Monday, 29th October 2018

History is in the making in January with the 150th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first purpose-built marine school.

The Marine School in South Shields, in the town’s central Ocean Road, was ahead of its time when it officially welcomed students on January 12, 1869.

It was built with a £20,700 bequest from Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom, whose idea for a specialist training centre grew into today’s modern South Shields Marine School.

Learning remained on site until demand for training outstripped its resources and The Marine School became part of the new South Shields Marine and Technical College.

Today known as South Tyneside College, it opened its doors to students on February 6, 1956, incorporating the marine school, which remains a globally preeminent maritime training centre.

The original building still stands but for many years has been the Kirkpatrick’s pub, though its Victorian splendour remains intact, externally at least.

John Roach, Principal of South Shields Marine School, said it 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.

“The record shows that 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 of time.

“The fact the modern day marine school continues to thrive at the forefront of training, shows how right he was to see a future for such a facility in this seagoing town.

“The building is itself a fine example of mid-Victorian architecture, and you can easily imagine it in operation in those early days.

“Its opening drew great interest from far and wide – it was quite clearly a great spectacle for the people of South Shields and further afield.

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

Dr Winterbottom, a GP in South Shields, conceived his idea in 1836 when he was already wealthy and retired.

To ensure it became a reality, he bequeathed the substantial sum to establish and finance such a school upon his going to the grave.

His idea caught the mood of the times, coming just before the shipping industry became legally obligated to carry certified officers, creating a boon for specific training programmes.

He died on July 8, 1859, and on September 6, 1860 The Marine School’s trustees first met, with the renting of suitable premises identified as the best option.

The Marine School officially opened on March 26, 1861, its students learning in rented rooms in The Mechanics’ Institute.

It stands virtually opposite the site chosen for a permanent maritime centre, and is today South Shields’ museum.

On April 28, 1865, plans began being drawn for the building of a marine school, and the foundation stone was laid on April 22, 1867, by Robert Ingham, the town’s MP.

So great was interest in its opening two years later that national newspapers, including The Times, The Pall Mall Gazette, The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette and The Illustrated London News, sent reporters.

The years that followed brought many ups and downs, with great learning success and reputational renown meeting with financial hardships and even 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 consistent struggles for more funding, much like that of the post-world war years.

In fact, 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 (LEA) – and even a takeover bid by the Ministry of Education.

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

When that happened, an audit revealed the funds of the Marine School Trust, established in 1837, amounted to £24,430 12s 2d, almost exactly the amount bequeathed by Dr Winterbottom.

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.