View Full Version : Royal Hospital School Greenwich

02-09-2009, 11:44
My Grandfather and his brother (Albert and Frederick Sweetingham) both attended the RHS as boys prior to joining the Royal Navy, and as this great institution, often referred to as 'the cradle of the Navy' does not seem to appear amongst these forums, I thought it fitting to pay tribute to its role in our naval history by posting this article.

Albert and Frederick joined the Upper School at age 11. It is not clear how they managed to gain entry as the primary qualification was for children of seamen who were orphans or motherless. Outside of that children had to be nominated by the Admiralty, the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, or through funding bodies and certain ship owners. It could be that the strong family naval history was of some influence.

The origins of the Royal Hospital School are founded as a result of King William's and Queen Mary's Royal Charter of 1694 for the relief and support of wounded, disabled or aged Royal Navy seamen unable to support themselves. The Charter also made provision for the support of Widows and children of seaman killed in service, including the education of children. In the 1696 Act for the Increase & Encouragement of Seaman, the benefits of the school were extended to the children of mariners wishing to have a career in Her Majesty's Sea Service. Boys were originally taught at Weston's Acadamy, King William Street, in Greenwich, and accommodated in the attic of the Hospital buildings.

The school grew quickly and soon established an excellent reputation in the teaching of of mathematics, navigation, nautical astronomy, and seamanship skills, thus providing it's pupils with the required knowledge to proceed into the Royal and Merchant Navy to become navigators and officers. In 1798 the School was established as The British National Endeavour in premises in Paddington where Lord Nelson was a member of the Committee.

After the defeat of the Spannish and French at the Battle of Trafalgar, the school was renamed as the Royal Naval Asylum, and moved to new facilities at Queens House, Greenwhich (picure of main gate above) in 1806. Here it remained and flourished until1933 when it moved to Holbrook in Suffolk. Queens House and it's estate now form the National Maritime Museum.

When Albert and Frederick joined as "new jacks" , the school had a thousand children (200 boys in the Upper School, with 600 boys and 200 girls in the Lower School). Upon arriving, they would have been given a medical check up then issued their uniform. This included a blue serge suit, knitted jumper, flannel vest and long pants, socks and boots. With their number two's on, and civilian clothes packed into a bag, they would have proceeded to Trafalgar Quarters in Park Row opposite the eastern gate. There, they would have been allocated their lockers, each with a number by which henceforth they would be known. The next morning after arrival, and their hair being cut to "convict" length, they would be vaccinated before their first lesson in the rudiments of parade drill.

The school life was regimented, spartan and run with military precision. A typical daily routine of the time was:

05.00 - Wake up and make bed (3 mins allowed). Then off for swim in the outdoor swimming pool

08.00 - Breakfast: Bread & butter/dripping with a jam jar of cocoa.

09.00 - Lessons: Incuding history science, geography & arithmetic. The school had its own observatory for teaching navigation

12.00 - Drill

12.45 - March to dinner. All 1000 pupils in one dining room. Roast beef invariably served.

14.00 - Classes: Learning trades such as shoemaking, carpentry, baking and laundry. Senior pupils taught seamanship.

17.00 - Teatime: Bread & butter with cocoa again.

19.00 - Further classes

20.00 - Bedtime

The daily routine also included uniform inspections (including highly polished shoes) by the House Master, Prefects and seniors, all in keeping with the traditions of the Royal Navy that were important elements of school life.

The postcards shown here are from my personnal collection. The other pictures are from various sources, notably the book 'The Royal Hospital School' by H.D.T Turner.

Postcard of the main entrance into the Royal Hospital School. Photograph probably taken about 1900 and shows the training ship TS Fame in front of Queens House.

The building of Queens House was comissioned by James I in 1617 for his queen, Anne of Denmark. But when she died in 1619 work was halted. It was completed in 1635 after Charles I ordered its completion for his queen, Henrietta Maria.

During the 18th century, the Queens House was the royal 'grace and favour' residence of the Ranger of Greenwich Park. However, in 1806 George III granted it as the new home for the Royal Navy Asylum, and flanking wings and collanades were added. 50 boys moved in in the summer of 1807. By 1892 it became the Royal Hospital School and pupil numbers had then reached about 1000.

Postcard showing traing ship TS Fame. Photograph taken around 1900.

TS Fame was originally installed in 1843. The hull was built at Chatham dockyard, and the masts and yards salvaged from scrapped vessels. The figurehead came from Admiral Lord Anson's ship "Centurion" which was launched in 1732. Anson circumnavigated the world in her 1740 - 1744. She was broken up in 1769. The first Fame was replaced 1n 1861 and was reconstructed from Fame I. It lasted until 1871 when it was completely replaced.

The Fame shown in the postcard is Fame III, which was described as a three masted corvette, but fully rigged as a ship - square rigged on all three masts. She was built on the lines of a Blackwell frigate and was fitted with a new figurehead of Fame holding her long trumpet. During the school year she was fully manned with watches being kept.

All of the Fame training ships were used to teach boys seamanship skills aboard the closest thing to a ship at sea. They would go aloft, scale the masts and yards, and learn how to furl sails. They would also learn gun drills and all other on board sea duties such as rope work, sail repair and "swinging the lead" - the traditional way of depth sounding.

Another postcard showing TS fame, again probably taken around 1900, certainly before 1914 when the yards were taken down. By 1926 the remaining stumps of the masts and rigging were removed, the ship then being in a state of advanced deterioration.

Boys are shown fallen in during a drill exercise on the parade ground.

Boys in classroom about 1890 when Albert and Frederick were both at the school.

Lessons incuded history science, geography & arithmetic. The school had its own observatory for teaching navigation.

Classes were also held to teach trades such as shoemaking, carpentry, baking and laundry. In addition, senior pupils were taught seamanship.

By this time, slates and chalks had been replaced by paper and quills, and boys were taught how to cut a pen from a feather. Quills were later superseded by steel nibbed pens.

Photograph of the dormitory around 1890 when Albert and Frederick were at the school.

Each bed was painted with a white number on it to denote where each boy slept. Bed making had to be absolutely faultless. The beds had to be placed with their castors aligned along a joint in the floorboards and spaced 2 feet between the head of each bed, and 3 feet between the rows. Only 3 minutes were given for bed making.

The dormitory floor (deck) was treated as 'holy ground and boots had to left outside; socks only were to be worn except for the CPO boys who were permitted to wear leather soled plimsoles.

Each Saturday morning the dormitory floor had to be scrubbed and polished by the boys on their hands and knees.

Photograph of the wash lavatories.

After making their beds, boys had to double down to the washroom and take their positions behing their own washbasin, standing to attention. When the order "Switch on" was given, a tap was turned and cold water simultaneously filled each basin. The boys then had 3 minutes to clean their teeth and wash. They then had to double back to the dormitory ready to scrub the floor.

Cleaning the floor in the Gymnasium.

The Gymnasium was probably the most used room in the school. Apart from its obvious use as a gymnasium, it was variously used for "divisions" each morning, assemblies, and as a living room in the evenings. The boys lockers were located there.

At one end of the gym was a stage which was used for performances and the like, both by the boys, Officers and visiting troupes. A cinematograph was installed in the gym in 1926, and at 170ft projection, was the longest in Europe, if not the World, at the time.

Today the Gymnasium is the National Maritime Museum's Neptune Hall.

Boys on Board TS Fame around 1890 when Albert and Frederick William were at the school.

Although Fame III was no longer used for seamanship training after 1926, the teaching of ship handling was still a requisite to be taught. Therefore, a replica fully rigged ship with a miniature hull was constructed in the seamanship room. She had a full sized double steering wheel on the poop and a compass binnacle.

Albert is recorded as being at the school in the 1891 census. Frederick would then have been aged 14 and had probably been transferred to the Royal Navy as a Master's Mate on a sailing ship such as HMS Martin or Volage.

I would love to hear if any members' family have first hand recollections of life at the RHS during that period.


02-09-2009, 14:05
As a lad I remember the training ship TS TANE at Greenwich, what happened to it, where did it end up ? Regards Doug.Birch

02-09-2009, 14:25
My great friend was at that school, he must have been nominated as his mother and father were alive, his father was a nurse in the Royal Navy.
He joined the school when he was 12 (1926), and went into the RN and served for 22 years.
The photograph of him (attached) was taken at Greenwich RHS.
Thank you for a great set of photographs,do you mind if I keep a copy as they would be of great intrest to my family

02-09-2009, 15:33
As a lad I remember the training ship TS TANE at Greenwich, what happened to it, where did it end up ? Regards Doug.Birch
Hi Doug,

I presume that you mean't Fame rather than Tane, as I don't recognise the name of the latter.

What era are we talking because Fame III stood on the parade ground from 1872 -1933. However, In 1914 the yards were taken down and the crews reduced to boys in their last six months of training. Scaling the rigging to the masthead, or truck, each morning was still continued, and life was as near as possible, given the circumstances, lived according to naval routine. Gun drill was ceased, but the boys carried out boat-work and slept in hammocks aboard, but meals were taken in the Upper Nautical Mess instead of aboard ship.

The masts and rigging were gradually reduced over the next 10 years, until in August 1926 the three remaining stumps and rigging were removed. Access was forbidden to the boys as the Fame was now in a state of advanced deterioration and dangerous, although superficially she seemed sound enough.

She was finally demolished when the school moved to Holbrook. Some of the best timbers were cut into 2 inch cubes on which were fixed metal plates inscribed with the history of the ship. These sold for half-a-crown – I wonder if any still survive?

The figurehead and bowsprit were taken to the new school and incorporated into the rifle range building.


02-09-2009, 15:36
My great friend was at that school, he must have been nominated as his mother and father were alive, his father was a nurse in the Royal Navy.
He joined the school when he was 12 (1926), and went into the RN and served for 22 years.
The photograph of him (attached) was taken at Greenwich RHS.
Thank you for a great set of photographs,do you mind if I keep a copy as they would be of great intrest to my family
Hi Harry,

Be my guest. I can thoroughly recommend the book I referred to by H.D.T. Turner. Although published in 1980, they do pop up on eBay from time to time.


03-09-2009, 01:17
Excellent Article, thanks for taking the time and trouble to share it with us, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


03-09-2009, 14:18
Yes like a lot of other young boys i was lucky enough to go to the Royal Hospital School from april 47 to July 10th. 1951a good life just after the war. and a good grounding for life in the R.N.
Peter Musselwhite
Alias Benbow30

03-09-2009, 14:24
A few photos failed to put them on first time.

Guz rating
15-09-2009, 20:53

An excellent thread, it ties in nicely with project i'm involved with. I live in Blackheath beside Greenwich and I pass the Naval College at least once a week. As you will know it is now Greenwich University. Nice one Clive great article.


15-09-2009, 22:26
Thanks for that Alan,

Coincidentally, since starting this thread I have acquired an extract from the memoirs of my Great Uncle (Frederick William Sweetingham) where he recalls his time at GHS. I post it here, completely un-edited as it provides a vivid picture of what was like for a boy entering the School, bearing in mind he entered the school at aged 13 (not 11 as I previously thought) in 1890.

“At the age of thirteen years and three months, I entered the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich. This school was open to sons of certain Officers and men of the Royal Navy and Mariners. Boys were eligible for admission between the ages of eleven and fourteen years, and were required to enter into an agreement, together with their parents, to engage for continuous service in the Royal Navy.

I accompanied my father to Greenwich School and according to the terms of entry passed a stringent medical examination by the Doctor, then, after a successful educational test of simple subjects I was enrolled as a member of Company Number Six and introduced to a Mr. Jams Spencer, the Instructor in charge of this unit. The parting from my mother and home was a grievous one you may be sure, and when my father had bidden me good-bye at the school, I felt sadly depressed.

Greenwich School was a very large establishment accommodating more than a thousand boys. It was equipped with nine dormitories each with one hundred or more beds, a dining hall, gymnasium swimming pool, spacious Instructional rooms for seamanship and schoolrooms. Attached to the school was a hospital and a huge parade ground, in the middle of which stood a very large model of a full rigged ship - the Fame. This fine vessel constituted the most imposing feature of the school and accommodated a company of sixty boys who slept in hammocks on board. Mast yard and sail drill were carried out by the school boys in the Fame similar to that on board the training ships stationed at the Naval Forts in Great Britain in those days. The whole establishment was under the command of a Naval Captain. The executive Officer who was commissioned from the Warrant Rank assumed command during the absence of the Captain. The other officers included a surgeon, a Chaplain and Paymaster all Royal Naval Officers. In addition there was a Headmaster, and six civilian school masters, while ten ex chief Petty Officers of the Royal Navy and a Coloured Sergeant of the Royal Marines were instructors in the subjects of seamanship gunnery and physical training. Each of these instructors had charge of a company of some one hundred boys except the company belonging to the ship Fame which numbered only sixty boys as previously mentioned. Certain boys were taught various trades such as Carpentry, Painting, Bricklaying, Sail-making, Tailoring, Baking, Cooking and Laundry work. This of course obviated the necessity of requisitioning services from outside the school and thus effecting economy in the cost of general maintenance of the establishment.

Each boy was responsible for the custody and maintenance of his clothing and severe punishment was meted out to boys who were unfortunate enough to lose any item of his kit. The enforcement of this law was a nightmare to me and to many of my colleagues. The cleaning of dormitories bathrooms, dining room including the washing up of the dishes was performed by the boys under the supervision of the Company Instructor as also the gymnasium, all instructional rooms and the parade ground and even the making of beds.

Now all this work might at first, appear to be very useful occupation for the boys, or perhaps good instruction. As I review the fact now however, I am convinced that these monotonous menial duties during an extravagant portion of each day, was nothing but a time wasting occupation which monopolised valuable time that should have been devoted to our education in preparation for subsequent service in the Royal Navy. Our work in the classrooms under the able civilian-school masters was the only cultural and nautical education which we boys received, but it was precisely this element of our instruction which was cruelly limited. Indeed, given a reasonable amount of time each day for educational and professional instruction under such a superb and highly capable Instructional Staff as existed there in those days.

It is my considered opinion that Greenwich School would definitely have passed on to the Royal Navy for service, youths equal in ability and of no less potential value to the Service than the boys who were leaving Dartmouth College for entry as midshipmen. Furthermore, if my long since experience in this matter can be taken as a guide, this would have obviated the necessity of loading the Royal Navy with inexperienced executive officers from the R.N. Volunteer Reserve in times of war, whose appointments might well and more justly been filled from this source of experienced and continuous service men. Be that as it may, for my own part I can truly say that after rising very early each morning and completing the various menial tasks to the satisfaction of the authorities, there was scarcely sufficient energy remaining in my fatigued body and mind to commence scholastic studies when attendance at school was due.

School hours during the forenoon were between 9.30 and 11.45 am. In the afternoon boys who were being trained for seamen, and who had passed a certain standard of education, were required to work at a trade selected for them. In this connection the whole of my afternoon on Monday to Friday were spent in the so-called trade of Sailmaking. A laudable calling no doubt, but in the interest of economy every boy in this trade was exclusively employed in the making of uniform duck suits for the boys of the establishment! The Captain Superintendent was a strict disciplinarian and was regarded with awe and generally feared by all the boys. Once a day, except on Saturdays he inspected the whole of the companies drawn up in quarter column formation in the large gymnasium sometimes known as the drill hall. After inspection the battalion would move up to close formation on No 1 Company facing a large stage. Mounted upon this stage would be the Captain, the Executive Officer, the Doctor and the Chaplain, who conducted a short church service. Corporal punishment would then be executed by the gymnasium instructor. Chastisement would take the form of caning for ordinary or trivial delinquencies and birching for more serious offences. These morning exhibitions had a ghastly effect upon my mind, though luckily I escaped them personally. It was known by all concerned however, that any boy who attended Captain's defaulters for a delinquency, be it ever so trivial, would assuredly be awarded this form of punishment.

This nauseating practice was carried out with an incredible degree of regularity, immediately after Church Service in the presence of one thousand boys and the Staff Officers of the School. In several instances I have seen the Medical Officer intervene during these corporal punishments and certify professionally that the victim could stand no more of such brutality at any rate for that particular morning. It is true that some boys at certain ages deserve chastisement on occasional but this method of performing it was definitely evil. Moreover, it calculated to produce the reverse moral effect of that intended; for it hardened the hearts of some boys. Incredible as this might sound, there was on the part of certain lads even a tendency to regard the habitual delinquents as sort of school heroes!!

Recreation at Greenwich School consisted of just what the boys cared to do when they were let loose on the parade grounds. But these activities were subject to rigorous taboos. During the course of my two years at the school I do not remember seeing an Officer or Instructor, except the gymnasium Instructor, present at our games, except at the Annual competitions when of course, everyone attended. The boys were not encouraged to indulge in inter-company competitions of any kind; therefore any approach to the team spirit in sports was non-existent. Boys were allowed to leave the school for weekend recreation only when parents or guardians called to take them away. Obviously, therefore only a fortunate few could take advantage of this amenity.

The Establishment was entirely enclosed by iron boundary rails of considerable height and behind this barrier the great majority existed. An indescribably monotonous segregation which would disgrace any reformatory institution nowadays. Happy release came however twice a year when long leave would be granted and we were then permitted to go home.

Despite all these restrictions, I contrived to maintain an interest in my studies and such games and exercises as were available. Most of my exercises were taken in the gymnasium where I became rather proficient especially upon the horizontal bar. In this activity I was fortunate enough to obtain the kindly aid of our gymnasium instructor. The long leave periods consisted of fourteen days for Christmastide and five week for the Mid-Summer vacation. In the second and last year of participating in the Annual Sports competition I was tolerably successful. I won the first prize in my class in swimming also for diving for discovery of china eggs at the bottom of the swimming pool. Incidentally this latter competition caused much amusement; besides taxing the lung capacity of the competitors. A considerable number of eggs were scattered on the bottom of the pool about seven feet deep and the competitor who recovered the largest number of eggs in the allotted time was judged the winner. The two main factors essential for success in this game was quickness in the location and securing the eggs without dropping them, after once recovered, and secondly, the power of endurance under water to stick out the prescribed time in order to bring up as many eggs as possible to the surface. In addition to my amphibian successes I was the lucky winner of the Senior Long Jump competition held on terra firma. The Baroness Burdett Coutts, whose kindly remarks on the occasion were cheery and very encouraging, presented this prize a handsome cabinet and writing desk, which I still possess to me.

The Baroness was one of the most popular and interesting ladies of that time. She was also one of the wealthiest persons in Great Britain. I understand that King Edward the Seventh, when Prince of Wales, said of her: - "After mother the most remarkable woman in the Kingdom."

It is an unusual thing to confess that, during the two years spent at Greenwich, I never really overcame homesickness, as my school colleagues appeared to do. Letter writing by the boys had to be done in one of the class rooms set apart in the evenings, and so far as I remember I wrote to my parents incomparably more often than any of my companions. Moreover, I looked forward to my holidays at home as perfectly heaven sent, and dreaded the moment when due to return to the school. Before taking these vacations I would resolve to inform my parents what an unhappy existence it was at school, but somehow I could never muster sufficient courage to do so when opportunity occurred.

These facts have often puzzled me in later life, but I have always dismissed the association of the word “Cissy” in this connection; if only because I was the offspring of such an outstandingly brave and fearless father, while my mother was blessed with steadfast courage as well as kindliness. There was perhaps one factor accountable for my idiosyncrasy at the times, namely the entire absence of women or the influence of women in this establishment which housed more than one thousand boys! I will leave it at that as one with very little or no knowledge of psychology.

About twelve months after I had entered the school an epidemic of measles broke out among the boys and I became one of the victims, this was followed by an outbreak of chickenpox from which I also suffered an attack. Hundreds of lads were laid low with these diseases and unfortunately the measles affected me most seriously, while one poor boy who occupied a bed next to mine in the hospital died of it. For several days my temperature was very high and when it rose to 105.4 F, the School Authority informed my parents of my condition and suggested that my mother should come to see me. In my delirium I was terrified because certain articles of my clothing were missing and that I was to be brought up as a defaulter and punished for their loss. I thought my career would therefore be ruined and that I should be sent home in disgrace. However, my mother came up to Greenwich and prior the day of her visit to my bedside in the large ward I began to recover.

As I review the administration of that wonderful new establishment as it then was. I cannot but feel that its great potentialities were frustrated by mal-administration, albeit not intentional. From a human aspect it was soulless. This regrettable position was obviously due to the atrocious system of subordinating all cultural learning and the overshadowing of a decent way of life for the boys, in the cause of ruthless and stupidity applied discipline.”

________ o0o ________

Frederick did indeed enter the Navy at aged 16 and served on ships that included Inflexible, Ramilles, Royal Oak and Australia achieving the rank of 1st Class Petty Officer Gunner in 1907. He transferred to the RANS sometime afterwards. I have his RNAS Service Record but it's not easy to interpret dates. Records show him as being on the RNAS Emergency List in 1932 with a rank of Lieutenant Commander, and then for 'Tempy service on the Active List' (whatever that means) 1939 -1944. Frederick died in in 1954, aged 76, in Tasmania,

Albert, my Grandfather, also enterd the Navy at 16, and, as mentioned in various other threads, served on ships including Centurion, Prince of Wales, Hindustan and Amethyst. He achieved the rank of Petty Officer Gunner. After leaving the Navy, Albert joined HM Customs in Woolston until his retirement. He died in 1957, aged 78.

Both of them naturally had the normal periods of training at St. Vincent, Duke of Wellington, Victory I, Powerful etc.


17-09-2009, 15:20
I have created a plan of how I think the Greenwich Hospital School was arranged around 1890. This based upon H.D.T Turner's book, and 'Ghosts and Kippers'. If anyone has any further information. or think I have got anything wrong, perhaps you would let me know. Cheers.


I produced this as an A3 document and tried to upload it full size as a .pdf ... no joy. So have had to reduce the size. You can still view the detail with the zoom control in Acrobat.

17-09-2009, 17:45
"This school was open to sons of certain Officers and men"

I wonder what this meant? Who was the "certain officers and men"?

17-09-2009, 21:59
Here is a link to the history, reasons for it being in existence and who was eligible:-


Little h

18-09-2009, 07:52
It has always been, and continues to be, a complete mystery as to how and why my Grandfather and his Brother went to GRHS; they were neither orphans, or sons of a disabled Mariner, or fitting any other of the criteria specified for entrance. I think there must have been a bit of an 'Old Boy's network', my Great Grandfather having had a prominent naval career and a subsequent distinguished service with HM Coastguard. I guess for me, it will remain as another of life's great unsolved mysteies.


25-11-2009, 10:42
As a lad I remember the training ship TS TANE at Greenwich, what happened to it, where did it end up ? Regards Doug.Birch

Hello Doug.

You may be interested to know that The Fame is now the longest ship in the world. The Bowsprit and Figurehead being at the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk U.K. and the stern post now residing in the Maritime Museum, Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A.

As I am very new to this site, I am still trying to work out how to post photos. When I have done so, I will try and get photos of the above.



25-11-2009, 14:45
Here are a few of fairly rare photos from Greenwich.

From left to right
1st "Cricket" on what is now the lawn in front of Queen's House National maritime Museum.
2nd "Haircut", speaks for itelf really.
3rd "Over the Wall". Not sure whereabouts at Greenwich this was taken or, indeed, what the lads were up to that necessitated them going over the wall.
4th "Seamanship" a lesson on board TS Fame.

Hope you enjoy them


25-11-2009, 15:46
Great pictures Andy ... haven't seen the first ones before. Picture 4 I have, and coincidentally I have submitted it my post http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/showpost.php?p=71028&postcount=1

Keep 'em coming.

26-11-2009, 10:50
Here are a couple more from Greenwich.

No: 1 is of an Instuctor but cannot tell you his name or what date this photo was taken.

No: 2 Is of pupils of Greenwich. Again, I have no idea of a date for this picture, nor have I any idea why there it includes a boy from the RM Light Infantry.

26-11-2009, 14:47
These are the last two I have, although I will try to get hold of some more. I know ther is a photo of the band marching out of the main gate.

Photo No 1: Preparing to feed the 1,000 pupils at Greenwich.

Photo No 2: Lessons in "Swinging the Lead" were given from a fixed raised platform.

01-12-2009, 15:13
Found it ........ The pupils of the Royal Hospital School used to march across the road to the Chapel. Here is the band leading the rest of the School out of the main gate.

01-12-2009, 22:56
Good rare photo Andy ... pity the size/resolution is a bit poor. Have tried enhancing but there wasn't much scope for improvement unfortunately ....

04-12-2009, 16:28

I was delighted to come across this thread of yours. Your great-uncle’s memoir and the plan of the school are very valuable to me. To see why, if you have the patience, take a look at these notes I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

Three members of the family attended the Greenwich Royal Hospital School: John William Halloran, William Doyle and John O'Brien (2).

John William Halloran was admitted to the School on 29-10-1884, aged almost thirteen. He left in September 1886 to enter the Navy on HMS Duke of Wellington, a receiving ship moored in Portsmouth Harbour; he was still not yet fifteen.
William Doyle was admitted to the School on 11-7-1894, aged thirteen-and-a-half. He left in February 1896, aged just fifteen, to enter the Navy at Chatham.
John O'Brien (2) was admitted to the School on 20-1-1915, aged twelve-and-a-half. He left to join the Navy at HMS Ganges in December 1917, when almost fifteen-and-a-half.

Published accounts of the School's history - including the information boards for visitors to the Queen's House, the old school building - sometimes give the impression that the school was for boys whose father, having served in the Royal Navy, was now deceased. Our sample of three entrants shows that this, if it was ever true, had ceased to be so by the late nineteenth century.

Certainly the data for John O'Brien (2) makes him a classic case. The School’s Register of applicants now in the National Archives records: his father was dead; had served in the Navy for 25 years until retirement with pension in 1902; had received the Egypt Medal, Khedive's Star and three badges; and was assessed as 'Char: V.G.'. Moreover, the widowed mother had five dependent children.
But the cases of the other two boys were different. William Doyle was an orphan, since his mother was dead, but his father was still alive and serving in the Navy. John William Halloran was not even an orphan. The register shows that his parents, Bartholomew and Julia, were still alive, and his father was still serving.
Doyle and Halloran cannot have been exceptional cases. The page headings show that there were separate sections of the register for applicants with their particular combinations of circumstances.

The information displayed at the Queen's House also refers to the School as an 'orphanage'. This term suggests an institution that takes in children whose parents are dead or, if alive, are unable to look after them. But this was true of none of the above three cases. Their parents simply took advantage of an attractive opportunity that was open to them.

There is also an unsolved mystery. The entry for John William Halloran clearly states that his elder brother Thomas Halloran had been admitted to the School in 1879 aged thirteen. He was indeed of that age at that time. Yet the register for 1879 contains no trace of him.

(end of notes previously made)

BTW There are a couple more entrants in the registers that I’m sure are family too, but I haven’t yet done the work to prove it.

I think the evidence of the pre-printed headings in the Register (eg 'CLASS V. Sons of men now serving. Both parents living.’) shows that for many years the school was open in principle to pretty much any son of a sailor with a decent career record. If there were more applicants than places then some selection criteria were applied and at that point, no doubt, certain classes of applicants, such as orphans, had some priority.

About your great-uncle’s memoir I have this point. He writes as if he turned up and passed certain medical and educational tests and then immediately entered the school. From this and some entries in the registers I've deduced that the entrance procedure must have gone something like this: 1, you applied giving relevant data; 2, a committee decided who to accept or reject based on the data only, without seeing the applicants; 3, if accepted, you turned up about two months later, all ready to start, but unless you passed certain medical and educational tests at that point you were turned away. There are numerous cases of boys being accepted but then being turned way because they were an inch too short when they arrived. A bit devastating for them!

About the plan of the building: I believe the colonnades and the two wings were added to the Queen’s House in 1807 or thereabouts. But what about the Gymnasium and other buildings by the West Wing. Do you know when they were built? And what about the elaborate façade of the present Museum? Was that built for the School or later for the Museum?

I hope the above is of some interest to you, Clive, and maybe others.


05-12-2009, 11:04

Very interesting research. I know that soem of the GRHS records were destroyed by water damage - apparently they were in a storeroom which was located underneath a toilet. Of course, when the toilet developed a leak, it went into the room below. Other records of GRHS are held by the Registrar at the School's current location in Holbrook, Suffolk.

05-12-2009, 11:06
Good rare photo Andy ... pity the size/resolution is a bit poor. Have tried enhancing but there wasn't much scope for improvement unfortunately ....


I'll have another dig through my boxes and see if I can find some more photos of GRHS and perhaps a better copy of the one of the band.

Yours Aye


05-12-2009, 17:20
Hi Bart, welcome to the forum. I was fascinated by your notes, and broadly agree with your conclusion about the entrance procedure. The original 1694 William & Mary Charter providing for the “education of the children of seamen happening to be slain or disabled” as a basis for school admission was accordingly “modified” as the nature of the purpose of the school changed over time. Following the decline of the Press Gangs around 1797 the need for naval recruiting to receive some impetus led to the establishment of a more ambitious school to be run along the lines of its military counterpart The Duke of York School. When the “Upper School” (the previous Greenwich Hospital School) was established in 1825, as I mentioned in post#1, boys entering at 11 or 12 were nominated by the Admiralty, the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital, Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund Committee, or certain ship owners. Those entering the “Lower School” underwent no education tests and left at the age of 14. At one period, the Upper School was further subdivided to include a Nautical Division – a kind of 6th Form. After 1828 sons of Officers were accepted in the Upper School, but the Lower School remained open only to the sons of seaman not above the rank of Warrant Officer.

There seems little doubt to me that the Royal Navy were keen to use the Upper School as way of recruiting and educating potential “Lord Nelsons” for its growing navy. The discipline and organisation of the school as a ship. The curricular emphasis on mathematics, astronomy, navigation, languages, seamanship, drill and physical training. Ideal for future Admirals.


Queens House was designed by Inigo Jones and was meant to be the home of Anne of Denmark, the consort of King James I. Construction started in 1616 in the grounds of the old Royal Palace of Placentia, but was stopped in 1618 when Anne became ill, and subsequently died in 1619. Ten years later, when King Charles I gave it to his new Queen, Henrietta Maria. Inigo Jones was recalled and the exterior work was completed some six years later. The Queen stayed there only briefly, however, and in 1642 the Civil War started.

After the Restoration Charles II had the House enlarged by John Webb in 1662 to provide a residence while the new palace of Placentia was being built, as the original had been badly damaged during the time of the Commonwealth. This is now the site of the Royal Naval College. It is not known if he ever actually lived there, however, and the building was in fact used by Henrietta, by now the Queen Mother, until her death in 1669. In 1690 it became the official residence of the Ranger of Greenwich Park.

When first built, the Queen’s House straddled the main Deptford to Woolwich road, and it was possible to pass from the Palace gardens into the Royal Park without being seen crossing the road. In 1699 the then Ranger, Lord Romney, moved the road to its present position, effectively separating the Naval Hospital, the predecessor of the College, from the Park.

Between 1807 and 1812, the East and West wings (called Alexander wings after their architect Daniel Asher Alexander), along with the two connecting colonnades were completed.

The school observatory was built in 1840, and in 1864 it was extended, including the addition of the third observation dome. Sadly, it had fallen into disuse by 1926

The gymnasium (now NMM Neptune Hall)was built in 1873. Probably the most used building in the school. Used for assemblies and as meeting-cum-living room.

During 1877 and 1884 the new west wing buildings and the dining-room were built.

The Royal Hospital School vacated Queen’s House in 1933, and the buildings were opened in 1937 as the National Maritime Museum.

Two views of the front of Queen’s House today, one through the gates.
View of the rear of the house, showing the colonnades and wings.

05-12-2009, 17:49
Andy, two more shots of the band. One returning from Chapel in 1932. The other, the band playing out the boys for the last time in 1933.

Photos from The Royal Hospital School Greenwich by H.D.T. Turner 1980

06-12-2009, 14:39
Thank you very much, Clive. You've given me the information I needed to know.
That is a truly magnificent wide-angle panorama photo. I am adding that to my electronic family history.
I'm very grateful for the old photos too. Interesting content, scanned with plenty of resolution. I'd be keen to see any more that you think worth posting.

I presume that the chapel from which the band is returning is the one in the Naval College. Which brings me to this question: Since all my people were Catholics, were they allowed out on Sundays to go to a nearby Catholic church, instead of the College Chapel? If so, that would be a privileged relief from the prison-like conditions described by your great-uncle (an advantage they later enjoyed in the Navy, when they could sometimes go ashore to church, if in port in a Catholic country, or go across to a nearby battleship that held a service for all Catholics in the squadron).


14-12-2009, 10:58
Hello Clive.

Great photos.

Interesting to note that they only had one uniform for the Drum Major and therefore it could only ever be a boy that the uniform fitted!!

Best wishes for a great Christmas to all


07-04-2010, 16:26
Hi all - this is a lovely post / thread, and I'm glad I've found it! My Gt. Grandfather was at the School in 1884, age 12, and an orphan son of a Royal Marine (so unlike some, he fitted the bill!). He enlisted with the Royal Navy in 1888. I wonder if SKS could advise whether any "joining" or attendance or other records for the school survive for this period. I have searched the Nat. Archives site but cannot find records for these dates. Any help appreciated thanks

tim lewin
07-04-2010, 16:33
Dear old Chalky White and I have a great friend, John Snodden, fromer Chief GI who now works at the school. John was responsible for all of the choreography at the US Volunteers comemoration we have written about many times and when i did the Falklands Requiem he was once again there to support me (By this time Chalky was not able to move much but he was a great help in the guest list side of this, it was his last mission with me). For the Requiem John bought with him the school colour party and their colours which were paraded with all the other RNA colours. The students were a real credit to the school and much appreciated by the 200 or so weho came to the do. I beleive John is still at the school. Does anyone remember serving with him?

10-05-2010, 08:39
I should perhaps make it clear to you all that entry to (G)RHS was also available via Lloyd's (of London) Patriotic Fund whereby Lloyd's were able to nominate children under an enduring right. This right extended because of their donation of more than £60,000 to the Royal Naval Asylum in roughly 1805. This procedure seems to have died a death in 1985, and I am still investigating the reasons. I was a "Lloyd's Nominee" at Holbrook from 1955 - 1961.

01-07-2010, 15:55

The applications register for boys joining the school from Aug 31 1863 is in the National Archives as ADM 161/6. The volume before that is ADM 161/5.
Be careful. It's difficult to handle these books without damage. I know because one of my relatives is in the same volume.


James B
04-11-2010, 10:35
Hey Guys

I'm a an RHS Old Boy and just wanted to say I really enjoyed this thread. When I was 15 we did a march past in front the queen to mark the 300th anniversary of the school. Looking back it was a great experiences, but funny how when you are brought up with all that history around you 24/7 you take it for granted. But now I am proud to have been part of it. RHS definitely left its mark on me that place either made you or broke you and I was one of the lucky one's.

Keep up the good work

04-11-2010, 11:08
Hi James,

I am glad you have found the thread interesting.

Thought I would just submit this census record of 1891 showing boys at the School. My Grandfather is shown, aged 12, at entry No.23.

05-04-2011, 22:35

I'm researching a sailor who joined up as a Boy on the 07 June 1917 aged 15. His previous occupation is listed as a Greenwich School Boy. I'm aware that his joining/entry record is available at the National Archives but under what reference? Any assistance very much appreciated.



07-04-2011, 22:44
Most of Holbrook's records seem to be at ADM 169 but not, looking at the results of the catalogue search, pupil records.

Have you tried searching under the Register of Seamen's Services? It covers those joining between 1853-1923

edit - realise if you have his previous occupation that is probably where you got it from! sorry. Perhaps someone at the present Royal Hospital School knows where their early archives are: http://www.royalhospitalschool.org/

07-04-2011, 22:54

Have you seen this thread?


It is always a good idea to do a search of the forum before posting. The answer that you require might already be here.


08-04-2011, 12:18
Thank you for your replies. I had contacted the current school only to be informed that their records were now located at the National Archives.

I had found that thread Dave and noted that the register for boys joining the school from Aug 31 1863 was located in ADM 161/6 but was not sure if this would still be the case for around 1912 when my boy entered. Although reading again, if its not in there it will be ADM 161/7

Assistance much appreciated folks.



16-07-2011, 21:30
In London the last couple of days, and managed to grab a little bit of time early this morning to scoot round to the National Maritime Museum, as it is now - but I prefer to refer to it as the Royal Greenwich Hospital School.

Walking through the famous gates, and across what was the parade ground, and over the spot where the various derivations of Fame rested, was an oddly moving experience. Thinking of the many boys who started their naval life here, including my Grandfather and Great Uncle, and the obvious hard life they had - as described by my Great Uncle in post #10.

My thoughts lingered on the generations who have passed through this magnificent edifice, from Ordinary Seaman to great Admirals; from Trafalgar to Jutland. Many lost, many maimed. and thankfully many who lived through their service.

I will admit to feeling a wave of intense admiration for them all, and an immense pride in our great Royal Navy.

At 7.30 this morning this place was eerily quiet, no extraneous noises to interupt my reflections. Light drizzle on my face causing what felt like tears - well that's my story ...

A passing bus, sounding its horn, eventually broke my isolated musings. I started making my way back, crossing the road and through the grouinds of the Royal Naval College en route to my hotel. I was smirking arrogantly at the emerging tourists ... yes I thought ... this is Great Britain, this place is about the Royal Navy, the greatest navy in history ...

I then left through the Lewin Gate, and couldn't help laughing out loud as my thoughts turned to this forum, and how I truly beleive that the efforts of our contributors make an important human contribution to the history of not just the Royal Navy, but to all of the Worlds' navies.

The sun came out as I got back to the hotel, ghosts in blue uniform faded away. A very strange start to the day,

RHS_13: Looking across to Queens House. Fame would have been in the middle of the view. Have a look at the pics in post #1
RHS_14: Closer shot showing the collonades that connected Queens House to the East and West Wings (built between 1807 and 1812)
RHS_15: Similar to the picture in post #25, but included nevertheless.
RHS_16: Looking along one of the collonades.
RHS_17: The archway through Queens House through which ran the main Deptford to Woolich Road.
RHS_18: From Queens House looking through the gates, across the road to the Royal Naval College and the River Thames.

17-07-2011, 13:11
A very touching account of your reflections. It got to me.

Well done.


21-07-2011, 08:14
Thanks James.

To put my photographs in context, here are some vintage ones from the National Maritime Museum collection, but also without any known copyright, and therefore available for re-use.

RHS_19: Boys on the parade ground around 1870. Queens House to the left and showing the west collonade and west wing with Royal Observatory visible in the background

RHS_20: Boys playing cricket on the asphalt 1898. (originally shown in post #16 as smaller image)

RHS_21: Looking towards the east collonade. Date unknown

RHS_22: Front entrance around 1911. Fame and Queens House behind.

RHS_23: School photograph in front of Queens House, captioned as being taken sometime between 1915 and 1919

12-09-2012, 16:48
What a great thread, and thankyou for some great photographs which are of great significance to me.
My grandfather and his brother both attended the GHS, my grandfather from June 1887, aged 11, until July 1891 when he joined HMS Impregnable at Devonport, and my grand-uncle from September 1890, also aged 11, until December 1894 when he joined St Vincent at Portsmouth. There was an application for a third brother to join in 1891 but the Register of Applications mentions an attached letter which unfortunately is not there so it remains a mystery as to why he did not attend also.
Their father had died four months before my grandfather entered the school and had still been serving in the Steam Reserve at Chatham. He had been born in East Stonehouse in 1845 but somehow joined the Royal Navy in HMS Nile in 1860 in Halifax, Nova Scotia! I saw some of the World during my twelve years in the R.N. but almost everywhere I have been my great-grandfather had been there almost exactly one hundred years before me! His first R.N ship, HMS Nile, was in New York during the American Civil War and later his major voyage(s) was in HMS Galatea with HRH Prince Alfred on the world tours between 1867 and 1871. The National Archive ships' logs are a national treasure. It would be quicker to say where he had not been rather than where he had, and how different those countries would have been then.
Until recently I had knowledge of any of this and had wanted to join the R.A.F to fly .....it didn't happen and fate decreed that I should join the R.N. and fly helicopters, must be something in the blood... now how do I pick them out in the photographs?

12-09-2012, 20:39
Hello 6R16 and welcome to the Forum. I am pleased that you have found something of interest here and look forward to reading anything else that you can contribute. We will be grateful if you would complete your profile to give us a breakdown where you served - you may have some old oppos here:)


ps Thanks for completing your profile.

28-09-2012, 22:34
As a matter of iterest the school celebrates it 300 anneversary next year and a book will be published to celebrate the occasion copies my be obtained by going to the Schools website.
Peter Musselwhite
EXold Boy 47/51

16-10-2012, 10:42
What a great thread! Thank you all so much. My father was at the Royal Hospital School in the 1930s. However on leaving, he failed the eyesight test for the RN and headed for the Union Castle Line instead!

17-10-2012, 10:39
As a matter of iterest the school celebrates it 300 anneversary next year and a book will be published to celebrate the occasion copies my be obtained by going to the Schools website.
Peter Musselwhite
EXold Boy 47/51

Link for anyone wanting to purchase the book is here:

20-11-2012, 19:59
Hello, It was fortuitous that I came upon this wonderful forum, many thanks to all, especially Clive, for the fascinating insight into the happenings at this amazing School.

From another Forum, an extremely helpful person found that an ancestor of mine attended this school; Peter Campbell, born in 1852 at Sunk Island, Yorkshire (a son of Scottish parentage) was admitted to the school on 16 June 1863 a couple of months short of his 11th birthday. His father, John, a Coast Guard and ex RN had died at Sunk Island in 1861 and his mother, Flora, eight months later.

I am not sure if he went on into the RN however he ended up here in Australia sometime in the late 1860's early 1870's and worked with his cousin, Captain Colin Campbell, on Colin's father (Angus) ships that plied a trade between Newcastle (NSW) and Sydney. He died here in Sydney a few months after his 30th birthday.

I have requested a quotation to obtain his record ADM73/188/29 (apparently 5 pages) from the National Archives and once I make acceptance, I don't see that I will receive it for at least a month. Happy to share info, if anyone interested, when received.

Once again, thanks to all for a very informative forum ... excellent. Bonnie

21-11-2012, 18:12
When I joined in the 50s one of the apprentices John McSween came from the RHS.
He was a real hard case and refered to the school as RHS Holbrook.

13-06-2013, 18:10
The school archive and museum will shortly be open at Holbrook, and will be available to anyone who makes an appointment to see it on one of its open days. A "coffee table" table book on the history of the school is on sale through the school at Holbrook.

13-06-2013, 19:32
Many thanks for the update Bernard. I hope you get lots of interest.


13-06-2013, 19:49
My father, James Kemp and his brother George were at the GRHS in the early 1930s. Subsequently my Dad failed the eyesight examination for the Royal Navy and went to sea with the Union Castle Line instead. Sadly all his GRHS memorabilia disappeared after his death.

06-09-2013, 15:42
Pic of Fame bow (remains of) I took in the mid 1960's.


26-02-2016, 16:36
My grandfather was born 1896 and attended the School. I have attached a photo of some of the lads, of which my g/f is on the far left hand side.