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The Royal Naval Engineering College

A brief history of RNEC.  Written by Jock Morrison

The introduction of increasing numbers of steam-driven ships into the Royal Navy, and of engineers to man the engines, led to the introduction in 1838 of training for Engineers' Boys in Royal Dockyard workshops alongside Dockyard apprentices. In 1843, the Royal Dockyard Schools were founded at Woolwich, Sheerness, Portsmouth and Devonport and in 1863 a more formal scheme of training was introduced for these Engineers' Boys, now known as Engineer Students. In that same year, the Royal Navy's Engineers began wearing purple stripes on the sleeves of their uniform jackets, although they remained civilian, rather than military, officers.

HMS MARLBOROUGH, a warship hulk provided at Portsmouth in 1877 as an Engineer Students' hostel, was later replaced by a college built specially "as a training school for Engineer Students" at Keyham, Devonport.  It was opened "without ceremony" in July 1880, some 9 years before the RN Barracks.

The Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham provided all the engineering training previously given in the four Dockyard Schools as well as accommodation for all the Navy's Engineer Students.  It allowed them "to become accustomed to the discipline which in many ways they find irksome on first appointment to a man-of-war" - and probably still do!

The RNEC's importance to the Royal Navy's conduct of modern warfare, by providing well trained Engineer Officers in sufficient numbers, was highlighted by the events of the 1914-18 war. The subsequent need to expand away from the crowded Keyham site was met by the purchase of the historic 100-acre Manadon estate in north Plymouth in 1937. Opened with temporary buildings for accommodation only at the outbreak of war in 1939, Manadon developed rapidly throughout World War II to provide a relatively safe expansion of the Keyham facilities.

The whole of the RNEC complex was commissioned in 1946 as HMS THUNDERER . When no longer required, the old Keyham building was used by the Devonport Dockyard Technical College in 1959 and demolished in 1985. With training consolidated at RNEC Manadon, its facilities and courses for all the Royal Navy's Engineer Officers, particularly those studying for university degrees, as well as for some officers of other Branches, developed continuously until the RNEC's closure in 1995.

In future, Engineer Officers are to be trained at civilian universities and at the Navy's specialist establishments in the Portsmouth area.


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