Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Coordinates: 51°28′56″N 0°00′24″W / 51.48222°N 0.00667°W / 51.48222; -0.00667
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Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
RoleHigher officer training
Garrison/HQGreenwich, London, UK
Motto(s)Tam Minerva Quam Marte ("By Wisdom as much as by War")[1]

The Royal Naval College, Greenwich, was a Royal Navy training establishment between 1873 and 1998, providing courses for naval officers. It was the home of the Royal Navy's staff college, which provided advanced training for officers. The equivalent in the British Army was the Staff College, Camberley, and the equivalent in the Royal Air Force was the RAF Staff College, Bracknell.


The Royal Naval College, Greenwich, was founded by an Order in Council dated 16 January 1873. The establishment of its officers consisted of a President, who was always a Flag Officer; a Captain, Royal Navy; a Director of Studies; and Professors of Mathematics, Physical Science, Chemistry, Applied Mechanics, and Fortification. It was to take in officers who were already Sub-Lieutenants and to operate as "the university of the Navy".[2] The Director of Studies, a civilian, was in charge of an Academic Board, while the Captain of the College was a naval officer who acted as chief of staff.[3]

The Royal Naval War College, which had been established at Greenwich in November 1900 before being removed to first Devonport and then Portsmouth, transferred its activities to the college at Greenwich in 1914.[4] During the First World War the Royal Naval College was requisitioned as a barracks and for scientific experiments. The training of officers was not resumed until 1919.[5]

On 30 October 1939 the college began to train officers of the Women's Royal Naval Service.[6] During the Second World War, the College increased the number of officers of both sexes trained for an expanded Navy. Its major task was the training of fighting officers, and around 35,000 men and women graduated during that period. In 1943, the beautiful Admiral's House on the north wing of King Charles Court was damaged by a direct hit from a German bomb; another bomb hit the front of the building.[7]

The Navy's Department of Nuclear Science and Technology opened on the college premises in 1959, and JASON, the department's research and training reactor, was commissioned in the King William building in 1962.[8]

In 1967 Queen Elizabeth II knighted Francis Chichester on the river steps of the College, honouring his achievement in circumnavigating the world as a solo yachtsman, using the old route of the clippers, becoming the first to do so. His was also the fastest such circumnavigation, taking nine months and one day.[9]

The Royal School of Naval Architecture, which had been part of the College since 1873, transferred to University College London in 1967.[10] The Royal Naval College continued to train women until 1976, when their courses were transferred to the Britannia Royal Naval College.[11]

From 1983 the relocated Joint Services Defence College also occupied much of the King Charles building.[12] With a shrinking Royal Navy, the decision was taken to close RNC Greenwich in 1998. All initial officer training is now carried out at the Britannia Royal Naval College,[13] and the new Joint Services Command and Staff College, created in 1997, took over the staff college functions.[14]


The former chapel of the Royal Naval College

The college was established in buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712, then intended to serve as the Greenwich Hospital, a home for disabled sailors. This closed in 1869, when the pensioners were transferred to other places, leaving the buildings available for a new use.[15] The site of the former hospital had once been occupied by the medieval Palace of Placentia, or "Palace at Greenwich", begun by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1428.[16]

After the Royal Navy departed in 1998 the buildings were opened to the public as the Old Royal Naval College.


See also Category:Admiral presidents of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich

The President of the College was a full-time post until 1982 when it became an honorary role held by the Second Sea Lord (and from 1994 an honorary role held by the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff).[17] Presidents included:[17]

Directors of Studies[edit]

The following individuals served as Director of Studies:

Order Officeholder Title Term began Term end Time in office Notes
1 Thomas Archer Hirst Director of Studies 1873 1882 8–9 years [35]
2 Sir William Davidson Niven 1882 1903 20–21 years [36]
3 Captain William Harold Watts RN 1966 1969 2–3 years [37]

Notable professors[edit]

Notable students[edit]

Since decommissioning[edit]

Now known as the Old Royal Naval College, the college's former buildings are open to the public and are the home of three attractions; the Painted Hall, the Chapel, and the Discover Greenwich visitor centre. The site has also been used as a film location, appearing in Sherlock Holmes (2009)[45] and The Foreigner (2017)[46] and as the setting for the final clash on Earth in Thor: The Dark World.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Mariner's Mirror, vol. 52 (Society for Nautical Research, 1966), p. 150
  2. ^ J. R. Hill, Bryan Ranft, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy (2002), p. 269
  3. ^ Geoffrey Till, Bryan Ranft, The Development of British Naval Thinking (2006)
  4. ^ Hazell's Annual 1914, p. 143
  5. ^ Kevin Littlewood, Beverley Butler, Of Ships and Stars: Maritime Heritage and the Founding of the National Maritime Museum (1998), p. 43
  6. ^ Marjorie H. Fletcher, The WRNS: A History of the Women's Royal Naval Service (1989), p. 115
  7. ^ The Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College
  8. ^ Jason casts a cloud over naval college sale in The Independent dated 22 October 1995
  9. ^ 1967: Sir Francis Chichester sails home at
  10. ^ J. R. Parkinson, The Economics of Shipbuilding in the United Kingdom (2011), p. 5
  11. ^ "Wrens: History". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  12. ^ "National Maritime Museum Archive".
  13. ^ Robert Shannan Peckham, Rethinking Heritage: Cultures and Politics in Europe (2003), p. 18
  14. ^ Ian F. W. Beckett, Discovering British Regimental Traditions (Osprey Publishing, 2007), p. 58
  15. ^ Ann Stewart Balakier, James J. Balakier, The Spatial Infinite at Greenwich in Works by Christopher Wren (1995), p. i
  16. ^ Guy McDonald, England (2004), p. 125
  17. ^ a b Royal Navy Senior Appointments Archived 15 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine at, accessed 9 October 2013
  18. ^ Note: The duties of Admiral President would have carried out by the Captain of the College, Captain John Cecil Davis, during these War years
  19. ^ a b 'Agar, Captain Augustus Willington Shelton', in Who Was Who 1961–1970 (London: A. & C. Black, 1979 reprint, ISBN 0-7136-2008-0)
  20. ^ 'Cairns, 5th Earl' in Who Was Who 1981–1990 (London: A. & C. Black, 1991, ISBN 0-7136-3336-0)
  21. ^ 'Gordon Lennox, Rear-Adm. Sir Alexander (Henry Charles)' in Who Was Who 1981–1990 (London: A. & C. Black, 1991, ISBN 0-7136-3336-0)
  22. ^ 'McGeoch, Vice-Adm. Sir Ian (Lachlan Mackay)' in Who's Who 2007 (London: A. & C. Black, 2006)
  23. ^ 'Lucey, Rear-Adm. Martin Noel' in Who Was Who 1991–1995 (London: A. & C. Black, 1996 ISBN 0-7136-4496-6)
  24. ^ 'Ellis, Rear-Adm. Edward William' in Who Was Who 2001–2005 (London: A. & C. Black, 2006, ISBN 0-7136-7601-9)
  25. ^ 'Bazalgette, Rear-Adm. Derek Willoughby' in Who's Who 2007 (London: A. & C. Black, 2006)
  26. ^ 'Cooke, Rear-Adm. Anthony John', in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  27. ^ 'Carlill, Rear Adm. John Hildred' in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  28. ^ 'Cassels, Adm. Sir Simon (Alastair Cassillis)', in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  29. ^ 'Fitch, Adm. Sir Richard (George Alison)', in Who Was Who 1991–1995 (London: A. & C. Black, 1996, ISBN 0-7136-4496-6)
  30. ^ 'Brown, Adm. Sir Brian (Thomas)', in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  31. ^ Admiral Sir Michael Livesay The Telegraph, 9 October 2003
  32. ^ 'Layard, Adm. Sir Michael (Henry Gordon)', in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  33. ^ 'Brigstocke, Adm. Sir John (Richard)', in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  34. ^ 'Blackham, Vice-Adm. Sir Jeremy (Joe)', in Who's Who 2013 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  35. ^ Flood, Raymond; Rice, Adrian; Wilson, Robin (2011). Mathematics in Victorian Britain. p. 66.
  36. ^ NIVEN, Sir William Davidson (1992 reprint ed.). London: A. & C. Black. 1992. ISBN 0-7136-3143-0. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  37. ^ "Summary Guide". Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  38. ^ "Burnside, William (BNSD871W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  39. ^ G. P. Sendeckyj, Int. Journal of Fatigue vol. 23 (2001), p. 347
  40. ^ Entry for Lyons, Peter Stanley, in Register of Twentieth Century Johnians, Volume I, 1900–1949. St John's College, Cambridge.
  41. ^ "Laughton, John Knox (LTN848JK)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  42. ^ 'Lloyd, Charles Christopher', in Who Was Who 1981–1990 (London: A. & C. Black, 1991, ISBN 0-7136-3336-0)
  43. ^ 'Professor Bryan Ranft: Historian of the Royal Navy', obituary in The Guardian dated 25 May 2001
  44. ^ 'A. W. Reinold', obituary in Nature, issue 2687 dated 28 April 1921, vol. 107, p. 276
  45. ^ "Sherlock Holmes". Movie locations. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  46. ^ "The Foreigner". Global Film Locations. 3 July 2017. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  47. ^ "Hollywood's rubbish Tube geography in Thor 2 is an unnecessary distraction". New Statesman. 8 November 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2014.

51°28′56″N 0°00′24″W / 51.48222°N 0.00667°W / 51.48222; -0.00667