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The Royal Institution of Naval Architects and its Work from 1860 to1960  -  A Brief Historical Note

In 1860, when ships were advancing from the era of wood and sails into that of iron and steam, there was little scientific knowledge available to assist the shipbuilder during this period of transition.

The Great Eastern, wonder ship of her age, had just been built and launched on the Thames, a tremendous conception and undertaking, calling for many bold and novel solutions of problems which must have arisen for the first time during her construction and launching.

Is it too fanciful to suggest that the recollection of some of those difficulties was in the mind of her builder, John Scott Russell, when in the Autumn of 1859 he called a private meeting at his house in Sydenham to which were invited Dr Woolley, Edward J. Reed, and Nathaniel Barnaby? So much must be speculation, but the result of this private meeting was the establishment, a few weeks later, on 16 January 1860 of The Institution of Naval Architects, at 'The Hall of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Adelphi, London', now known as The Royal Society of Arts. At this first formal meeting the following Resolution was carried unanimously that 'We, who are present, do now constitute ourselves an Institution of Naval Architects for the purpose of advancing the science and art of Naval Architecture'.

This 'purpose' was, at the next meeting, elaborated into the following Objects:

The Improvement of Ships and of all that specially appertains to them - are comprised under four heads:

First, the bringing together and discussion of those results of practical and scientific experience which so many shipbuilders, ship repairers, marine engineers, shipowners, seagoing officers, yachtsmen, and others in kindred professions acquire independently of each other, in various parts of the world, and which, though of limited value when unconnected, doubtless tend much to improve ships when brought together under discussion, examination and publication by the Institution.

Second, to promote and foster the carrying out of such experiments and other inquiries as may be deemed essential to the advancement of the science, art, and industry of shipbuilding, marine engineering and shipping.

Third, the discussion of scientific advances, new inventions and materials having an application to ships.

Fourth, the investigation of those professional questions which often arise, and were left undecided before the establishment of this Institution, because no public body to which professional reference could be made then existed.

The following gentlemen were present at the first meeting on 16 January 1860:

  • The Rev. Joseph Woolley, M.A., LL.D., F.R.A.S., late Principal of the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction, Portsmouth.
  • John Scott Russell, Esq., F.R.S., Shipbuilder and Engineer, Millwall; and Vice-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
  • John Penn, Esq., Engineer, Greenwich, President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
  • Henry Chatfield, Esq., late Master Shipwright of the Royal Victoria Dockyard, Deptford; and late member of the School of Naval Architecture, Portsmouth.
  • John Grantham, Esq., Consulting Naval Architect, London.
  • Oliver Lang, Master Shipwright of H.M. Dockyard, Chatham.
  • James Martin, Esq., Surveyor to Lloyd's Register Office, London.
  • Alexander Moore, Esq., Assistant Master Shipwright, H.M. Dockyard, Chatham.
  • J. Horatio Ritchie, Esq., Surveyor to Lloyd's Register Office, London.
  • W. Braham Robinson, Esq., Assistant Master Shipwright, H.M. Dockyard, Sheerness.
  • Philip Thornton, Esq., Assistant Master Shipwright, H.M. Dockyard, Woolwich.
  • George Turner, Esq., Master Shipwright of H.M. Dockyard, Woolwich.
  • John White, Esq., Shipbuilder, West Cowes, Isle of Wight.
  • John Macgregor, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, The Temple, London.
  • Nathaniel Barnaby, Esq., of the Department of the Controller of the Navy, Admiralty, Whitehall; late Member of the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction, Portsmouth.
  • F. Kynaston Barnes, Esq., of the Department of the Controller of the Navy, Admiralty, Whitehall; late Member of the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction, Portsmouth.
  • J. B. Chessell Crossland, Esq., of the Department of the Controller of the Navy, Admiralty, Whitehall; late Member of the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction, Portsmouth.
  • E. J. Reed, Esq., late Member of the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction, Portsmouth.

Mr H. Chatfield was in the chair, and Mr (later Sir Edward) Reed, who had volunteered to act as Secretary, outlined the scope of the new society. For a President the choice fell on Sir John Pakington (afterwards Lord Hampton) who held the office for twenty years.

The Founders decision to elect a non-professional President has been followed throughout the Institution's 100 years existence. This policy, believed to be unique among scientific institutions, has enabled many men, distinguished in public life, and closely associated with the sea and shipping, to bring continuity of office and stability to the Institution's affairs, greatly to its benefit and international prestige. The following list records the names of the Presidents who have held office since 1860:

1860 Lord Hampton, G.C.B., D.C.L.
1880 Earl of Ravensworth
1893 Lord Brassey, G.C.B., D.C.L.
1896 Earl of Hopetoun, p.c., K.T., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O.
1901 Earl of Glasgow, G.C.M.G., LL.D.
1908 Earl Cawdor
1911 Rear Admiral Marquis of Bristol, M.V.O.
1915 Earl of Durham, K.G., G.C.V.O.
1921 Duke of Northumberland, K.G., C.B.E., M.V.O., LL.D.
1928 Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Wester Wemyss, G.C.B., C.M.G., M.V.O., D.C.L.
1933 Lord Stonehaven, G.C.M.G., D.S.O., LL.D.
1941 Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Chatfield, G.C.B., O.M., K.C.M.G., c.v.o.
1948 Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, K.T., G.C.B., O.M., D.S.O., LL.D.
1951 Viscount Runciman of Doxford, O.B.E., A.F.C., D.C.L.

The science, art, and industry of shipbuilding is indeed complex and considerably more so in 1960 than in 1860, requiring the 'bringing together' of a diverse body of professional men, by whom the many facets of science and engineering which 'appertain to' a ship, must be taken into account when considering her design, construction, or 'improvement'. The Naval Architect's professional skill lies in the resolution of numerous conflicting problems, for he alone is fundamentally responsible for the ship as a whole.

In considering how the Institution has helped to achieve the Objects for which it was founded it is perhaps not out of place to outline briefly some of the matters that 'appertain' to ships and shipbuilding from which 'improvements' have resulted, and, of course, still result.

Apart from the very great differences in size, structure, propulsion, efficiency, speed, safety, and seaworthiness of the ships of today compared with those of 1860, it has always to be remembered that shipbuilding is essentially a 'specified-to-order' industry, the diversity of world shipping requiring each vessel to be designed for a particular purpose, e.g. fast ocean liner, passenger and cargo liner, bulk carrier, oil tanker, collier, cross channel ship, train ferry, ice-breaker, cable ship, paddle steamer, ferry, tug, dredge, salvage vessel, and yacht and river craft, etc. For, as Sir William White, one of the Institution's most distinguished Honorary Vice-Presidents, said at the Jubilee Meetings in 1911, 'Nothing that floats is too small or too great to receive attention from the Institution and a place in the Transactions.'

Added to the above categories of vessels is the whole range of warship designs, each class providing different problems for effective solution, and for many years the Institution has valued the active support and co-operation of the Admiralty in the presentation of important papers on warship design for discussion at the Institutions' meetings.

But whatever type of merchant ship or warship is to be built the naval architect must have a basic knowledge of everything that relates to her construction. He must consider the choice of materials (steel, aluminium, wood, plastics) and relate his assessments to the individual vessel's displacement, tonnage, and measurement, trim, stability, freeboard, seaworthiness, steering, speed, and propulsion. He must also be competent to advise on the choice of engine and boiler design which will provide the power required, and to-day the nuclear powered ship foreshadows immense new design possibilities. Nor is this all; the naval architect must possess practical knowledge of a ship's auxiliary machinery, electrical, refrigerating and air-conditioning, ventilation, life-saving equipment, winches and lifting tackle. He must also be conversant with docking requirements, ship repairing, shipyard practice generally, and be experienced in the several main factory processes, riveting, welding etc. Of considerable design importance today, since the pioneer work of William Froude in the last century, is a full appreciation and knowledge of hydrodynamics and the value of ship model experiment work carried out in the several testing tanks.

The Institution provides a forum where papers on all these subjects can be read and discussed, and a glance at the Institution's Transactions over the past 100 years will show the extent and diversity of the subjects tackled, and the views expressed thereon by the most distinguished shipbuilders, naval architects, marine engineers, and naval officers of their day. The Transactions are issued free to members either quarterly or in an annual bound volume, and constitute a valuable record of the scientific and technical progress in shipbuilding.

The task of the Institution continues at increasing tempo and if already we seem to have advanced into realms of science hardly imagined by our Founders in 1860, we may be sure that our successors celebrating the Institution's bi-centenary in 2060 will surely be tackling scientific problems equally beyond our present grasp and knowledge.

In 1959, after stringent examination of its activities, the Institution was granted exemption from the payment of rates under the Scientific Societies Act of 1843, as being a purely scientific body. In commenting on this and on the relationship of members to the Institution, the President, Viscount Runciman of Doxford said: 'To me this exemption is important not indeed because it changes in any way the status of the Institution, or our constitution or our nature; it is significant to me because it brings us into the foreground and shows that a competent and strict tribunal has accepted our claim to be in fact a scientific society. Our objects differ slightly from the objects of some kindred societies with whom we are happy and proud to work, who set out more than we do to promote the interests of their members. For us, the only benefit which a member can derive from belonging to this Institution is the distinction which he can draw from being thought worthy to do so. The Institution does not exist for the benefit of members; the members are allowed to belong for the benefit of the Institution. That, I think, is as it should be, and it is in that sense that I hope we shall also go ahead in the future.'

The value of such an organization as the Institution of Naval Architects soon became apparent to other maritime countries, and similar societies closely modelled on it have since become established, notably in France, U.S.A., Japan, Germany, and Italy.

The total membership of the Institution on its foundation was 324. Today, 100 years later it is 4358 made up as follows:

Honoary Members             8
Members                       1355
Associate-Members   1763
Associates                      798
Students                          434

The number of foreign members and members resident abroad is approximately 1300 distributed throughout Her Majesty's Dominions and all the principal maritime countries.

It is interesting to note that for nearly the first twenty years of the Institution's existence the numbers of Associates (i.e. the non-professional grade of membership) greatly exceeded the number of professional Members. This came about, partly from a desire to keep the standard of professional qualification for admission to membership at a high level, and partly because so many naval officers and marine engineers who were taking an active part in the early proceedings were only qualified for admission as Associates. (So far as marine engineers were concerned those 'conversant with naval architecture' were admitted to professional membership in 1869,)

In 1899 the class of membership was sub-divided and an intermediate class of Associate-Member established, primarily for younger men between the ages of 25 and 30 years. At the age of thirty an Associate-Member could then transfer to full Member provided he could .show having had five years' service in a recognized position of responsibility.

Still younger members were admitted to the Institution in 1905 when the Student class was introduced for those between the ages of 18 and 25 years who were just starting out on their professional career.

Finally in this centenary year 1960 a new class of Student Associates is being authorized for young men who wish eventually to become Associates on reaching the age of twenty-five.


Apart from the Institution's regular meetings for the presentation and discussion of papers, the education and training of naval architects has always received close attention from the Council and both Student and Post-graduate scholarships are administered by the Institution. National Certificates in Naval Architecture are awarded annually in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and the Ministry of Education.

A Gold Medal and Premium are also awarded for the best paper contributed by a member or student.

The William Froude Gold Medal for an outstanding contribution to naval architecture and shipbuilding may also be awarded from time to time. 


In the early days the Institution settled in rooms in Adelphi Terrace, first at No.7, then No.9, and finally No. 5 (the former house of David Garrick). The proximity of Adelphi Terrace to the Royal Society of Arts where Scott Russell had been Secretary, and where for many years meetings of the Institution were held, made the choice of the Institution's premises very convenient. With the reconstruction of the Adelphi after the 1914-18 war, however, the Institution moved to the south corner of Adam Street nearby, and then in 1938 to the present headquarters in 10 Upper Belgrave Street.

Adam StreetTheWeir2.jpgHere in recent years the Institution has been able to add to its amenities by extending the premises to include a small Lecture Hall, the building of which was greatly facilitated by the generosity of the late Viscount Weir of Eastwood (Honorary Vice-President of the Institution), and the hall is named after him. The hall seats 180 persons and has been equipped by gifts from the shipbuilding industry and maritime organizations associated therewith.

The main offices of the Institution are on the ground floor at No. 10 Upper Belgrave Street. On the first floor is the fine Denny Library, furnished by Margaret Lady Denny in memory of her husband, Sir Archibald Denny, BT., LL.D., an Honorary Vice-President of the Institution. The Library is also used for Council Meetings. On the second floor is the Secretary's Room, and also the Scott Library, a very valuable collection of rare books originally the property of the late Colonel John Scott, C.B., and RINA Headquarterspresented to the Institution in 1930.

The third floor is a self-contained flat occupied by the permanent housekeeper who lives on the premises.


Formerly the Institution held only one big meeting a year the Spring Meeting - just before Easter at The Royal Society of Arts - when a number of papers were read and discussed. While this traditional Spring Meeting is still held, though nowadays in its own Lecture Hall, other smaller meetings can now be spread over the year, and in addition the holding of an annual Summer or Autumn Meeting either at home or abroad has become a well established routine. These Summer or Autumn Meetings in foreign countries provide opportunities for widening contacts with shipbuilders and institutions in other lands, and for visits to their shipyards. The exchange of ideas and experience resulting from the technical papers read on such occasions has proved valuable. The social aspect of such meetings is not overlooked and the presence of ladies on both sides helps considerably to establish excellent personal relationship between hosts and guests.

Australian Branch

An Australian Branch of the Institution was constituted in 1954, with headquarters at Science House, 157-162 Gloucester Street, Sydney, New South Wales.

Southern Joint Branch of the Institution

A southern joint branch of the Institution and of the Institute of Marine Engineers was established in 1946 in the Southampton and Portsmouth area.