Training Ship Formidable and National Nautical School
Training Ship Formidable 1869 - 1906
National Nautical School 1906 - 1983
The Formidable was originally an 84-gun second rate launched on 19 May 1825 at Chatham. In 1869 group of businessmen led by a Mr. Henry Fedden formed the Bristol Training Ship Association and leased the ship from the Royal Navy to use as an Industrial Training Ship to train boys between 11 and 15 for the Royal and Merchant navies. For more information on the Industrial Training ships see the Mount Edgcumbe Industrial Training Ship. She was towed up the Bristol Channel and moored four hundred yards off the pier at Portishead near Bristol. The arrival of the ship caused quite a stir and the enterprising commitee that had been set up to run the Training Ship took people on tours of her in order to pay for her conversion into a school.
In 1875 the Association was able to buy another ship, which they named the Polly, to be used to teach sailing. Formidable already had several small boats for rowing and sailing and although the Polly was described as a tender that did not mean that she was a small vessel as she was capable of taking thirty to forty boys, with their officers, at a time for extended cruises. There are records of her going as far as the Irish coast.
She remained there training boys for the Royal and Merchant navies until a storm damaged the old ship so that she was no longer safe to operate. In 1906 the boys were moved to a new land based school 2 miles from Portishead at Fedden Village which was opened by HRH Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. As a land based institution it retained its purpose of training boys for the sea, and its naval traditions, however it did gain more space. Initially the boys continued to sleep in their hammocks, but these were eventually replaced with beds and the number of boys reduced to 52 per dormitory. The number of boys that it was certified to hold dropped to 225 in 1921. In 1924 it was amalgamated with the Clifton Certified Industrial School (later Mardyke House School). In 1933 became a Senior Approved School, which it remained until the last boy left in 1983.
As an Industrial Training Ship and later and Approved School the boys on board were not allowed to leave until they were 16. However Formidable did have some attempts at boys breaking out such as in 1877 when thirteen boys lowered a boat during the night and made off down the Bristol Channel. They were caught the next day and brought back to the ship. However during the 1950s the number of break outs became so bad that the matter was raised in parliament with the MP for the area, Edwin Leather, complaining of "constant cases of boys breaking out, breaking into people's houses, damaging property and generally doing a good deal of destructive damage and causing trouble."