OLD DEVONPORT . UK
www.olddevonport.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 17, 2016.
Webpage updated: March 09, 2017

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ROYAL SAILORS' REST (FORE STREET)

The Royal Sailors' Rest immediately outside the Dock Gate in Fore Street.
From Ordnance Survey sheet CXXIII.7 surveyed in 1912.

Early in 1873 Miss Agnes Weston made the journey from her home in Bath to Devonport to meet the sailors with whom she had been corresponding.  While in Devonport she lodged with the family of Miss Sophia Gertrude Wintz and they became lifelong friends and business partners.  Later that year she started to work with the Royal Naval Temperance Society and visited the warships and spoke directly with the sailors.  Miss Weston's visits were so popular that in 1874 a deputation from HMS "Dryad" asked her to open a temperance house close to the Royal Dockyard gate in Fore Street.

The Royal Sailors' Rest from the Dockyard Wall end,
with Fore Street on the left.
From a postcard.

By March 1876 the two ladies had raised enough funds to purchase a large house in Fore Street, which they fitted up at great expense.   The freshly painted premises had a huge lamp over the main entrance, where one of the specially designed glass panels carried the words: 'Coffee, Comfort, and Company, for One Penny.'

Entering from Fore Street, one first came to the shop, or bar, where coffee, tea, dinners and suppers were served.  It was, of course, a temperance institution so no alcoholic drinks were permitted.  Beyond that was a very small smoking room and the wash-rooms.  The front room on the first floor was the reading room, equipped with newspapers, periodicals and books.  Apart from a bath-room the remainder of the floor was taken by offices for the clerk and two private rooms for Miss Weston, who intended to live there as much as possible.   The second floor contained the scullery and kitchen, fitted with one of Bayne's "Gibraltar" cooking ranges.  On the third floor was the recreation-room, furnished for chess, dominoes and bagatelle.

Attached to the house was a good sized hall, with a separate entrance off Fore Street, where for many months past Miss Weston had been holding religious services.  A second house had been purchased or rented at the rear of the premises and it was intended that this should be converted into dormitories for 70 men.   It opened in May 1876.

The Royal Sailors' Rest entrance at the
junction of Fore Street and Catherine Street.
Note the telephone call box on the left by the
underground lavatories at the top of Catherine Street.
From  a postcard.

The Devonport Sailors' Rest was opened on Monday May 8th 1876 and was soon followed by ones at Portsmouth, Portland and Sheerness.  A branch of the Sailors' Rest, known as "The Homeward Bound", was opened in 1878 in Albert Road, outside the gate of the Keyham Steam Yard.

In October 1887 the Napier Inn, the Fountain Inn and the Dock Gates Inn, all in Fore Street, were demolished to make way for the enlarged and extended Royal Sailors' Rest.  Miss Weston paid 7,000 for the land and on Wednesday April 18th 1888 Vice-Admiral H D Grant CB laid the foundation stone of the new building.   Miss Weston laid a stone of her own at the corner nearest the Dockyard wall.  The new building would be in the Renaissance style and constructed of red brick with Portland and Ham Hill stone dressings.  The architect was Mr H J Snell, of Plymouth, and the contractors were Messrs Palk & Partridge, also of Plymouth.

Down in the basement were the kitchens, sculleries, offices, baggage-rooms and twelve bathrooms.  On the ground floor at the front of the building was the combined bar and dining room, measuring 65 feet by 28 feet, and a large recreation-room.  The superintendent's room was on the first floor, along with reading-rooms and twelve private bedrooms.  Floors two and three comprised large dormitories, divided by eight-feet high varnished wood partitions in to small cabins, each about eight feet by five feet.  Each floor also contained large lavatories, wash-rooms and, apparently, dressing-rooms.

Public recognition for Miss Weston's work came in 1892 when Her Majesty Queen Victoria endowed a cabin at Devonport and gave her Royal Warrant for it to be henceforth known as the "Royal Sailors' Rest".

When the premises began to deteriorate, it and the house next to it were pulled down and The Victoria Memorial Block was built in their place.  Admiral Lord Charles Beresford performed the official opening on Tuesday January 17th 1905.  It cost 20,000 to build and equip.  A further extension was formally opened on Sunday May 7th 1916.  Miss "Aggie" Weston died at Devonport on Wednesday October 23rd 1918 and was buried at Weston Mill Cemetery with full Naval honours.

The building was destroyed during the Blitz of April 1941 and the Rest was moved into the former Royal British Female Orphan Asylum premises at the top of Albert Road.