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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
by Martin Grieve, 8 November 2003
Blue Ensign of Training Ship Warspite.
In 1856 the Marine Society, which had been formed in 1756 to encourage poor men and boys of good character to join the Navy, established a school on Warspite, a 3rd rate ship of the line, moored in the lower Thames. It was replaced by Conqueror, (originally Waterloo) which was renamed Warspite in 1876. An Admiralty letter 28 December 1877 authorised a special ensign, but the details are not known. The ship was destroyed by fire in 1918 and the school re-established in a second class cruiser Hermione (renamed Warspite) moored off Grays in Essex.
An Admiralty Warrant of 31 December 1927 authorised a Blue Ensign "defaced MARINE SOCIETY". This may initially have been just the words in white (or yellow) letters, but in 1936 the Society sent drawings of its badge to the Admiralty, so it seems fairly certain that the badge came to be used eventually. Examples of the badge vary in detail; even the two copies sent to the Admiralty are slightly different, but the general idea of Britannia encouraging a boy to a naval career is the same. The school was closed in 1940. In 1949 the Society was granted a warrant for the ketch Warspite, which it owned but chartered to the Outward Bound Sea School in Cardigan Bay.
By the Commissioners for Executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom. Whereas we deem it expedient that the Training Ketch Warspite, Length 85 feet, Breadth 17 feet, Tonnage 80 YM shall be authorised to wear the Blue Ensign of His Majesty's Fleet with the badge of the Marine Society in the Fly thereof. 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 Ketch Warspite. 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 or on behalf of the Marine Society in the training of seamen. 21 April 1949.
David Prothero, 8 November 2003
by Martin Grieve, 9 November 2003
The badge detail of TS Warspite is clearly an allegorical scene, and shows
Britannia holding a young recruit by the right hand, her outstretched left arm
pointing to a sailing ship. The lettering "MARINE SOCIETY" is placed in a
circular fashion around the picture with the date 1756 at the bottom. Note that
both the red duster and indeed, the shield are of the older format and so omit
the St Patrick saltire.
David Prothero supplied me with a black and white scan, complete with colour specifications. Prior to that, he also supplied me with a full colour version, which I just could not work with, for it was too small to make out any of the intricate details. There was one notable difference between the two which I think is worth mentioning here - on the coloured badge, Britannia appears to have a red "cape" of some description "overlapping" her shield and across her lap. On the black and white image this "cape" appears behind her shield, and falls to her feet. The Marine Society has its very own web page and at the top of this, a colour picture of their logo is depicted, which is different from the one I show here, but none the less contains the same basic elements. In this badge, Britannia stands upright, her right arm around the young recruit's shoulder, her shield being to the far right of the duo and with two dogs as supporters on the extremities of the circular badge. The badge appeared on the British blue Ensign, which David posted very recently.
More information on the
Martin Grieve, 9 November 2003
The TS Wellesley website has
obtained an accurate description of the original TS Wellesley/Wellesley Nautical
School ensign. From the description provided, the 'original' ensign would have
been as represented above. The crest appearing on the ensign is the crest of the
Duke of Wellington, who was in fact Sir Arthur Wellesley, the first Irish-born
Prime Minister of Great Britain.
B. Garnett, T.S Wellesley Forum, 4 October 2004
by Martin Grieve, 18 August 2003
T.S. Worcester. (Often referred to as HMS Worcester, a title officially
The Thames Marine Officers Training Ship Association was formed in 1862 by London ship-owners to provide training for officer cadets. The frigate Worcester, a sister ship of Trincomalee, which was used as the training ship Foudroyant, was acquired on loan from the Admiralty and moored on the lower Thames at Erith in Kent. The ship was moved down river to Southend, Essex, in 1869, then back up river to Greenhithe, Kent, in 1871. By 1876 Worcester was too small for the numbers being trained and was replaced by a larger two-decker, the Frederick William which was renamed Worcester.
The ship was granted a Blue Ensign defaced T N T C ( Thames Nautical Training College) in white on 31 December 1927. I have not seen a drawing or photograph of the ensign so the arrangement and style of letters in the image is just a guess. Use of this ensign came to an end in 1940 when the ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty.
After the war the Frederick William/Worcester was not fit to be taken back into use as a training ship, and the college took over the Exmouth, which until the war had been run as a training ship by the London County Council. She took the previous Worcester's moorings at Greenhithe, where the college had property on shore at Ingress Abbey, and was renamed Worcester.
At some time before 1968 when the college closed, Worcester was granted a Blue Ensign defaced in the fly by a letter W surmounted by a naval crown, all in yellow. In 1974 when the Old Worcester's Yacht Club was founded, the same ensign was granted to the club as a special ensign providing that membership of the club was restricted to former Worcester cadets.
David Prothero, 18 October 2003
As a former cadet on the training ship HMS "Worcester" and the current secretary
of the Old Worcesters Yacht Club - I am the guy who issues Ensign Permits to our
members who wish to fly the "Worcester" ensign on their yachts; currently about
60 in force all over the world. I refer to your article on the "Worcester
ensign(s) - For the record, no one I have spoken to amongst the "Worcester"
community can recall ever seeing the ensign described in your article with the
letters "TNTC" inscribed on it...that includes our oldest surviving cadet (now
108) who left the Ship in 1918! Furthermore, all the photographs we have been
able to trace - some going back well before WW1 - all show the Ship flying the
Blue Ensign with the "Crown & W" defacement .
Geoffrey Dunster, 16 July 2006
Although the Admiralty Warrant in force from 1927 to 1940 authorised a Blue Ensign with the letters T N T C in white, former cadets report that the later ensign, with a letter W surmounted by a crown, was in use from well before 1914, and none remember an ensign with T N T C in the fly.
I have checked the relevant document (ADM 1/8713/161) in the National Archives and can confirm that the warrant issued to 'Worcester' on 31 December 1927 was for a Blue Ensign with T N T C in the fly. (Transcript of Warrant in full below). Correspondence with the Admiralty in 1937 (ADM 1/23993) referred to the warrant of 1927.
"By the Commissioners for Exercising the Office of High Admiral of the United
Kingdom etc., 31 December 1927.
Whereas we deem it expedient that the Training Ship 'Worcester' of which the length is 214 feet, the breadth 60 feet and the tonnage 3240, shall be authorised to wear the Blue Ensign of His Majesty's fleet with the distinguishing marks of the said ship in the fly thereof - to wit, the letters T N T C in white. 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 the distinguishing marks as aforesaid to be worn by the Training Ship 'Worcester'. This our warrant shall be revocable 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 Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College in the training of officers for the Mercantile Marine."
David Prothero, 2 August 2006
by Martin Grieve, 9 November 2003
Hamadryad was a Hospital Ship but fits into the same category as the training ships, since she was a stationary ship that did not go to sea.
By the 1860s Cardiff was an international port, but had no hospital for seamen. Any who fell ill were treated at the Infirmary or the Work House. An obsolete frigate named Hamadryad was brought into use as a floating hospital. She had been laid down at Pembroke Dock in 1823, but not launched until 1840, and never put into service. In 1866 she was taken to Cardiff and moored in the harbour as 'a hospital for the seamen of all nations'. The badge appeared in the June 1897 amendment (No.10) to the Admiralty Flag Book. There is no obvious reason why a special ensign should have been thought necessary at that time; perhaps it came into use in 1866 but was not recorded for inclusion in the flag book. Seven years later in 1904 a seaman's hospital was built ashore, and the ship became redundant. However her name lives on and there is still a Royal Hamadryad Hospital in Cardiff.
David Prothero, 9 November 2003
by Martin Grieve, 9 November 2003
by Martin Grieve, 20 November 2003
Blue Ensign of Pangbourne Nautical College.
Pangbourne Nautical College near Reading was founded by the Devitt family in 1917 to produce better educated officers for the Merchant Navy. During the 1930s connections were established with the Royal Navy, and the Admiralty granted the College a defaced Blue Ensign. The ensign was flown at the gaff of the flag staff and the house flag of Devitt and Moore at the masthead. In 1969 the College became a public school and its name was changed to Pangbourne College. Some of its nautical traditions have been retained, and the Blue Ensign is still flown every day.
David Prothero, 21 November 2003
by Martin Grieve, 13 June 2007
Red Ensign of Royal Merchant Navy School.
The Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum was founded in the East End of London in 1827, to provide a home for the destitute children of merchant seamen. It moved to Snaresbrook, Essex in 1862, became the Royal Merchant Seamen's Orphanage in 1902, moved to Bearwood near Wokingham in Berkshire in 1921, and was renamed Royal Merchant Navy School in 1935. Since around 1964 it has been an independent school known as Bearwood College, but still provides some places for orphans of merchant seamen.
As far as I know, the ensign is no longer in use, and was only ever used on land. The details of the defacement are somewhat speculative. It is a compromise between an indistinct black and white photograph, a description that it was 'crown above foul anchor all yellow', and the badge on http://www.oldroyals.org.uk/. Martin was in touch with the College early in October, but is still waiting for a reply from the archivist.
David Prothero, 8 December 2003
I was a student at RMNS from 1964 until 1967. The ensign was worn at the gaff
and was hoisted and lowered with appropriate ceremony, colours being sounded by
the duty bugler, who accompanied the head boy.
Gordon Jeffery, 1 February 2005
I was a student at RMNS/Bearwood from 1960 to 1968. Up until 1960 the school
uniform was very naval - based on the officers' uniform of the British Merchant
Navy. The school was run on naval lines - lots of marching and drill! The
uniform was changed in 1961, during my first year, to a more suitable suit and
There was a full sized ceremonial flag post with gaff located on a lawn outside of the North Court gates and the tradition of the school was to lower the flag at sunset to the accompaniment of a schoolboy bugler (we had several) playing the 'Sunset' call. this tradition had died by the time I left and the school became more aligned to its new 'public school' affiliation. I can confirm at the time there were only eight so-called Foundation Boys in my year who attended the school free of charge!
John Shield, 21 August 2006
I attended the Royal Merchant Navy School from 1951 to 1959. Not mentioned
in the write-up is the junior school at Bexhill for children aged 7 to 11,
which I attended until 1955. From my upstairs dormitory there, not only could I
see the prominent outcrop of "Beachy Head" and at night the light of the
"Sovereign" lightship but the school flag only a few yards away and it was most
definitely a defaced red ensign. No bugles at Bexhill, (I guess the neighbours
would have complained). I do recall lying in my bunk on summer evenings
listening to the "last post" as the ensign was lowered, listening especially for
any "bum" note to tease the bugler about the next day! I do not recall there
ever being any ceremony in the morning when flag was hoisted, but we were
awakened every morning to "reveille" and sometimes to meals "Come to the
Alan Stewart, 2 June 2007
by Martin Grieve, 18 November 2003
White Ensign of Watts Naval Training School.
In 1906 the National Incorporated Waif's Association, more usually known as Doctor Barnardo's, opened Watts Naval Training School at Elham in Norfolk. Many of the boys when old enough went on to the Royal Navy's Boys Training Ship, HMS Ganges, at Harwich. The school applied for a Blue Ensign in the year that it opened, but apparently did not pursue the matter when the Admiralty requested further particulars. The school did fly a White Ensign with WNTS in the fourth quarter, possibly without authorisation. The colour and style of the letters is not mentioned, and I suppose they could have been black or red. In a letter dated 22 March 1927 the school was directed to stop flying the ensign.
Application for a Blue Ensign warrant was made, but refused on 2 April 1927. However on 16 January 1933 a warrant for a Blue Ensign defaced with "the badge of the college" was issued; NL 4090/32. I have not been able to find a drawing of this badge. The school closed in 1954.
David Prothero, 18 November 2003
The TS Stork and Liscard Training School had ensigns defaced with the badge
of the Navy League. This was a national organisation dedicated to supporting the
Royal Navy. In 1910 it took over the Naval Lads' Brigades, that had been formed
to care for destitute children in sea ports.
The badge of the Navy League, as used on stationery, is described at gb~scc.html but I now think that on a flag, the badge might have been less elaborate. In 1975 the Navy League was ended in favour of the Sea Cadet Association, and it is possible that the Sea Cadet badge may have been a development, or variation of the Navy League badge. The badge used on stationery by the Navy League of Canada was a naval crown above a circle, in which a foul anchor was set between the words NAVY LEAGUE above, and KEEP WATCH below. In 1918 Rear Admiral Benson, General Secretary of the Navy League of Canada applied for a warrant for a Blue Ensign defaced with the Navy League badge. "The Union Jack with the Navy League badge in the centre has been used in this country and throughout the Empire for twenty years." The Blue Ensign warrant was refused in June 1919 but, "would be considered if the League should have established training ships of their own with a substantial number of boys in continuous training."
formerly a surveying ship, was lent to the Kensington Branch of the Navy League and moored on the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge from 1913 until 1948. An Admiralty Warrant for a Blue Ensign defaced with the Navy League badge was issued on 6 June 1917 [NL 67008/17]. On 15 February 1922 a General Warrant for Navy League Sea Cadet Units was issued. It authorised the Navy League badge on a Red Ensign. Stork's existing Blue Ensign warrant was forgotten and not cancelled until 1932. All special ensign warrants lapsed on the out-break of war, and it is unlikely that the ensign was flown on Stork after 1939.
The Lancashire Navy League operated a Sea Training Home at Liscard, Wallasey.
Commanding Reserves was so impressed when he inspected the school that it was
Admiralty Warrant, dated 6 June 1917, for a Blue Ensign defaced with the badge
of the Navy
League. At the time it was the only shore establishment authorised to fly a
Ensign. In 1931 this anomaly was investigated by Naval Law Department, who
they did not have the authority to cancel it, and would instead consider the
comparable to a Training Ship. [NL 2433/31]
David Prothero, 11 December 2003
Special ensign of unknown design.
Reformatory Ship. Rock Ferry, Birkenhead 1860 - 1906.
Akbar Nautical School, Heswall, Cheshire. 1908 - 1956
Blue Ensign discontinued 4 April 1933 after 20 years.
Shaftesbury Home, Greenhithe, Lower Thames 1866 - 1889.
Said to have had an Admiralty Warrant in 1877.
David Prothero, 12 December 2003
Training ships which, as far as is known, had no special ensign.
Roman Catholic Reformatory, Birkenhead. 1864 - 1899.
N.Wales, Cheshire & Border Counties T.S. Society, Bangor, N.Wales. 1877 - 1919.
Clyde Industrial T.S. Society. Greenock/Gareloch 1869 - 1917 or 1923.
Bristol T.S. Committee. Portishead. 1869 - 1903.
National Nautical School. Portishead, Bristol. 1906 - 1982.
7 March 1927. Was refused Blue Ensign, plain or defaced.
Reformatory. Belfast. 1872 - 1889 +.
Grays, Lower Thames. 1870 -1875. (Replaced by Exmouth).
Ragged School Ship, Cardiff. 1861 - 1905.
Industrial T.S. Saltash, Plymouth. 1877 - 1920.
Hull. 1868 - 1912.
[Information about ensigns mainly from National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/8369/48, ADM 1/ 8529/187, ADM 1/8713/161, ADM 1/8721/264, ADM 1/8744/122, ADM 1/8760/221, ADM 1/8770/157, ADM 1/8751/178, ADM 1/10876, ADM 1/20882, ADM 1/21648, ADM 1/23993, ADM 1/27126.]
David Prothero, 12 December 2003
located by André Coutanche
An article about the Prince of Wales Sea Training School Society in "Lifeboat",
the journal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (the U.K. and Ireland sea
rescue authority) notes that the School was founded in 1920 and closed in 1976.
The article refers to the Society's website at
www.pwsts.org.uk and this has a page about their flag(s) at
Although the flag is a defaced Red Ensign, the website refers to them as "colours",
so I doubt whether this was actually an ensign for use afloat. These flags are
André Coutanche, 9 July 2004
The Society seem to have had just small pulling/sailing boats that did not
need an ensign. The flag was a colour in the sense of a 'parade flag', but also
a land flag.
David Prothero, 10 July 2004