For sale on Ebay: ‘A Medallion With A Blackpool Connection’. What on earth is the story behind this token of Blackpool’s maritime heritage?
Indeed, there’s more! A cupboard and chair made from Foudroyant’s timbers; Walking Sticks; Copper plates and watch fobs; pictures and cards; news articles, paintings, photos and prints, all at surprising prices and available from all over the World.
The message from these adverts is two-fold. On the one hand, the fact that these items are for sale, on the other, at least the memory of Foudroyant lives on, through these artefacts, as does the connection with Blackpool.
Investigation of the connection starts as usual with a look at local newspapers and of course, and internet search.
So what did we find out?
What was the ‘Foudroyant’?
In fact there were two ‘Foudroyants’. The one with the Blackpool and memorabilia connections is ‘HMS Foudroyant’. Built in Plymouth and launched there in 1798; she was an 80 Gun, ‘Full Rigged’ warship, a sister ship to HMS Caesar and named after the French ship, bearing the same name, captured in 1758 during the ‘Seven Years War’ with France and Spain, during the blockade of the Spanish Port of Cartegena. The name is derived from the French for ‘Thunderbolt’.
HMS Foudroyant had a somewhat chequered service, despite service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, including a three year spell stationed on the River Plate, in Rio de Jeneiro; action in Egypt; Royal visits; Troop Transport; roles as ‘Flagship’; punctuated by long periods in dock for repairs, or service as a Tender or Guard Ship. She was decommissioned in 1812. In her later years she was a Gunnery Training ship and a Naval Training ship. An attached annexe ‘A’ gives details the service history of the Foudroyant. It’s most celebrated role was as Nelson’s ‘Flagship’ from June 1799 until 1800.
In June 1891 she was put on to the Navy’s ‘Sales List’. Bought by J Read of Portsmouth for £2350 and quickly resold to German Shipbreakers, who promptly started dismantling the upper decks, prompting protests in the press and at the highest levels in the UK. Arthur Conan Doyle resorted to poetry and ‘Punch’ magazine published a follow-up piece ridiculing the Royal Navy decision to sell off the ship.
She was re-bought at a cost of £6,000 and brought to London eventually by Mr Geoffrey Wheatly Cobb, with a plan to redevelop the Foudroyant as a Boys Training Ship, at a cost of £20,000. In order to recoup costs of refurbishment to original design, the ship was to be exhibited at Seaside resorts.
By 1896 the Foudroyant, ‘Nelsons Flagship’ was on tour, carrying a crew of 27, 20 of who were Boy Sailors. On 11 June 1897 lay off Blackpool Promenade, between North and Central Piers, about a mile out. The Gazette & News reported the ‘Man-o-War’ ‘framed in a sea of glass, which was only broken by the fussy passenger steamers’. All setting the scene, for what was to be a short season of attraction for the visitors at Blackpool and an opportunity for Mr Cobb to make a contribution to the running costs of the venture. The article went on to describe the visit to the ship by the local dignitaries, leaving North Pier in the ‘Clifton’. Commodore G.L. Seed, the Chief Constable and Mr J.L. Smith all munching on chocolate ice cream.
Entry to the ship was a shilling, the Boy Sailors provided a band playing nautical ditties. On the 15th a new venture was tried – Dancing on the upper Deck, by all accounts a great success, promising a lucrative visit to Blackpool, for the owner.
On the evening of the 15th , the weather was fine, albeit with a sprinkling of fine rain, but nothing to keep the crowds away.
By 4am on the 16th a rapidly developing storm had blown up, almost ‘out of the blue’. By 6am a ‘an iron chain as thick as a man’s wrist’ had snapped in the weight of the wind and sea, pushing the Foudoyant on to the beach, approximately in line with the end of North Pier, in just 14ft of water. The force of repeatedly ‘bumping’ on the beach, with the ebb and flow of the tide, causing her hull to breach in places, snapping masts and tearing sails,. Now on her side and flooded, about 600 yards offshore she rolled and writhed in the storm tide, which was now ‘sweeping over the Sea Front’.
The Owner and Crew were still on board. At 09.00am they hoisted a Distress Signal and the Samuel Fletcher II was brought from the Lifeboat house on Lytham Road, harnessed up and towed up the Promenade, now crowded by sightseers. The launch was further hampered by waiting for the tide to turn. She launched into a wild surf at 1pm, four hours after being called. Eventually battling through debris, rigging and broken timbers, the ‘Samuel Fletcher’ struggled to stay on station, but managed to scoop all to safety. The full complement of twenty seven and Mr Wheatley Cobb were rescued and brought to shore at about 2.30pm, under the gaze of excited crowds on the Promenade.
The following day, the damage was clear. It was possible to climb into the mud caked and battered hulk via a hole created by one of the 32 Pounder guns, which had broken loose on the lower deck. The upper deck was strewn with timber, planking and guns wrenched from their carriages. Nevertheless, the crew attempted to gather their belongings left their in the hurry of escape. One managed to retrieve his Concertina, before the incoming tide of the 18 June washed over her.
By the 19th June, prompted by the enterprising efforts of Blackpool’s Marketing Manager, visitors from all over the north were filling trains to see the spectacle and the resort. It hadn’t been a good season until the wreck. The Queens Jubilee year had kept folk at home
Losses for Cobb were estimated at £30,000 and there was no insurance cover. Already there was talk of the value of the remaining hulk and options available: perhaps sold piecemeal- guns, timber, etc. or made watertight and retained as tourist attraction. The Directors of North Pier had a more pragmatic approach; they sought an injunction to have the wreck removed, since if it broke away or broke up further it would pose a hefty threat to the pier structure. By mid July, Foudroyant’s fate was sealed. Cobb had agreed with a Clyde based salvage company to re-float the wreck and tow it away for dismantling. Progress was being made, however, the Foudroyant was not finished yet.
A steam tug, the ‘Anna’, employed to by the salvage company found itself in difficulties during another freak storm and had pulled away from the Foudroyant to anchor offshore to ride out the squall. She was carrying ropes and some of the guns from Foudroyant, with the weight of the wind and tide, she slipped her anchor and drifted to shore. Deluged, she was unable to operate pumps and steam engines and eventually only the mast was visible in the swell. The crew had been taken off by off duty fishermen using a pleasure boat.
The following morning debris and wreckage were strewn along the North beach
In front of the ever present crowds on the North Promenade, another salvage attempt was made in mid August. The ‘Aurora’, a trim, neat 300 Tonner arrived to restart operations, loading more guns, ropes and rigging, timbers and artefacts from HMS Foudroyant. The Aurora was tethered to her broadside and as the tide increased, her moorings gave way and she broke free, bobbing precariously in the swell rolling heavily with every wave until she hit one of the beach banks, rapidly filling with water. As the tide rolled in she was battered against the Sea Wall. Another thrilling spectacle for the Blackpool crowds.
On the 20 August, the Gazette reported ‘Never has there been a season in which exciting incidents have been so plentiful’
Exciting, but also dangerous. There were a number of accidents involving people getting close to the Foudroyant, and reported in the Gazette: a sailor fell from the wreck; a cannon ball fell from the deck injuring a Policeman and the tragic death of a bystander, reported later in this piece. Latterly, crowds were kept away from the wreck, initially to stop looting, later to reduce risk of injury. However, the Blackpool phenomena of any opportunity to make a shilling, was not to be thwarted and many stands were established close by selling all manner of goods and services.
Now what about those Ebay artefacts, souvenirs and museum pieces?
By November of 1897, The Foudroyant was in the hands of Mr Michael Hayhurst of Birkenhead, for just £700. Demolition was planned using Dynamite, however, the weather and tide continued its toll on the ship. Until in August of 1898 more misfortune beset the Foudroyant when, Hayhurst and his young son set charges to demolish the ship. During the explosion a large fragment of wood and copper sailed through the air and caught a female visitor, killing her instantly.
Eventually, the salvageable oak timbers, copper sheeting and bolts from the ship were sold to Cabinet Maker Robert Fletcher of Talbot Road. The Copper Sheeting from the Hull of Foudroyant was made into many souvenirs, including medals. In 1901 the Oak was sold on to a Manchester Company: Goodhall, Lamb and Heighway where the oak was turned into furniture. As early as 1899, newspaper report told of the removal and installation of Foudroyants staircase into what was Jenkinsons Café (on the site of what became ‘Rumours’, on Talbot Road). Many of Foudroyant’s artefacts are held at the Nelson Museum, Monmouth. The panelling from the Captain’s Cabin is reputed to have lined the Board Room at Blackpool Football Club.
There are also two paintings of the wreck and its aftermath, one at the Nelson Museum and one held by the Messel Family at ‘Nymans’, a National Trust property in West Sussex. Local resident presented a painting by Charles Simpson to the Borough Library & Galleries Committee, which is still there.
The name ‘Foudroyant’ lives on too in the Training Ship. In 1903 HMS Trincomalee was renamed TS Foudroyant, after the ship she replaced. She remained in service as TS Foudroyant until 1986, after which she was again restored and renamed back to TS Trincomalee in 1992. Billed as ‘the oldest warship afloat anywhere in the world’, she is berthed at Hartlepool’s Maritime Museum.
Sources and Further Reading
Acknowledgement: This piece has been constructed from materials gathered by Tony Sharkey at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library. Without his help this work would have been made difficult.
Where possible, images are included under ‘Creative Commons’ licences
Foudroyant on the Beach – Unknown author, Gazette image
Wreck of HMS ‘Foudroyant’, Blackpool, 1897 at:
Foudroyant Medal, by the Author
Cabinet from Fourdroyant Oak, Nelson Museum, Monmouth by John Cummings at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Foudroyant_(1798)
Paintings of the Wreck of the Foudroyant at:
Sailor falls from Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘A remarkable number of accidents’, 01/09, p2 col 8
Loss of Aurora and plans for disposal of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘Our latest wreck; and the next’, 21/08, p5 col 6
Times, 1897, ‘The Advertising on the Foudroyant’, 04/08, p2 col 9
Fate of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times. 1897, (Editorial comment), 17/07, p4 col 6
Preserving of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Editorial comment), 07/07, p5 col 4
Blackpool Times, Goulden, J., 1897, ‘Lines on the wreck of the Foudroyant’, 30/06, p3 col 9
Ladies Swim to Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Editorial comment), 23/06, p5 col 1
Danger to North Pier:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘What will become of her?’, 23/06, p5 col 1
Account of the loss of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Several headings with picture), 19/06, p8 cols1-6
Newspaper coverage and a poem:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘Our wreck editions’ & ‘Ode to the Foudroyant’, 22/06, p3 col 1
Disposal of the Foudroyant wreck:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘What of the ‘Foudroyant’?’’, & Her owners intentions’, ‘Value of the vessel’, 22/06, p3 col1
Visit to the ship:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘With Lord Nelson’; ‘On board ‘Foudroyant’’, 11/06, p5 col 6
Account of the loss of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Gazette & news, 1897, (Several Headings), 18/06, p8 cols 1-8
Presentation of a Painting:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1943, ‘Foudroyant for the Art Gallery’, 24/07, p1 col 2
Foudroyant’s cable found:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1925, ‘A Nelson relic’ (with pic), 24/02, p7 col 4-6
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1921, ‘About our special Supplement’, 13/12, p6 cols 3-6
Staircase to Jenkinsons Café:
Blackpool Gazette, 1899, ‘Jenkinsons developments’, 25/08, p2 col6
Blackpool Gazette, 1898, ‘Foudroyant Fatality: a day trippers sad end whilst watching the ships’, 19/08, p3 col 3
Story of the Foudroyant:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897,‘Story of the ‘Foudroyant’’, 30/11, p3 col 1-4
Wreck of the ‘Anna’:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897, ‘Another Shipwreck The salvage steamer swamped’, 30/07, p8 col 3
Wreck of the ‘Anna’:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897, ‘Another wreck’’, 20/08, p6 col 6
Wreck of the ‘Anna’
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘Our latest wreck’, 21/08, p5 col 6
The literary response to the sale of HMS Foudroyant in :
Doyle, A.C., 1892: The Fighting ‘Foudroyant’, in Peschel B., (et al), 2014, The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes’, Peschel Press, Available at: Google Books
Short account of the Lifeboat rescue in :
Morris, J., 2002, Blackpool Lifeboats, Lifeboat Enthusiasts’ Society, Coventry