Heritage Talk: The boys of the Tyne Training Ship Wellesley

We are delighted to welcome a new speaker, Helen Schofield, who will talk about an important part of North Shields’ maritime history, the Wellesley Training Ship, which was moored on North Shields Fish Quay from 1868 to 1914, to prepare boys for a life at sea.

Helen, who lived in Lawson Street near Smith’s Dock as a child, will focus on a group of 30 boys who were on the ship between 1868 and 1911, explaining where they were from, why they were sent there and what happened to them once they left.

She will also set out the background to the training ship as an industrial school, its aims and how it differed from other reformatory training ships of that era, which were for boys who had been convicted of a crime.

“I will be at great pains to point out that the boys of the Wellesley Training Ship were not sent there because they had committed a crime. Their only ‘crime’ was poverty. Some were sent there because they were orphaned and destitute and had been sleeping rough.

“The aim of the founders and managers of the Wellesley was to create an environment that allowed boys to flourish educationally and morally while being prepared for a career at sea,” she explained.

Helen became interested in the training ship when a member of her wider family began researching his family tree. He was looking for information about his grandfather, from Willington Quay, who was sent to the ship in 1901 at the age of seven and stayed there until he was 16.

At the time Helen was doing an MSc in genealogy and helped him with his search. She became so fascinated by the Wellesley that she carried out a study of 30 boys who were on the ship during a 43-year period, for a dissertation, exploring how well the concept worked.

“It is very difficult to draw definite conclusions because the outcomes for individual boys were so different but there is evidence that for some, it was a great success,” she said.

From Census material and other research, Helen was able to follow 30 boys and will share some of their stories. When boys were too young to join the ship, they were sent to Green’s Home in South Shields. This served as an annex to the ship, where the boys stayed until they were 11.

“These boys didn’t just come from local towns, although there were many from Newcastle, Gateshead and North and South Shields. However, they must have come to think of themselves as belonging to Shields as records show some settled here,” she continued.

There were usually 300 boys on board at any one time, generally from families where things had gone wrong. The ship did not take boys who had been convicted of crimes but was trying to save them from going down that route.

This was a time when trade was increasing, and sailors were much needed for British ships.

The ship was destroyed by fire in 1914 and the boys moved elsewhere, first to Tynemouth Palace and then to a school in Blyth.

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