HMS Wellington, a Grimsby Class Sloop of 1256 tons, was built for the Royal Navy at Devonport Dockyard in 1934. One of 13 such warships built for service in the Commonwealth and Dependencies. She patrolled the Pacific region around New Zealand (hence her name) from 1936 until recalled to home waters in 1939.
Her greatest test came with the onset of war as she began a gruelling six-year spell on convoy escort duties in the Atlantic. HMS Wellington steamed over 240,000 miles and was one of the smallest ships constantly to risk that deadliest theatre of sea operations. She rescued over 450 Merchant Navy seamen, evacuated troops at Dunkirk, participated in the North African landings and shared the credit for sinking a U Boat. In 1946 she was laid up with other surplus warships at Pembroke Dock. She was well loved with every contemporary record of her time in Royal Navy service revealing “The Welly” to be a happy ship – and that has not changed to this day.
A New Life
In 1947 HMS Wellington was purchased by the Honourable Company of Master Mariners to serve as their Livery Hall and Headquarters.
Her engine and boiler rooms were transformed into a unique Court Room for meetings, conferences, dining and receptions. Office space for the management of the company, its charitable trusts and its library were included along with public spaces to display an impressive collection of marine paintings, ship models, silver and other artefacts of maritime significance.
As the last remaining pre-WW2 sloop she is historically important; but it is the use to which she is put and the treasures she holds that makes HQS “Wellington” very special. In 2005 the ownership of the vessel transferred to the Wellington Trust.
The extensive maritime library is available to student researchers. More than 16,000 people visit the ship each year on tours, open days and other functions. Various charitable trusts are managed onboard. These are charities concerned with mariners and their families in need, education of students of maritime matters, and sponsorship of young people contemplating a career at sea.
HQS Wellington is a natural focus for the London based maritime industry; for companies and associations linked to the River Thames; and for nautical organisations supporting the young and disadvantaged. The ship is extensively used by the Mission to Seafarers, King George’s Fund for Sailors (now Seafarers UK), the RNLI, Merchant Navy Welfare Board and other maritime charities. Open Days with articulate and highly knowledgeable tour guides provide a fascinating history of the ship, its artefacts and of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.
Major maritime seminars and monthly joint informal seminars are hosted onboard HQS Wellington by the Honourable Company in conjunction with the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology; the Nautical Institute; the Royal Institute of Navigation; and the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. There are book launches, conferences and group gatherings – often with a nautical interest. The Wellington also serves as a unique venue for corporate and social events including a number of memorable wedding receptions.
So, this proud and historic vessel now serves as a platform to promote study, education and appreciation of a long-standing maritime heritage. As the best of the past is preserved, the future is promoted through use of Wellington as a platform to project the advancement of UK shipping, of Merchant and Royal Navy officers and seamen, and of professional seagoing standards.
Proof of her international standing came in 2003 when the judging panel of the prestigious World Ship Trust chose her, from many famous and deserving heritage ships around the world, to receive a coveted World Ship Trust special award – only the sixth ever made.
Looking To The Future
Her Devonport ship builders could hardly have envisaged that 70 years after launch she would be a highly visible and much loved central London landmark. However, despite careful and loving conversion, the ravages of time and tide are starting to tell on a seventy year old hull and its retro-fitted services and fittings.
The Wellington Trust is determined that, unlike many other historic vessels and heritage sites, this unique ship will not be permitted to fall into such a state of disrepair that a huge injection of cash becomes necessary just to ensure her survival.
The Honourable Company of Master Mariners has provided a £250,000 grant to the Trust and we are very grateful for their generosity. Similarly, Honourable Company members and friends have raised additional funds for preservation purposes, which reflects a substantial and generous donation from many individuals committed to the future of HQS Wellington.