Royal Naval College

The Navy's state-of-the-art training college (1873-1997)

In 1873 the Naval College in Portsmouth acquired the buildings of the old Royal Hospital for Seamen and the Royal Naval College was born. It became the most highly rated naval training college in Europe, with a reputation for academic rigour.

Who trained here?

The Royal Naval College provided state-of-the-art training for around 27,000 promising officers from Britain and beyond as the Navy made the transition from sail to steam power.

In 1939, with the start of World War II, women were able to join the newly formed Women’s Royal Naval Service and were trained at the Royal Naval College.

International students

Much of China’s navy throughout the twentieth century was built by graduates of the Royal Naval College – first by figures such as Yan Fu at the end of the Imperial dynasty, and then in Communist China by students who had fought alongside the Allies in World War II.

What happened to The Royal Naval College?

In 1983 the Government decided to amalgamate the training of armed forces and the Navy vacated the premises in 1997.

The Greenwich Foundation, an independent charity, was established to conserve the site for present and future generations, and create enjoyment, learning and unique cultural experiences for everyone.

The Old Royal Naval College opened its doors as a visitor attraction in 1998 enabling the public to enjoy this remarkable space.

Life at the Royal Naval College

The Skittle Alley was a popular spot for student nights of bowling and drinking as it had been for the Greenwich Pensioners before them.

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Skittle Alley, RN Officers, 1948 © Getty Images

The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS)

The first female students, known as ‘Wrens’ were admitted in 1939. Over 8,000 Wrens trained here during World War II with roles including Radio Operators, Meteorologists and Bomb Markers.

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The March Past by WRNS, 1941. Priest, L C (Lt) © IWM

HRH Prince Philip

The Duke of Edinburgh was made Baron Greenwich of the Royal Borough of Greenwich in 1947 and is well connected to the Borough. His longstanding relationship with the Royal Navy has been well documented and we have had the privilege of His Royal Highness visiting the Old Royal Naval College on many occasions through the years. 

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