Royal Hospital School

The Royal Hospital School opened its doors to the orphans of seamen in 1705. Before that the Hospital had been intended as a safe haven for sailors at the ends of their lives where they could enjoy a few years of retirement watching the ships they had once sailed going up and down the Thames. To begin with the orphans where given not much more than accommodation and food, like the retirees, with no thought given to training them up as sailors themselves. John Flamstead the Astronomer Royal based at the Greenwich observatory offered lessons to supplement the meagre salary that he was paid, but that was about it.

In 1719 the first regulations for the school specifically relating to nautical training appeared. It did not state that the Hospital itself should do any training, just that the boys should be apprenticed to Masters of ships "for better improvements of the talents, and becoming Able Seamen and good Artists." The last part might seem a little odd to modern ears, after all what has art got to do with sailing? However it should be remembered that before the invention of the camera the only way to create any image was for somebody to draw it. Sailors that could draw were needed to produce maps and charts, draw views of land for pilotage, and draw the strange peoples and creatures that were being discovered on these voyages. A sailor with enough talent as an artist could dictate the conditions of his berth. The usefulness of skill at drawing for a sailor continued to be seen all into the twentieth century and the cadet examination papers of 1900 to get into Britannia Royal Naval College had a section to test a potential cadets ability to draw.

The Royal Hospital School was funded in a rather odd way. Unlike most training ships where they where paid for by school fees or charity the Royal Hospital School was actually paid for by its own special tax. In much the same way the TrinityHouse gets a large amount of its funding because merchant ships are forced to pay Light Dues British seamen were made to pay 'seamen's sixpences' to the Royal Hospital. This was not a voluntary payment and from 1695 this special tax was collected from their wages at source from all sailors of the Merchant and Royal navies to be passed onto the Hospital. It only ended in 1834 when an act of parliament replaced it with a block grant of £20,000. This was a huge sum for the time, but one which was considerable less than what the had been getting under the old system. In 1829 alone the Royal Navy had provided £21,000 through these 'sailor's sixpences', and the money from the Merchant fleet could be even more than that.

The Hospital was housed in a set of grand buildings designed by Christopher Wren on the banks of the Thames at Greenwich. They are still there and now home to the National Maritime Museum rather than aged sailors and the orphans of seamen. One thing that is missing though, the training ship Fame. This was a real ship built in Chatham Dockyards, but it never once touched the sea. The first Fame was constructed in Chatham, then dismasted and taken up to Greenwich and reconstructed in what had been the girls playground for a brief period when they were admitted. The Fame had everything that you would expect on a Man-O-War from a fully rigged mast, to 10 gun ports on each quarter, to the cutlasses and boarding pikes stored down below. However rather ironically for a ship on dry land she soon started to rot. By 1872 they were onto the third Fame, it was a good thing those sixpences kept rolling in!


TSRoyalHospitalSchool (last edited 2012-06-20 22:50:27 by chrisbunker)