Wellesley disaster was a dramatic sight

UPS AND DOWNS ... above and below, the Wellesley on either side of her loss in 1914.
UPS AND DOWNS ... above and below, the Wellesley on either side of her loss in 1914.

SHE presented one of those sights that still conveys drama even today, as she lay burned to the waterline.

She was the training ship Wellesley, seen here on both sides of the disaster that struck her in 1914.

The ship, the ex-74-gun line-of-battle ship Boscawen, was a familiar sight on the Tyne in the late 19th -early 20th centuries, home to thousands of homeless and destitute boys who were trained for a life at sea.

Local publisher Andrew Clark, of Summerhill Books, will be telling the story of this historic ship at the Wednesday Heritage Club at South Shields Library on February 11 at 2pm.

Included will be the training and instruction received on board by the boys, from the moment they rose from their beds at 6am.

Before they returned to them at 9pm, there was a full day of physical exercise, prayers, cleaning, school work and training as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, plumbers etc.

Says Andrew: “Although the regime may seem harsh by today’s standards, many of the boys enjoyed their time on board the Wellesley, and many ‘old boys’ had good memories of their former home.”

The Wellesley was sunk after a devastating fire in 1914.

No lives were lost, and the boys were moved to the Tynemouth Plaza where, during the First World War, they helped make equipment for shells.

The much-loved ship’s band also played many engagements to lift morale.

Andrew’s talk is based on a book he has recently published, The Tyne Training Ship Wellesley, by Brian Godfrey, a qualified social worker who has spent more than 20 years working in children’s residential homes.

The Wellesley also had a shore establishment here in South Shields - the Greens Home at the top of Mile End Road, which the Rev Robert Green, who died in 1877, gave to the Wellesley Committee.

The initial idea was to provide accommodation for old Wellesley boys returning from sea, but the premises were subsequently used as, first, a hospital, and then an industrial school, as a fully licensed branch of the Wellesley.

Boys would be taken in at the age of six, then transferred to the Wellesley at 12.

A Government inspector’s report on the Greens Home in 1896 stated: “The little charges here are full of life and spirit and seem thoroughly happy.

“They are carefully looked after in every way, and their intelligence is well developed.”