Sailors' Home, Well Street
from Charles Dickens Jnr Dictionary of the
Thames (1883 edition) p186
Home, Well-street, E.. was originally founded in 1828 by Captain R. J.
Elliot, R.N., Admiral G. C. Gambier, and Lieut. R. Justice, R.N., who,
in the previous year, had successfully started the Destitute Sailors'
Asylum; the destruction of the Brunswick Theatre in Well-street
affording the opportunity for carrying out the scheme. Up to that time
nothing had been done for the protection of seamen. The crimping system
was in full operation, and it was impossible for any seaman to obtain
employment in a large foreign-going vessel except through its agency.
The first work of the new establishment, when finally completed in
1835, was to open an office which successfully met the difficulty by
providing crews for some of the large Indiamen and other ships, thus
proving to shipowners and others that the ultimate abolition of the
crimping system with all its contingent evils was possible. This
office, with a branch office for the payment of wages, was carried on
until the year 1850, when the Board of Trade established the present
system of shipping offices, and thus relieved the institution of so
much of its undertakings. A few years subsequently the Board of Trade
also took Up the savings bank and money-order systems which had been
successfully worked at the Home from 1839, and which still form an
important feature of its operations, no less than £93,083 of the
seamen's money having passed through the cashier's hands in the course
of the year 1879 of which £38,652 was forwarded to the institution by
seamen when paid off, and £13,225 remitted home to friends. The other
advantages offered at the Home are board and separate cabin for seamen,
I5s. per week, or 2s. 3d. per day. Extra accommodation for masters and
mates, 18s. 6d. per week. The board in either case includes breakfast,
méat, fish, &c, from 8 to 9.30 a.m. ; dinner from 1 to 2.30, with
ale or porter; tea, 5.30 to 6.30, with meat or fish &c ; supper, 9
to 9.30, with ale or porter. Boarders can bring shipmates to any of the
above meals at a charge of, breakfast, 9d. ; dinner, 1s. 3d. ; tea, 9d.
; supper, 6d. ; sleeping cabin, 6d. per night, tickets for which are
obtained at the Entry Office. An agent is employed to assist the
boarders in obtaining employment. Advance notes are cashed, and
allotment notes collected and the amount sent home. Sailors, whether
abroad or at home, may have their letters addressed to the "Sailors'
Home, Well-street," to await their arrival at the home.
prayers in the Mission Hall, 7.30 a.m. and 9.30 p.m. Special prayer and
address, Tuesday and Friday evenings at 7 o'clock ; and Divine Service
in the Seaman's Church adjoining the Home on Sundays at 11 a.m., and 6
p.m., and on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Home is brought into
competition with the low boarding-houses of the neighbourhood only, not
with the men's own homes, every inducement being held out to those who
are happily possessed of such to return to them as quickly as possible
after being paid off. To this end the various modes of travelling by
rail, boat, &c., are exhibited in the hall and explained to the
men, while conveyances are supplied to the different railway-stations
and tickets issued for travelling. In the course of the year 1879
upwards of 5,000 boarders have been thus forwarded to their homes.
During this period the number received in the Home has suffered a
considerable diminution, having fallen from 13,451 to 11,735. The
decrease, however, is capable to a very great extent of a satisfactory
solution. It must no doubt be attributed in some degree to the
derangements incidental to the general depression of business, the
effect of which may also be recognised in the corresponding increase in
the demands for admission to the Destitute Sailors' Asylum. But it may
chiefly be traced to the operation of the new arrangements of the Board
of Trade for forwarding seamen direct from their ships to other ports
(a scheme at present entirely confined to London), who would otherwise
have taken up their temporary residence in the Home.
The bank of
the Home is open between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., each man
paying in and withdrawing his money daily or hourly as he may require
The post-office arrangements are very complete, the Home forming
a central point of enquiry for seamen arriving in the Port of London.
Many thousand letters are received and distributed yearly, and every
facility is afforded the men for correspondence with their friends with
the certainty of return letters being punctually delivered. An
extensive correspondence is also carried on between the officials, the
sailors' friends, and others, respecting absent ships and seamen ; and
in consequence of its extensive dealings with the shipping and sailors,
the institution is generally able to afford the information required.
is a medical officer attached to the Home, who attends daily, when
advice is given and medicine supplied gratuitously to the boarders.
Cases of a serious nature are immediately sent to one of the hospitals.
building itself, though of a strictly utilitarian character, is large
and handsome. It consists of two distinct blocks, viz. the original
building in Well-street, and a smaller block at the back with a
frontage to Dock-street, the two being connected by a smaller block
containing the principal staircase.
The principal entrance is now in
the centre of the Dock-street front, where a neat little vestibule
leads through swing doors into a lobby, immediately on the right of
which on entering is the secretary's and cashier's office and seamen's
bank, through which again is the discharging office. These, with a
large waiting-hall, occupy the southern half of the block.
through the larger waiting-hail we reach the principal staircase,
beyond which a short corridor leads into the great "Seamens'
waiting-room," a huge stone-flagged hall, which occupies the whole of
the centre of the old building, and which is generally thronged with
seamen of all nations, smoking, and conversing with their friends, or
playing at bagatelle. This large hall opens out direct into the central
portico in Well-street, a portion of it being divided off in the
left-hand corner as you go out for the superintendent's office, and the
corresponding portion in the opposite corner for a writing-room. The
wing on either side is occupied by an immense dormitory, that on the
left being called the "Bombay" Dormitory, containing 42 cabins
constructed in two tiers; the "Calcutta" Dormitory opposite being
similarly laid out into two tiers of 38 cabins. The cabins vary in
size, but may be taken as averaging about 8 feet by 5, which, as cabins
go, and as certainly as cabins went in the days when the Sailors' Home
was first opened, may be considered a very handsome allowance for elbow
They do not in this part of the building aspire to the
modern luxury of what Jack would call a "scuttle" to the open air: the
construction of the building, which is in immediate contact with other
houses on either side, only allowing of windows in the front and rear
walls. But as each dormitory runs the whole depth of the block, the
windows facing each other at either end afford a thorough current of
air through the large open space down the centre into which the doors
and windows of all the cabins open, as in lower-deck berths on board
ship. This plan is carried out through the entire building, but efforts
have been made of late years to ensure as much as possible direct
communication with the outer air for each of the new cabins, and in the
Dock-street block of buildings this desirable communication has for the
most part been attained.
From the inner corner of the great
waiting-hall, in the space left vacant by the smaller dimensions cf the
Calcutta Dormitory, is a private passage leading to the church of St.
Paul, Dock-street, next door but one to the Home. It is found, however,
that Jack prefers for the most part the less formal function held by
his own peculiar chaplain in the Mission Hall on the first floor of the
Dock-street building, where he joins lustily in the hymns which form a
prominent feature of the service.
Returning now to the principal
staircase, we make our way past the serving-room, from which a
dinner-lift communicates with the offices in the basement, into the
great dining-hall, which is situate in the Well-street block
immediately over the great waiting-hall, and is of the same dimensions.
Round the hall are some well-executed oil portraits of various
directors of the institution. In the two wings on either side are
dormitories in the fashion of those below; the larger with 40 cabins
being called "The Canton," and the smaller with 36 cabins "The Madras"
dormitory. The first floor of the new building is occupied towards the
front by the board-room and library, with a small room for the
chaplain, and at the back are the officers' messroom, a
recreation-hall, &c. The remaining floors, " if floors they may be
called, which floors are none," are devoted entirely to dormitories,
the side being filled with cabins, the middle portion being open to the
roof in the usual way. Of these dormitories the four in the old
building—two in the wings, and two in the centre block over the
dining-hall — are named respectively the "Sydney," "City of Edinburgh,"
"City of London," and "Royal Adelaide," the single one in the new
building being named the "Admiral Sir Henry Hope." The cabins in the
latter have, with few exceptions, the advantage of windows to the outer
air, which is, of course, a great improvement in the way of
ventilation. One of the most practically useful features of the Home is
the clothing store, where any article of a sailor's equipment, from a
sou'-wester to a pair of deck boots, can be had of the best quality at
the regular market rates.