of incarcerating boys and young men aboard hulks......
A hulk is a ship that is afloat, but incapable of going to sea.
Normally used to refer to an abandoned wreck or shell, it is much more commonly applied to hulls that are still performing a useful function.
Thus it was with HMS Worcester - the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College, moored in the River Thames, off Greenhithe in Kent.
But first, some historical background to this uniquely British tradition.
There are literary references in many works of the Victorian period - and notably central to the plot in Great Expectations - to the incarceration of prisoners aboard prison hulks moored in the river and harbours of southern England.
Charles Dickens' account of Abel Magwitch's attempted escape from the hulk moored in the Thames Estuary gives a dark picture of the brutal conditions and treatment of those on board.
As more and more land based prisons were built, the prison hulks fell into disuse.
The Prison Hulk York
Several hulks were converted into floating isolation hospitals.
The hospital ships Atlas and Endymion were moored at Long Reach near Dartford, 15 miles below London Bridge. They were joined by a third vessel, the Castalia, a former passenger ferry, and continued in use until 1903.
Children formed a substantial part of the Metropolitan Asylum Board's general intake of sick and mentally handicapped, while also providing for their care in other ways. In 1875, the training-ship Goliath, was destroyed by fire.
Goliath ablaze, 22nd December 1875, with the loss of twenty-three lives.
The Local Government Board decided that the ship should be replaced by another vessel, the Exmouth, for the benefit of the whole of London. The Metropolitan Asylums Board took over the management of the scheme which gave naval training to pauper boys, aged from twelve to sixteen, many of whom went on to join the Merchant or Royal Navy. Their first task was to learn how to mend and patch their own clothes. They also had to learn how to wash their clothes, and keep their lockers and contents in good order. Each boy had his own hammock which was stowed during the day, leaving the decks clear of bedding. As well as learning the skills of sailing, rowing, sail and rope-making, gunnery, and signalling, they continued ordinary school work, and other physical activities such as swimming and gymnastics. The ship had its own marching band and bugle-band.
In 1903, the ship's ancient wooden hull was found to be in an unsafe condition and was condemned. A replacement of similar appearance, but built of iron and steel, was commissioned from the Vickers company of Barrow-in-Furness. The new ship was towed round the coast to Grays in Kent and inaugurated in August 1905.
The Exmouth of 1905, to be renamed HMS Worcester in 1946
Exmouth boys at drill on the ship's upper deck, c1929
The Thames Marine Officer Training School , HMS Worcester
In 1861, two wealthy London businessmen formed a committee and went in search of a suitable hulk, upon which to train young officers for the Merchant Navy, at that time possessing the greatest tonnage the world had ever seen. Their names were: William Munton Mullivant, a London merchant, and Richard Green, a Blackwall shipbuilder. The Worcester Committee was set up in 1861, with Richard Green, Lord Alfred Paget, Sir George Chambers and Captain De St Croix as governors. Instituting a subscription list, they raised over £1000 within 6 months from shipowners, underwriters and those merchants who had the great foresight to invest in the future of their trade, which was suffering from an acute shortage of certificated officers. Their search for a hulk bore fruit, when the Royal Navy offered them a surplus 50-gun fourth rate Java class frigate, that had been laid up at the Nore since leaving her builders at Deptford.
HMS Worcester had never seen active service, consequently her hull and furnishings were generally in good order. A contemporary account of her launch in 1843 reveals: "This fine ship of war was launched from the Royal Dockyard, at Deptford on Tuesday last, and attracted thousands of spectators, both on the banks of, and in numerous steamers and boats on the river. The launch took place at a quarter before three o'clock, when the gallant vessel floated into the Thames amidst the cheers of the assembled thousands. The "christening" and breaking of a bottle of wine across the bows was performed by the daughter of the Captain-Superintendent of the Dockyard, Sir John Hill. The vessel is a 5O-gun frigate. She has a round stern according to the model of Seppings, and is one of the earliest vessels constructed upon that principle. The dimensions of the frigate are: Length from front of figure to aft of the stool 197'3" To the after part of the taffrail 194'0" From forward of the forecastle to aft of the taffrail 179'3½" On deck 172'9½" Keel for tonnage 145'3½" Breadth in extreme 44' 3" For tonnage 43' 8" Moulded 43' 0" Depth in hold 14' 6½" Height from top of figure to underside of false keel 38' 0" Height from top of taffrail to underside of false keel 40' 0". The Worcester is a beautiful vessel, and reflects great credit on those who have constructed her. She has been towed to Sheerness, where her masts etc. will be put on board. Her armament will consist of fifty 32 pounders, medium guns. Great praise is due to the Authorities of the Dockyard, and more particularly to Sir John Hill, under whose direction and superintendence the launch took place. Accommodation was afforded to thousands of persons in the Dockyard, and order was so well preserved that that no crowding was necessary, and all accidents were avoided." It was later reported that contrary to the PR plaudits of the day, she had in fact been laid down in 1820, just fifteen years after Trafalgar, and had lain on the stocks for some 23 years. The first Worcester was moored off Folley House Mills, her first 18 Cadets joining in August 1862. A gunner, ship's corporal, ship's steward, boatswain and boatswain's mate were appointed, soon followed by a further 4 Cadets. The following year she was moved to Erith, abreast the downstream end of Cory's coal berth. Then again in 1869, moorings were moved, to a position off the end of Southend Pier. Two years later she was moved again, to permanent moorings, off Ingress Abbey, at Greenhithe in Kent. The ship was officially classed as a 'hulk on loan' from the Admiralty and it is recorded that £49 13s 8d was spent on her at Sheerness, prior to towing up to Blackwall Reach, where a further £862-11s 1d was spent on her complete conversion to a training ship. To mark the occasion of mooring off Ingress Abbey, the cadets fired a noisy salute from the ship's 18-pounder muzzle loading guns, which shattered the windows of a large number of houses in Greenhithe. In 1876, the now cramped and squalid hulk was replaced by an old two-decked line-of-battle ship, HMS Frederick William.
Admiral Togo, HMS Worcester's illustrious old boy
The son of a samurai, Togo Heihachiro was born in Kagoshima, Japan on January 27, 1848. Departing for Britain in 1871 with several other young Japanese officers, Togo arrived in London, to find that Japanese cadets were denied training at the Royal Naval College. After receiving English language training and instruction in European customs and decorum, he joined the training ship HMS Worcester at the Thames Naval College in 1872. Midshipman Togo proved to be a gifted student, who frequently engaged in fisticuffs when called "Johnny Chinaman" by his classmates. Graduating second in his class, he embarked as an ordinary seaman on the training ship HMS Hampshire in 1875, and circumnavigated the globe. In January 1905, Admiral Togo's fleet met Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky's Russian fleet near the Straits of Tsushima on May 27, 1905. In the resulting Battle, Togo utterly destroyed the Russian fleet and earned the nickname the "Nelson of the East" from the Western media.
"The fate of the Empire depends upon today's battle: let every man do his utmost".
Togo was Japan's greatest admiral, the mentor of Emperor Hirohito, and one of the architects of Japan's emergence as a military power in the twentieth century.
Originally ordered from Portsmouth Dockyard on 12 September 1833 as a 110-gun Queen-class ship of the line, under the name HMS Royal Sovereign, the order was suspended on 7 May 1834, but was later renewed, this time under the name HMS Royal Frederick, a change of name which took place on 12 April 1839. She was eventually laid down on 1 July 1841, but work proceeded slowly, and on 29 June 1848 she was re-ordered again, to a modification of the original Queen-class design, again to be powered by sail alone. Once again, the order for the still unfinished ship was modified, on 28 February 1857, when it was ordered that she be completed as an 86-gun screw-driven battleship. Conversion work began on 28 May 1859, and the ship was renamed HMS Frederick William on 28 January 1860, shortly before her launch on 24 March of that year. She was eventually completed in June 1860, twenty-seven years after being ordered. Like her building at Portsmouth, her sea-going career was less than illustrious, serving for six months on the Coast Guard Service out of Portland, Dorset, in 1864, where she replaced the two-deck, 80-gun, HMS Colossus. Armed with 74 guns of the 'Trafalgar Pattern', she was overtaken by the evolving new technology. By this time, with the launch of the ironclad steam-driven HMS Warrior, warship design had moved on apace, and the old Frederick William was no longer fit for service as a line of battle ship. Consequently, their Lordships of the Admiralty were happy to loan her, when the Board of the Thames Nautical College asked for a replacement for their original training vessel. Named apparently, as a complement to the King of Prussia, she was renamed HMS Worcester; her seventy years of service at Greenhithe more than making up for the relative uselessness of her early life.
However, her end, when it came, was ignominious...
Towed to Thurrock to be broken up, she sank at her moorings on 30 August 1948, eventually being raised and broken up in 1953.
At Scapa Flow with HMS Tuna alongside
Cutty Sark and Worcester at Greenhithe
When she was designed for the Metropolitan Asylums Board, the idea was to accommodate something like 750 boys on board, while the Royal Navy had accommodated 600 ratings, so there was room to spare for the 200 Cadets who in, 1946, were regarded as a full complement for the ship. The new Worcester had five decks, apart from the hold, forecastle and poop, named upper deck, main deck, lower deck, orlop deck and tier deck The hold was divided into storerooms by seven water-tight bulkheads, with and without doors, and many light bulkheads between the flats. Forward of the collision bulkhead was the coal bunker, abaft it the boiler room and engine room, all of which extended through the orlop deck above it. Then came the chain locker on the starboard side and the diesel generator and refrigerating plant to port. Tanks for fresh water and diesel oil extended right across the ship. For the next 120 ft. of her length storerooms, with a centre-line alleyway between them, not only gave ample space for things needed on board but permitted everything to be arranged for constant inspection and easy issue. On the other side of a water-tight bulkhead, special stores occupied another 30 ft. across the ship, then two very large fresh water tanks and the after peak. The orlop deck was above the waterline and, with the re-opening of the ports which were plated up by the Navy during the War, afforded plenty of light and air. Right forward the bunkers and engine and boiler rooms extended through the deck and abaft them were workshops and accommodation for crew. Then came the gymnasium, then the lower sleeping deck with hammock stowage leading out of it, 92 ft. long by the beam of the ship. There were nine classrooms, each entirely separate, although some had connecting doors, with up-to-date fittings and single locker desks so that the traditional Worcester book boxes, remembered by many generations of Cadets, were finally abandoned to their original purpose. Forward on the lower deck was a large galley and abaft it, round the open space left for the capstan, were situated the victualling storerooms and pantry. Next came the Cadets' messroom, 51 ft. long by the full beam of the ship, with doors to the upper sleeping deck. Then the cabins of the warrant officer instructors occupied both sides of the ship except for the outfitter's shop on the starboard, after which there were a range of bathrooms and toilets and, right aft, a sick bay 35 ft. long, with isolation ward, dispensary and a cabin for the sick berth attendant.
The library occupied the whole of the round bow on the main deck. It was comfortably furnished with arm and upright chairs, and had an excellent view of the river. The Cadet Captains' day quarters - called the Cabin by Worcester tradition - on the starboard side, was very different from the one right inboard in the old ship, and its counterpart on the port side was the tuckshop. Abaft that there was a clear space for recreation, running aft to the entry port and visitors' waiting room. This recreation space was decorated with a number of models and ship pictures and furnished partly with the old desks from the former ships with generations of initials carved on them.
Abaft the entry port the deck was narrowed by a range of cabins on either side and for this space the old name of half-deck was revived with the interpretation that it used to have in Drake's day. Divine Service was regularly held in this space, the after bulkhead being adorned by two war memorials. Leading out of it on the starboard side were a comfortable warrant officers' mess and galley and some of the schoolmasters' cabins. On the port side were situated the officers' cabins and the Captain's office. Beyond the bulkhead on the starboard side was a big wardroom, accommodating both the officers and the schoolmasters, and a beautiful little chapel furnished with the fittings from the chapel of H.M.S. Iron Duke when she was Jellicoe's flagship. On the port side were the housekeeper's quarters, Captain's galley and some of the masters' cabins, the remainder, with that of the headmaster, being athwartships, across the stern.
The upper deck, with the exception of the boatswain's store and radar room, was open to the elements, giving Cadets the opportunity for reviving the old Worcester custom of 'slewing'. On the stump mainmast was a 5-ton derrick with an electric winch. Under the forecastle were the quarters of the galley boys, the Cadets' washroom, showers and heads, while under the poop was a fine suite of rooms for the Captain. Over the former were located the carpenter's shop and tanks and over the poop the chart-house.
A platform for boat work was secured at a convenient height above the waterline along the port side, facing the shore; but except for one pair of davits for exercise purposes on the upper deck, all the boats were kept in the water. These consisted of two cutters, a jolly-boat, a second gig, a school gig, two racing gigs, two racing whalers and a motor boat, sufficient for all hands if it was necessary to abandon ship.
The headroom of 9 ft. 6 in. all over the ship was not only excellent for health but gave reasonable living spaces and recreational facilities. The messroom had ample space for all hands to eat at the same time at long tables with good elbow room. The Second and Third Officers sat at a head table with the Chief Cadet Captain permanently and two Cadet Captains by turn. The gymnasium also served as a games room with a piano against one bulkhead, plenty of space for ping-pong, billiards and other games and all the necessary fittings for the projection of talking films. There was also the added luxury of constant hot and cold water to the shower baths and tubs, much more numerous than they were in the old ship, and there was a washbasin for every two boys.
When the third Worcester was fitted out there was great discussion as to whether the Cadets should sleep in standee berths, after the fashion of American transports, or in hammocks which had been the custom ever since the ship was established. Hammocks won the day for a variety of reasons. They were slung in two flats, the forecastle and fore top Cadets on the lower deck and the main and mizzen Cadets on the orlop deck, the stowage being next to the hammock fiat in each case. Each Cadet still had his sea chest in the old way, but owing to the shortage and their lack of use to the modern apprentice when he went to sea, they were hired for the term instead of being provided by the Cadets' parents. In addition, each boy had a steel locker of the Navy pattern, put into the ship when she was commissioned at Scapa Flow.
The committee room, which was installed in the ship by the original owners, proved big enough to be divided into the wardroom and chapel. In addition, the Warrant Officers - instructors, carpenter, chief engineer, etc - had their own mess and the petty officers had single berth cabins, and the ratings two-berth.
The Captain's quarters were, naturally, under the poop and consisted of a large drawing room right across the stern, with a stern-walk facing downstream, dining room with pantry, etc., and four bedrooms, in addition to the Captain's own suite of a day room, bedroom, dressing room and bathroom.
Although the electric mains for the ship's lighting ran under water from the shore, she had a diesel and three steam-driven generators, the former supplying D.C. current to the electric winch and all of them supplying the current for the pumps, ventilating fans and the lighting in case of breakdown of the shore supply. Two Scotch boilers, burning coal, supplied the ship's heating and hot water.
Although the fire danger was not as great as it was in the old wooden ship, every sensible, seaman-like precaution was taken and fire-mains were laid on all decks. Seventy tons of water could be drawn at once from the gravity tanks, in addition to that delivered by the pumps in the engine room. Fire extinguishers were to be found everywhere and routine fire drill was held regularly, together with boat drill and 'abandon ship' practice. The greatest care being taken to prevent the drills becoming an ordinary routine.
HRH Prince Phillip inspects the guard, with Cutty Sark alongside, 1954
Scrubbing the upper deck
The Cadet's mess room
The lower deck, port side, with hammocks stowed.
'Teddy' Tippin teaching physics in the old laboratory.
In all her finery, dressed overall.
In 1968 the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College became part of the Merchant Navy College at Greenhithe. The ship was declared redundant and was sold to be broken up in Belgium in 1978.
This year, Worcester celebrates 150 years of service; here are some Cadet's Reminiscences, starting with my own.
Rose tinted spectacles? Not exactly!
"I was a reluctant Worcester Cadet - eventually attaining the rank of Cadet Captain, Yeoman of Signals, Cutter Coxswain and Queen's Standard Bearer for London's East End Boroughs. I cannot say, in all honesty, that I enjoyed my time aboard Worcester. Joining in 1957 at the age of 14, the ship's brutal regime was difficult to accept - particularly the bullying. My ambition, up to then, had been to follow my Grandfather into farming. Also as a Corporal, in the 4th Essex Cadet Regiment, it had been my intention to transfer to the Yeomanry at the earliest opportunity. In those far off days, however, one did as one's Father commanded. My late Father was a senior Naval Officer, and a strict disciplinarian. I still recall his parting words as he left me on board after a brief Sunday outing, sometime during my first term. "I want it beaten out of the boy, Freddie". This was directed at the Commander, a former wartime shipmate of my Father's. I never knew what the '"it" referred to, and can only assume, with the hindsight of over half a century, that he was referring to my teenage high spirits. First you have to break them down, then you can rebuild them, moulding them into the desired shape. On my penultimate day, I was stripped of my rank badges and given six cuts with the cane, the maximum punishment that could be awarded at that time. My Father, delighted that I had obtained a First Class Extra leaving certificate, had dropped off a case of beer on his way to Chatham Naval Base. It was brought on board by the Captain's Coxswain, a Muslim cadet from Malaysia, and shared out amongst the leaving cadets, who then rolled the empty cans down the main deck, much to the irritation of the duty officer, who reported it to Freddie, the acting Captain. Bringing intoxicating liquor on board a Merchant Ship was an offence under the Merchant Shipping Act. The 'HMS' prefix to Worcester, being a mere embellishment, counted for nothing. She was a Merchant vessel, in all but name. I opted to educate my own Son at Pangbourne College, in my experience a far more civilised institution and one with a great tradition, that has moved with the times."
Two more, anonymous
"I didn’t personally have a problem with Adult Officers
exercising discipline and physical punishment on Cadets , but, and it is a big
but, I still have considerable reservations concerning the wisdom of allowing
Senior Cadets to subject younger Cadets to beatings in the name of punishment. I
still feel that only a fool puts that sort of power in the hands of a growing
child. Times and society have changed but, it was a bit like saying -
“I went to the Worcester, on the Thames, in the mid-1950s, and sensed then, and feel strongly now, that the 'training' was considerably overrated. In fact, in my experience the Worcester was little more than a 'front' for institutionalised abuse. I recall wondering, during my time, why Britain had gone to war against the Nazis to protest against aggression and human rights abuses, when outrageous brutality was perpetrated against young boys in the name of 'training', all. presumably, for the ultimate benefit of shipowners! Advertising and a prospectus for the Worcester stated that .. “a boy receives training at his most impressionable age ...". How true and how disgusting! Just in time for a youthful and thorough brainwashing accompanied by severe brutality: and yet this had nothing to do with 'military' style training (where one obtains pay for one's sufferance) — in fact, heavy fees and expenses were exacted for the so called training and education. There can be no doubt that it was a poor introduction to life, whether ashore or afloat, where, in reality, standards and attitudes were and are vastly different. Personally, I have the keenest regret that I ever had any connection with the Worcester institution, although I 'graduated' quite well, according to its standards, which were of no value to me then, and meaningless now. The Worcester itself was dragged away for scrap in Belgium in 1978. The last of the Thames' prison hulks, mentioned by Charles Dickens in his novel Great Expectations, was finally gone — and not a moment too soon!”
An Old Worcester recently in the news
David Hawker, artist, film-extra, radio and TV personality.
Google: Naked Old Man on Celebrity Juice to view but be warned - it's very explicit!
Highly Recommended viewing:
Colin's HMS Worcester and Merchant Navy Site
From the Eagle comic, beloved of boys of all ages.
Dated: July 2012