Rarely open to the public, an important WW2 warship now moored in the Thames is currently open for a couple of days every week until later this year.
It’s not just a museum ship though, it’s also a Livery Hall used by one of the City of London’s old livery companies, so a visit can either be to see an important part of WW2 heritage, or a visit to an unusual Livery Hall, or both.
HMS Wellington was built at Devonport in 1934 and served as an anti-submarine escort ship for North Atlantic convoys during WW2. After World War II, she was converted from being His Majesty’s Ship Wellington to Headquarters Ship (HQS) Wellington at Chatham Dockyard, which saw the armaments removed, and the huge engine rooms converted into a large Court room for the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.
In 1948, the ship was permanently moored at Temple Pier, and baring the occasional departure, has been there ever since.
The ship is occasionally open to the public for Open Day type tours or the occasional short exhibition, but this year it’s open all summer, giving most of us our first chance to go onboard.
Depending on the tides, the walkway from the Embankment to the ship is either a simple walkway, or a very steep walk down, and then back up to the ship entrance.
In here, there’s either a guided tour, or you can wander around pretty much everywhere at your leisure, although not into the Master’s quarters as your correspondent seeing an unblocked staircase assumed was open to go up, only to be called back down by the Clark fairly sharpish.
Inside it’s very much what you might expect, a richly decorated ship that if you didn’t know it had served in battle might look to all intents like a luxury cruise ship with deep rich carpets and lots of good furniture around.
Loads of model boats line the walls, including one of the Wellington itself as it would have looked like during WW2. Another of the models that caught my attention was the PS Golden Eagle, which I learned was a Thames paddle steamer that amongst many things, was used to carry aircraft to France after D-Day.
At the moment, and the reason for the ship being open, there’s an exhibition in the lower deck about the South Asian seafarers and how they helped the British during WW2. As a display, it’s mainly a load of information boards, a short film, and a small display case — but it does remind us of an often little-known aspect of how the then Empire supported Britain during the war, and a modern effort to record the names of those who died and are not included in formal war memorials.
Head down a second grand staircase and into the former engine room, which is now the grand Court room for the Livery Hall, and a rather good video showing how the two massive engines worked. Projected onto a translucent screen, the video is almost three dimensional at times.
You can also go up on deck, which is a bit hard to find, but head back to the entrance, then along a corridor lined with photos of former (and the current) Master of the livery, and then on deck to get some great views of the river from here.
But do go up to the control cabin, where they’ve rigged up the steering wheel to a video screen and you get a chance to play ship’s captain and steer the boat through a series of targets on the sea – and something unexpected at the end. During the game you could feel the boat you’re steering rocking around, and I looked down a few times, and no, the floor moving around under my feet wasn’t a special effect, it’s the boat on the Thames rocking in the waves. I managed a full score, which was pleasing, and the volunteer guide who was in the room admitted that she had sunk the ship on one attempt, which they didn’t think was possible.
So that’s your goal — sink the Wellington!
HQS Wellington is open Sundays and Mondays until 17th October between 11am to 5pm. My visit lasted around an hour.
Adult: £7.50 – Children and students: Free
There’s also a guided tour on Sundays for £12.50
You need to book tickets in advance from here.
There’s also a small souvenir table, and I was able to add to my collection of mugs on the day.