Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 16, 2017
Webpage updated: May 02, 2020

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The Royal Naval Engineering College in Keyham Road, Devonport,
from the south.
From a postcard.

The Royal Naval Engineering College was originally situated alongside the Dockyard wall in Keyham Road.

Construction of the building commenced on February 10th 1879.  The contractor was Mr John Pethick of Plymouth and the contract was worth some 30,000.  The College was reputedly designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament.

The Royal Naval Training College from the north.
From a postcard.

The College was opened without ceremony on July 1st 1880 as the "Training Schools for Engineer Students", although known simply as "The College".  Commander R W Hope was in charge.  It was occupied by about 120 engineering students who were given board and lodgings for five years before they went on to the college at Greenwich for a further two years.  They were then drafted on to sea-going ships as Assistant Engineers.  Their training was done out in the various workshops around the Dockyard.

In fact, the first entrants arrived on July 4th from HMS "Marlborough" at Portsmouth.   Their train had left there at 10.50am that morning and they arrived at the Devonport Station of the London and South Western Railway Company at about 6.15pm.  The thirty-five students were then marched through Devonport Park to the College.

As the original plan for the College made no provision for instruction on the premises, it became necessary to build an extension containing the a laboratory, lecture rooms, and even a gymnasium, although this later became a Test Shop.   This was done inside the Dockyard, the two parts being linked by a precarious bridge over the Burma Narrows.  In time a covered parade ground was added here as well and workshops for electrical and mechanical tuition.

Their day apparently started with swimming at 5.30am, which was compulsory until 1884 when it was made voluntary.  They attended the workshops in the morning and the College from 1.30 to 4.30pm.  The students then returned to the workshops in the evening from 6.30 until 8pm. 

Electric lighting replaced the gas lamps in October 1891 and hot baths were provided from 1894 onwards.  In November 1895 work started on building an extension southward from the main building, to accommodate 50 students on two floors.  This extension was connected to the old building by a bridge, beneath which was the new main entrance.   While it was being constructed some houses were taken over in nearby Avondale Terrace and provided accommodation for 42 students.  The new wing was opened in 1887.

A recreation ground had been provided on nearby land that was later taken over by the new Royal Naval Barracks when that was built.  A replacement ground was provided inside the Keyham Steam Yard but this disappeared when in January 1896 a new basin was constructed.  So the Admiralty bought Keyham Lake and filled it in using material from the excavations for the basin.  The new recreation ground was opened on May 22nd 1901 with a cricket match between the upper and lower floors.  The ground was extended in 1902 by cutting down trees adjacent to the railway viaduct.

The College closed in 1910 as a result of the introduction of the Selborne/Fisher scheme of training that brought common training for both executive and engineering officers.  It re-opened in July 1913 under Engineer Captain C G Taylor, the first engineer officer ever to be appointed.  The first intake of students arrived in the September.  When war broke out all the officers under training were sent to sea and the College was then used for receiving special-entry cadets, one of whom was HRH Prince Louis of Battenberg, otherwise Lord Mountbatten of Burma.  It reverted to engineer training in 1919.

HRH King George VI visited the College in December 1939.

RNEC Manadon

In May 1937 plans were announced for a new college on 15 acres of land at Manadon. The Admiralty bought the 100-acre Manadon estate in 1938 instead!. The new College opened in May 1940 and by 1945 consisted of some permanent buildings (east end of instruction block, No 1 hanger and test house) and some temporary Nissen huts.   The manor house, Manadon House, became the rooms for the staff officers and the Captain's flat.

On December 1st 1946 the College became known as HMS "Thunderer" but the commissioning ceremony had to be postponed until the following day.  Previous to this the staff and students had been borne on the books of the Royal Naval Barracks.  The new college buildings at Manadon were designed by Mr H E Furse of the Ministry of Works.  It was adorned by Portland stone figures by Mr J Woodford RA.  The first of the new buildings was accepted from the contractor, Costains Limited, on May 29th 1946.  A celebratory party was held in the recreation block on February 5th 1947 amid heavy snowfall.  The instructional block, factory and boiler house were completed in 1951.  The total cost was said to be 480,000.

The foundation stone was finally laid on Friday July 13th 1956 by Earl Mountbatten of Burma.  The Captain of the College was Sir John Walsham.

The final mess dinner was held at the Keyham college on May 15th 1958 and this was followed by the official opening of the new Manadon complex by HRH the Prince Phillip on July 29th 1958, deputising for the Queen, who was unable to attend.

On November 19th 1959 the old buildings at Keyham re-opened as the Dockyard Technical College.

Finally, the old tithe barn at Manadon that had been used to garage cars was opened as an interdenominational chapel.  It was dedicated to Saint John and Saint James by the Chaplain of the Fleet on January 30th 1962.

The old Engineering College building at Keyham was due to be demolished early in 1985 as it was in very poor condition and would more to restore than pull down.

The Royal Naval Engineering College closed its doors in 1994 when training was transferred to the University of Southampton.