The National Nautical School and B.T.S. Formidable
(formerly H.M.S. Formidable)
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His/Her Majesty's Ship (H.M.S.) Formidable.
H.M.S. Formidable was an 84-gun second rate of the Royal Navy, launched on 19 May 1825 at Chatham Dockyard. With a crew of 700 she was one of the Navy's largest ships at that time.

The National Nautical School and Bristol Training Ship (B.T.S.) Formidable.
The National Nautical School in Portishead, was created in 1869 for destitute, neglected and semi-delinquent boys of Bristol. It was based on H.M.S. Formidable moored offshore from 1870 until 1906. The school then moved to a purpose-built onshore facility nearby until its final closure in 1982.

The school was formed by a committee composed of several Bristol business men led by Henry Fedden (chairman of the Bristol Board of Magistrates) as a training school for boys from Bristol aged between 10 and 15.

The committee petitioned the Lords of the Admiralty to loan an old ship, following the examples of other redundant Navy ships, and were eventually leased H.M.S. Formidable, one of the navy’s largest ships of its time. The vessel (which became known as Bristol Training Ship Formidable) was opened in 1869 as an industrial school specialising in nautical training. It was moored off Portishead pier where she remained until the onshore school building was opened in 1906.

In 1905 the authorities announced that boys would not be allowed on the Formidable another winter because conditions on board were considered unsatisfactory. Furthermore there was evidence of leaking and fears she might break away from her moorings.

During the offshore years, several boys died on the ship, some from infectious diseases and others from injuries received or by falling overboard. In St Peter’s churchyard there are two known graves in which are laid the bodies of boys from B.T.S. Formidable.
Boys who died between 1871 and 1881 are interred in the double plot known as OBGF073 and 074.
Boys who died between 1887 and 1901 are interred in the triple plot known as OBGH027, 028 and 029.
At the time of writing, we are investigating a third grave which is thought to have a connection to B.T.S. Formidable, and may prove to be the last resting place of more of the young boys.

The purpose-built onshore school was built in 1905 at a cost of £30,000. The boys of the Formidable were transferred to the shore building called the National Nautical School near Portishead on 22 Jan 1906, the building being officially opened by Princess Christian in May that year.

When the National Nautical School ceased to operate as such in 1982, it became known as the Portishead Nautical Trust.

The dormitories had wooden floors and hammocks to simulate the environment on board ship, and other facilities included a gymnasium and a parade ground. The pupils were taught seamanship and other relevant skills such as shoemaking, tailoring and carpentry. On discharge, a few boys entered the Royal Navy, but about two-thirds of them made careers in the Merchant Navy.

In 1933, the school became a senior approved school. The National Nautical School closed in 1982, and it became known as the Portishead Nautical Trust. Subsequently the building became part of a private gated community known as Fedden Village.

Rev. Norman De Jersey was chaplain at the National Nautical School (B.T.S. Formidable) from 1898 to 1913 during which period both the school and the school chapel, now St Nicholas Church, were erected in Nore Road. Mentioned in plot known as OBGH041.

BEAR, William, late boatswain Royal Navy, was chief officer of the Formidable Training Ship. He died in December 1873, aged 48. Interred in plot known as OBGC092.

DYER, Samuel James, late Royal Navy, for 25 years instructor of the B.T.S. Formidable. He died in October 1899, aged 77. Interred in plot known as OBGH142.

WORTH, William Gillard was a gunnery instructor on H.M.S. Formidable. He died in 1887, aged 47. Interred in plot known as OBGH183.

H.M.S. Formidable
H.M.S. Formidable


The Parish Church of St. Peter, Portishead, Somerset. Copyright © St. Peter's Church Portishead Parochial Church Council, 2022
Reviewed February 2022 Feedback
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