Landmark South Shields Marine School building celebrates 150th anniversary

John Roach, Principal of South Shields Marine School, Britain's oldest maritime training centre, outside of the building.
John Roach, Principal of South Shields Marine School, Britain's oldest maritime training centre, outside of the building.

A landmark building that helped put South Shields on the global maritime map is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The town’s original Marine School – the world’s first such purpose-built facility – was officially opened on January 12, 1869.

Dr Thomas Winterbottom.

Dr Thomas Winterbottom.

The building, in Ocean Road, it is now the Kirkpatrick’s bar, but its influence on generations of seafarers is secured through the modern day South Shields Marine School.

It was built with a £20,700 bequest in 1836 by Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom, a wealthy and retired GP.

He stipulated it be created on his death, which happened on July 8, 1859, and his Marine School officially opened on March 26, 1861.

At first its students were taught in rented rooms in The Mechanics’ Institute – today, the town’s museum - on the opposite side of the road.

The original Marine School in South Shields  -  the world's first such purpose-built facility - was officially opened on January 12, 1869.

The original Marine School in South Shields - the world's first such purpose-built facility - was officially opened on January 12, 1869.

Although they started learning in the new centre in October 1868, it was not officially opened for another three months.

John Roach, principal of South Shields Marine School, Britain’s oldest maritime training centre, said the building was a fascinating reminder of that era’s ingenuity and enterprise.

He added: “It remains a wonderful symbol of a bygone era that was characterised by the pursuit of new learning and the exploration of ideas.

“Not everyone in South Shields was united in Dr Winterbottom’s vision for a purpose-built marine school, but his was a fantastically farsighted vision that has stood the test time.

“The fact the modern day marine school continues to thrive shows how right he was to create such a facility in this seagoing town.”

He added: “The building is itself a fine example of mid-Victorian architecture, and its opening drew great interest from far and wide – it was quite clearly a great spectacle.

“South Shields is blessed with the training centre we have today, and we can be thankful to Dr Winterbottom for that.”

Dr Winterbottom’s idea caught the mood of the times, coming just before the shipping industry became legally obligated to carry certified officers, creating a boom for specific training programmes.

The years that followed brought ups and downs, with great learning success and reputational renown meeting with financial hardships and personality clashes.

The original top post, that of headteacher, belonged to the Reverend Doctor Robert Eli Hooppell, a Cambridge graduate with no seagoing experience.

He was caught in constant struggles for more funding, much like that of the post-world war years.

The economic downturn that followed World War One saw The Marine School run at a loss, leading to financial support from the local education authority and this led to a takeover bid by the Ministry of Education, which was fended off.

At the close of World War Two it could no longer continue as a self-funding body, with agreement reached that it would be absorbed into a new technical college.

The new South Shields Marine and Technical College opened on February 6, 1956, incorporating the marine school.

The Kirkpatrick’s pub has its own claim to history, being named after South Shields-born John Simpson Kirkpatrick, known as The Man with the Donkey.

He rescued more than 300 Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, but died in battle on May 19 of that year.

South Shields Marine School is now part of Tyne Coast College, formed from the merger in August 2017 of South Tyneside College and Tyne Metropolitan College (TyneMet), North Tyneside.

Recognised as world-leading, it is a major draw for trainee mariners from the UK and overseas who arrive as cadets sponsored by leading shipping companies.