by a royal crown.
David Prothero, 22 September 2003

Training Ship Mars

[Training Ship Mars Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 27 August 2003

Originally an 80 gun second rate, Mars became a training ship in 1869, and was closed down in 1929. She was moored at Woodhaven, on the south side of the Firth of Tay, opposite Dundee. It was an industrial ship and run, at least in its later years, by Messrs Mackay Irons & Company. An Admiralty warrant was issued in 1927, but the ensign was probably in use before this.

I have not seen an illustration of the ensign and Martin made the image from a description, 'Blue Ensign with yellow Scottish lion'. Royal Harwich Yacht Club has a similar ensign, 'Blue Ensign with yellow lion rampant'.
David Prothero, 27 August 2003

Training Ship Mercury

Training Ship Mercury (not to be confused with HMS Mercury, the Royal Navy Signal School) was established as a nautical school by the banker Charles Hoare in 1885. The first ship, the barque Illova, was moored at Binstead, Isle of Wight, but moved in 1892 to the River Hamble, between Portsmouth and Southampton. In 1916 Illova was replaced by the former Royal Naval Reserve drill ship HMS President, built originally in 1878 as the sloop HMS Gannet, and of course renamed Mercury. The school closed in 1968, and the ship is now at Chatham Historic Dockyard very slowly being restored to the appearance she had in 1886.

For many years the ship flew a plain Blue Ensign, but on 31 December 1927 the Admiralty granted a warrant for a Blue Ensign defaced with the 'talaria of Mercury'. [NL 3309/27] Talaria were the winged sandals of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, but the precise design used for the badge is uncertain. A question on the subject will be included in the next Mercury Old Boys Association Magazine due out in the Spring.
David Prothero, 10 December 2003

Training Ship Northampton

[Training Ship Northampton Ensign] by Martin Grieve, 22 September 2003

In December 1912 the 735 ton torpedo-gunboat HMS Sharpshooter was leased from the Admiralty by the Marquess of Northampton and renamed TS Northampton. She was moored at Temple Pier on the Thames Embankment in London and used as a night school, giving technical instruction to boys of 15 to 17 who were in only casual employment.

An Admiralty letter of 27 March 1914 stated, "Northampton Training Ship permitted to wear, for a period of five years, the Blue Ensign of His Majesty's Fleet, with badge of said ship in fly; namely an anchor with an axe and a hammer crossed in the ring thereof, and the letters N and A on either side respectively, the whole surmounted by a coronet."

There is no reference to the colour of the badge, and only a black and white drawing. I have assumed that it was yellow, though it could have been white.

A minute noted, "To be supplied with plain Blue Ensign and ship to arrange addition of badge. As regards supply by contract, it would hardly appear, in view of the small probable requirement, that this is a case for inclusion in Admiralty Contract, which would involve inserting in Flag Book." [National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/8369/48]

In 1919 the ship was transferred to the Sea Scouts, but retained the name Northampton
David Prothero, 5 October 2003

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