OLD DEVONPORT . UK
www.olddevonport.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 12, 2016.
Webpage updated: February 12, 2016

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ROYAL FLEET CLUB

The Royal Fleet Club was situated in Morice Square, Devonport.  The building still exists but appears to be unoccupied at the time of writing.

It was founded as the Devonport Sailors' Home for the purpose of providing a comfortable board and lodging house for the sailors, marines, yachtsmen and merchant seamen of all nations.  There was medical attention available and washing facilities.  They could pass their time here in any circumstances and would receive religious and nautical training free of charge, if required, together with instruction in any other subject felt to be useful to them. 

The first premises were at No. 16 Saint Aubyn Street, Devonport, in the premises previously occupied by the Western District Banking Company.   The main entrance was at the eastern end of Barrack Street and, thanks to a new wing having been added to the premises some years earlier, the building extended a s far as the Union Savings Bank in Chapel Street.

There were twenty-four rooms in the house.  To the left of the entrance lobby was a spacious and comfortable Reading Room, with a liberal supply of instructive and entertaining books, the gift of the Lords of the Admiralty.  Below that there were the kitchens, fitted with gas stoves capable of cooking meals for 150 people.  Upstairs were the three dormitories, suitably named "Nelson", "Trafalgar", and "Northumberland", which were divided into about 50 cabins.  When the fitting-out was finished, the Home would accommodate 200 sailors.  Each cabin contained one bed but the space was severely limited.  Ventilation and light were gained by the partitions not going up to the ceiling.  In addition, there were rooms for the Superintendent, Lieutenant Sumpter RN, and the Steward, beside lavatories and water closets. 

The formal opening on Friday December 31st 1852 was commemorated with Divine service at Saint Mary's Church.  The Royal Marine Band led the procession to the Church, followed by sailors carrying the Union Jack, more sailors carrying a banner with the motto "Sailors' Home", the management committee, the Clergy, His Worship The mayor, and the local gentry.  Next came the Naval group, headed by the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir John Acworth Ommanney, KCB, and his staff, followed by Commodore Superintendent Seymour and his staff from the Royal Dockyard, Colonel Calder of the Royal Engineers and Captain Superintendent Rich of the Royal Naval Hospital, and the Heads of Department of the Royal Dockyard.  The Naval group were escorted by sailors carrying the Red, White and Blue Ensigns.  Behind them came the general committee.  Finally, the Band of HMS Impregnable, under Captain A Lowe RN, headed a contingent of sailors and marines from ships in the Hamoaze, some Naval Apprentices, and the children from the Royal Naval schools. 

When the Home was being planned, Her Majesty Queen Victoria kindly donated 100 to the enterprise.  Thanks to her patronage, it was in January 1855 accorded the privilege of being known as the Devonport Royal Sailors' Home.

In the September it was transferred to premises in Duke Street, where four pence was charged for a bed for the night.  There were 29 in individual cabins and 48 in dormitories.  Sixpence bought a breakfast with fish, and nine pence paid for either dinner or supper, both with a pint of ale.   Weekly board and lodging cost 10s 6d.  The Home's income from this was supplemented by donations from the public and an annual grant of 150 from the Admiralty.

Although the Home had purchased its building in Duke Street in 1862, it was decided that larger premises were needed.  The site of the present, fine building was purchased in May 1899 and with the aid of a grant of 2,000 from the Admiralty, building started the following August.  Lady Charles Scott, wife of the Commander-in-Chief, laid the memorial stone on Friday December 14th 1900 in the presence of Vice-Admiral Cardale, chairman of the management committee; Mr H J Snell, the architect; and Mr J Partridge, the contractor.  It was hoped to save some money for the moment by not erecting the top storey and the turret, which would be added later when funds permitted.  As a result, the Home would only be able to provide 140 beds instead of the 220 planned.

It was emphasised by Vice-Admiral Cardale that the Royal Sailors' Home was not in competition with Miss Weston's Home.  They both served the same purpose but where Miss Weston expected total abstinence from drink, the management committee decided not to impose that rule and allowed seamen to have a glass of ale when they wanted it.  It was hoped that the other amusements offered would keep them away from the local public houses and the temptations therein.

Admiral Lord Charles Scott himself performed the official opening ceremony on Tuesday April 29th 1902 as his wife was unwell.  The Mayor and Mayoress of Devonport, Mr & Mrs E M Leest, were also present.  Men from the Royal Marine Light Infantry and the Royal Marine Artillery, under Captain H Coles, provided the guard of honour and the Royal naval Band provided the music.

During the night of July 8th 1940, a high explosive bomb fell through the roof and down through the building to come to rest in the kitchen on the ground floor, which was utterly wrecked.  Luckily the bomb failed to explode, enabling the Home to offer accommodation and meals to some 700 civilians whose homes were destroyed during the terrible Blitz of April 1941.

On March 2nd 1949, at a special general meeting, it was decided to change the name to the Royal Fleet Club.  The Council of Management was reconstituted and for the first time members of the Women's' Royal Naval Service were accorded full membership rights.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has continued the honour of being the Club's patron and in 1988 opened the first stage of the modernisation programme.   The second stage was opened in May 1990 by Admiral Sir Brian Brown, the Second Sea Lord at the time, and finally on November 27th 1996 the refurbished public rooms were opened by Rear Admiral Peter M Franklyn RN.  Since then a lift has been installed alongside the main staircase.

In April 2002 the Royal Fleet Club became a public hotel, open to any paying customer.

The building was sold in 2010 to a religious organisation, who intend to reopen it as a religious conference centre.