Hundreds of guests are expected to join the world’s oldest maritime welfare charity as it marks its 200th anniversary service at Southwark Cathedral on April 24.
Sailors’ Society was founded in London in 1818 to support destitute seafarers returning home from the Napoleonic Wars.
The charity, which is now based in Southampton, supports the world’s 1.6m seafarers through crises such piracy, kidnapping and abandonment.
Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II, the charity’s patron, whose first ever solo engagement in 1944 when she was 18 was to open the charity’s Aberdeen Sailors’ Home, wrote in the order of service: “I send my warmest congratulations to Sailors’ Society, the world’s oldest maritime welfare charity, on the occasion of its 200th anniversary – an achievement that says an enormous amount about the charity’s relevance and resilience through the years as well as all of you who have offered your unwavering support.
“Times change; but the plights that face seafarers do not. Sailors’ Society is here today, as it has been for the past two centuries, to care for those who work on our seas, and upon whom we all rely. These men and women, an invisible workforce, make great sacrifices; away from loved ones for many months at a time and facing dangers. Each and every one of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to our seafarers and those who support them.”
Her cousin, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, will deliver a speech about the royal family’s long links with the charity; including how their great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, would regularly support the organisation’s work, sending signed photographs and donations in times of great need.
Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, was a keen supporter of the charity’s cause.
In the early 1900s, he saved Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory from the scrapheap and oak and copper was given to Sailors’ Society by the Lords of the Admiralty.
Because of his longstanding links with Sailors’ Society, Edward VII gave the charity permission to use his initials on mementoes such as wooden busts of Nelson and copper plates, which were then sold to raise funds.
Another of Sailors’ Society’s royal supporters was King Edward VIII, who sent 20 guineas in 1926 to be spent on Christmas entertainment for boys training at the charity’s Prince of Wales Sea Training School. He also paid the school a surprise visit, where he was presented with a Nelson bust - inscribed with his grandfather’s initials - which he put in the back of his car.
The charity’s 150th anniversary service, held at Westminster, was attended by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and to mark the 175th anniversary Queen Elizabeth II visited charity’s home port of Southampton and led the service, which was broadcast on Songs of Praise.
To coincide with its anniversary, a new hymn, “They that go down to the sea in ships”, has been composed by Malcolm Archer and will be performed by the Winchester College Chapel Choir at the service.
Sailors’ Society has also published a commemorative book, 200 Stories from the Sea, which includes tales of how the charity helped get The Beatles on the long and winding road to success and how one of its missionaries was eaten by cannibals.