The Foundation, which provides twelve homes for the needy widows or daughters of deceased officers of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, RN/RM Reserves and Naval Chaplains, was created in 1847 by the Dowager Queen Adelaide in memory of her husband, the sailor King, William IV.
At the time, no provision was made by the State for widows and unmarried daughters of those who had lost their lives in the naval Service, and many found themselves destitute and homeless. . The Foundation is now a Registered Charity and depends on investment income, contributions from the Residents, donations and legacies.
Five Governors were appointed initially, including members of the Royal Family, the First Sea Lord, and the Earl Howe, to manage the affairs of the Foundation, and to ensure that the Residents were "of sober habit, attended Church regularly and conducted themselves in a ladylike manner". There were also four Trustees and a Secretary from the Royal Household.
The current Charter provides for up to seven Governors, the Earl Howe as hereditary Governor, and up to six co-opted Governors who have served in the Naval Service. One Governor is appointed as Chairman, one as Domestic Governor, and one as Welfare Governor.
The Homes were first built on two acres of land at Penge, and remained there until the early 1970s, when land at Southwick, Hampshire adjacent to the then HMS DRYAD was leased to the Foundation by the Ministry of Defence on a peppercorn rent. Twelve new 'Cottages' were erected there and opened in 1973.