SMHS Meeting - Training Ships on the River Thames

22 May 2012

Our home ‘upstairs' at the Royal Oak, Lewes was bursting at the seams - 27 were aboard for May's meeting, including two new members, to see Trevor Cox's presentation -Training Ships on the River Thames.

Trevor's talk centred around his collection of postcards supplemented by photos illustrating not only the ships themselves, but also conditions on board, the pain and pageantry, the everyday life of the youngsters.

Trevor explained that with no welfare system in place, in the early 1800's boys who committed petty crimes were often deported to Australia to solve the problem of overcrowding and criminality. However this practice ceased and some early Training Ships were effectively prison hulks, where boys were detained in horrific conditions and disease was rife.

Other Training Ships were educational establishments, preparing boys with the skills needed to join the Mercantile Marine (later to become the Merchant Navy) or the Royal Navy. Photos showed various scenes i.e. compass-work, swimming test, learning the ropes etc.

Trevor's journey took us down the Thames from the Nautical College - Pangbourne, to the King Alfred (Navy League at Reading), via the Neptune (Surbiton), Steadfast (Kingston) and Stork (Hammersmith).

In 1942 the Navy League became the Sea Cadets. The Sea Scouts had a ship, the Minotaur which actually played a part in Operation Dynamo. The Training Ship Exmouth was towed from Grays to Scapa Flow as a Depot ship for HMS Tuna in WW2.

Not all Training Ships” were sea-going vessels. The boys were sometimes housed in buildings - especially after the loss of their ship - often by fire. The present National Maritime Museum was previously the Royal Hospital School Greenwich, that housed sons of men who had died at sea, training them for life at sea.

After lively questions - mainly about the lack of shoes on board and the continuity of the names of ships we had the ever-popular raffle and a presentation to our very own James Booth in advance of his wedding. Talk was of the upcoming Study Day - Land, Air & Sea. SMHS reporter had a brief word with three of the speakers, all seemed to be looking forward to the day - SMHS reporter predicts a top notch event!

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7.30pm for 8.00pm start
Function Room of the
Royal Oak Public House,
Station Street, Lewes,
East Sussex.

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