This (picture) is Rebecca Swan, Education Consultant and Education Development Officer for The Wellington Trust. First, come up with a stream of visits that would really “float the boat” (sorry…) of those taking part. One good decision out of that was to select young students who had already shown an interest in technology. Randomizing or picking attendees whose mindset was in a diametrically opposite direction to try and shift them (as in so-called “Reality” TV shows) was a non-starter – quite rightly. So – a selection of young people who’d already started working on technical studies was sought form two London colleges. Step ! Rebecca’s next task was to seek the support of those in the maritime sector who would endorse her plans. Key to her plan was showing that from autonomous ships to advanced weapons systems, maritime engineering is cutting edge.
…was taken in HMS Wellington, home of the Wellington Trust, at her moorings on the Thames Embankment – the Victoria Embankment, in fact – opposite London’s Temple underground station. On board the students find themselves touching history – on these very decks the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest campaign by far in the Second World War, was fought and with enormous Allied effort, brought to victory. Not without terrible cost on both sides. Among the Allies’ Merchant Navy officers and men. Among the convoy escorts, shepherded by ships just like Wellington, with her coming through at last: British, Canadian and American, and Free seamen of all nations facing down Nazism. Without ships like ‘Wellington’, Hitler’s U-boats would have strangled our country and starved it to death; and we would now be a crushed, Gestapo-tormented satellite of the degraded and evil Third Reich.
The aim of the Wellington Trust’s Future Maritime Engineers project was to assemble a programme of visits for young technology students that would energize them into thinking about a career in maritime engineering. Maritime Films UK’s role was to capture the whole process on the run, creating a film to spread the word about the many benefits of working in the maritime engineering sector. For this, the Trust won funding from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 (picture) whose remit – reflecting that famed Crystal Palace event – is “to increase the means of industrial education and extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry.” Founded in 1850 under the leadership of Queen Victoria’s husband The Prince Consort, the Commission continues the work of the Great Exhibition – in which marvels of engineering were front and centre.
With British seafarers directly employed by British ship owners now far fewer than in the heyday of Pax Britannica – because of the decline of British ship-owning – getting young people to think about a career at sea has become a real challenge. For all that, British seafaring skills and the training for those skills are highly rated, with courses such as those provided by Southampton Solent University (picture) attracting students from all over the world. The ships may often not be ours now, but UK maritime careers are still major opportunities. Much in demand: engineers. The RN went so far as to run a ‘Relive A Life Without Limits’ campaign, to attract departed RN engineers back into the navy. So how to encourage more young people to look at this golden opportunity? Step forward The Wellington Trust’s ‘Future Maritime Engineers’ project…
As National Museum of the Royal Navy shipwrights stripped away the planking of Victory on her starboard side, they soon learned that it was the newer, replacement hull planking that had rotted most. This was at least in part because this was the side of the ship most exposed to wind and weather sweeping down from the Solent and into Portsmouth Harbour. A century of that takes its toll on any wooden ship, and Victory, however mighty, is no exception. But the surprise was what had fared worse was the newest planking – probably just a few decades old. Iroko, often used as a serviceable substitute for teak. Some at least of this had gone to a kind of mulch. Time allowing it could have been bagged up and sold to make a bob or two for the National Museum.
The Victory visitors see today, in 2023, is much more than two and a half centuries away from the original, built at Chatham and launched in 1765. Warships of that era were worked hard as Britain rose to her mastery of world oceans and trade, culminating unanswerably in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. That – anti-Empire grievance-mongers please note (as if they will!) benefited all sea- trading nations, whatever Britain’s dominance. But that meant that ships of the Royal Navy needed the kind of rebuild Victory is now getting, every 9 years or so. So not much of what you see of this great – and unique – ship’s external timbers dates back to her birth. Surveys show that what does – for example, the great frames – is in remarkably good, and strong, condition. And the stripping goes on…
This is Simon Williams, HMS Victory project director. Simon was Assistant Project Director until the untimely death of Stephen Green (see MFUK blogs passim.) Eventually he stepped into Stephen’s shoes and is now in charge of the day-to-day work in what must be the most ambitious maritime conservation project in the world – and the most important, as there is no other 18th century warship in such an excellent state of preservation worldwide. Excellent yes, but needing constant work and checking to keep her so. Simon carries this responsibility calmly, but with an intense focus – always there, always on site, working to overall project leader, Andrew Baines. This latest phase, the renewed hull planking, is a major, multi-year step forward – and it’s one Simon had to take on step up to at literally no notice. And Victory is a global icon.
Now on to the next phase in the multi-year project to protect and restore HMS Victory. With the ship stabilized with her new supports feeding data second by send on how she is sitting and where stresses can be relieved or supporting pressure gently increased. So now the shipwrights are working towards the much-needed restoration of her hull planking. Much depends on what they and their team of shipwrights find as the shell planking comes off – what state are the ribs are in, and where are the needs for restoration most pressing. Only one way to find out – remove the planking and look. You might think modern electric gadgets would make this easier, but in fact it requires many tools and techniques recognizable to the 18th century shipwrights who built Victory. The prime one: muscle power. The new planking: oak.
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.