Victorian London - Charities - Sailors' Home

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Sailors' Home, Well-street, was originally founded in 1828 by Captain R. J. Elliot, RN., 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 1835, and which still form an important feature of its operations, no less than 95,083 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, 15s. per week, or 2s. 3d. per day. Extra accommodation for masters and mates, 18s. 6d. per week. The board in either case includes breakfast, meat, fish, &c., from 8 to 9.30 am.; 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.
    Daily prayers in the Mission Hall, 7.30 am, 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 pm.
    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 its 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 House.
    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 it.
    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, stud 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.
    There 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.
    The 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. 
    Passing through the larger waiting-hall we reach the principal staircase, beyond which a short corridor leads into the great "Seamen's 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 room.
    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 of 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 an 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 souse 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 its 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.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

SAILORS' HOME, Wells-st., E. for boarding and lodging sailors - Was originally founded in 1828 by Captain R.J. Elliott, 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 home gives every accommodation to seamen.

Charles Dickens Jr. et al, Dickens Dictionary of London, c.1908 edition
(no date; based on internal evidence)