You may wonder why there is an article about an eighteenth century Admiral in a child care magazine, and the link certainly is a bit tenuous. It is not because the Admiral was a great sailor, (which he was), nor for the way in which he gave the French a hard time. (He fought in numerous battles and actually captured one French captain three times, taking his ship off him each time!)
Admiral Boscawen was so famous that a battleship was named after him, the HMS Boscawen, and naturally, as he had been a figurehead in the navy, the ship named after him had him as the figurehead.
It was in 1874 that this ship – its fighting days over – was used as a training ship for young offenders, to replace the HMS Wellesley, the original reformatory ship allocated in 1868. The name Wellesley, however, was retained for the Nautical School when the Boscawen was taken on.
In 1914, as with many of the old reformatory ships, the Wellesley was gutted by fire.
Following some temporary quartering, the school was eventually re-sited onshore at an old submarine shore base at Blyth in Northumberland. Admiral Boscawen’s figurehead was retained as a memory of the link with the sea and was placed at the front of the school.
In 1933, following the Children Act, the establishment became an approved school.
Following the 1969 Act, like other approved schools, Wellesley Nautical School became a community home, and it lost its nautical associations. During this period the figurehead had rotted beyond repair and was eventually replaced by a replica in 1991. Wellesley was finally closed down by Sunderland Council in 2006, and Admiral Boscawen’s proud figurehead then suffered some years of neglect, having been vandalised and then stored in a transport yard in Blyth.
The latest news, though, is that the figurehead has been restored and has been presented to Ashington Sea Cadets as their figurehead at their base, T.S. Tenacity.
If you have been watching Dan Snow’s television series about the history of the Royal Navy, you will have heard him mention Admiral Boscawen, and you will be aware of the proud tradition of which the Ashington Sea Cadets are part.
So this story has a happy ending, but there is an important footnote. The men who put the colour back in Admiral Boscawen’s cheeks all had connections with Wellesley Nautical School themselves, mostly as boys who had been sent there by the Courts in the 1950s and 60s. They have since built themselves a wide variety of successful careers, but they are still proud to associate themselves with the old school. The fact that they put their energies into this task is a retrospective credit to the work of the School. Admiral Boscawen will no doubt be happy about it too.
Our picture shows from left to right, Dr Michael Hendryk Majer and George Hale (ex-Wellesley), Dennis Roe (ex-Wellesley) and Vic Clarke (ex-Wellesley). Mike, George and Dennis did the bulk of the work in restoring the figurehead. Vic and Graham Corkhill (not pictured) organised donations and logistics. Congratulations to the team.