Royal Merchant Navy School Bearwood - a Memory of Winnersh.

The Royal Merchant Navy School

As far back as 1827 the Royal Merchant Navy School was established under the name of the Merchant Seaman's Orphan Asylum to provide a home for the destitute offspring of British Merchant Navy Seamen, with a view of assisting and benefiting them when disease, accident or calamity at sea deprived them of their chief support.

The school when first established was located in St George's-in-the-East in London and had catered for 5 boys and 5 girls. These numbers gradually increased until in 1834, it moved to premises in Bow Road where accommodation for 120 pupils was provided in leasehold premises. In 1862 the school moved to a home of its own at Snaresbrooke, in Essex; this housed 250 pupils but the accommodation was enlarged subsequently to cater for 300. In 1902, the school was renamed 'The Royal Merchant Navy Seaman's Orphanage', at the instigation of King Edward VII.

In November 1919, the School was presented by Sir Thomas Lane Devitt, Bart., and Sir Alfred Yarrow, Bart., jointly, with the magnificent gift of the Mansion at Bearwood, near Wokingham in Berkshire, built by the third Mr John Walter of The Times, together with nearly 500 acres of park land. After extensive alterations, the school moved to Bearwood in 1921. In 1930, a fine and fully equipped gymnasium was presented by Captain Herbert A Taylor in memory of his father Mr Jenneson Taylor, shipowner of Sunderland. In 1935, the Earl and Countess of Inchcape gifted a Chapel and Organ as a memorial to the first Earl of Inchcape.

About this time, the school was renamed 'The Royal Merchant Navy School', thus eliminating the word 'Orphanage' which so many men and women who had been educated there alleged carried a stigma which handicapped them in later life, and in order to remove the objections of so many widows of Captains and Officers to place their children in a school entitled an orphanage.

In 1947, the Merchant Navy Comforts Service provided funds to purchase a school in Bexhill to provide accommodation for a junior section but this was subsequently closed when the numbers of children needing assistance declined, once the War was over.

In the mid 1960s, the school opened its doors to fee-paying pupils and was renamed Bearwood College. It became a single sex school, for boys only, although the education of girls was still provided, if necessary, under the auspices of The Royal Merchant Navy School Foundation, at other suitable schools. In 1995, it was decided once again to admit girls.

Obviously the decline of the Mercantile Marine has affected the number of children needing assistance from the Foundation, but it is still in existence and at present is supporting the education of about 50 children, either boarding at Bearwood or, for family reasons, at a school in the child's home town.

At any one time, by far the largest proportion of pupils at Bearwood were from the North East, especially North and South Shields and Sunderland. In 1949 the Seaman's Orphanage in Liverpool closed its doors and many of the children transferred to Bearwood. However, the Liverpool Seamans Orphanage Foundation still exists and works in conjunction with the RMNS Foundation.

The Royal Merchant Navy School Foundation still owns the estate and buildings, which are let to Bearwood College. The Queen is the Patron of both the Foundation and the School. She last visited in 1992 when she opened the prestigious new theatre. Both the magnificent mansion and estate often feature on TV. For one whole series of 'Soldier, Soldier', Bearwood was the garrison HQ. The Goodies filmed there; Morse solved a murder; in an episode of 'Silent Witness' it was a school whose headmaster killed his wife, and in the film 'Mountbatten' it stood in for the summer retreat of the Raj in Simla. The building is a fine example of the Victorian Country House.

A memory shared by Sylvia Lambert on May 2nd, 2010. Send Sylvia Lambert a message

 Comments & Feedback

Thu May 28th 2015, at 8:08 pm
gerry.watt commented:
The Royal Merchant Navy School.

Is the Queen still our patron ?
What has become of our blessed school ?
Still a proud Old Royal

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