The Port of Hull Society for the Religious Instruction of Seamen was founded in 1821, following a public meeting convened in the St Mary's Boys' Schoolroom, Salthouse Lane, Hull. It was set up to minister to the spiritual needs of the seamen who had played a vital part defending Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, but who were now looked upon as a depraved and dangerous section of society. Money was raised and the floating chapel or 'bethel' the Valiant a former Dutch merchantman, was purchased and
moored in Queen's Dock.
The first service was given to a packed congregation and thereafter it was not uncommon for over four hundred seamen and their wives to attend Sunday evening services. By the 1840s the Society employed two full-time missioners who were active from the Humber to the Tees carrying the 'word' to sailors on board their ships.
Although the original purpose of the Society was religious, the welfare of the seamen and their families soon attained equal importance. In 1823 a ship's Library facility was established in the floating chapel - this amenity continued until the 1970s in conjunction with the British Sailors' Society and in 1824 a Marine School opened for the purpose of giving seamen and apprentices practical as well as academic instruction.
In 1837 the Sailors' Orphan Institute was established in Waterhouse, Lane, Hull for the purpose of clothing and educating the fatherless children of sailors and by 1862 the Society had rented a house in Castle Row to provide accommodation for those who could not be looked after at home. This was supplemented in 1867 by the purchase of Thanet House in Park Street, largely made possible by a generous donation of £5,000 from Titus Salt, a Bradford merchant and philanthropist.
The Society's Annual Report for 1893 stated: "We have reached the limit of our accommodation in Park Street. This consideration and the increasing number of children seeking admission has decided the
Committee to take a further step. A plot of ground of six acres has been purchased, (with the option of a further quantity) upon which it is intended to erect Cottage Homes." This land known as "Newland" was situated on Cottingham Road and by the beginning of the twentieth century the model village comprised of 12 homes - including Hannah Pickard, Buckston Browne, Francis Reckitt, William Richardson, Titus Salt and Dr Lee - which were named in tribute to the benefactors of the Society.
In the First World War children of Royal Navy casualties were received into the Society's care and
at its peak over three hundred and sixty orphaned seafarers' children were resident, educated in their own school (St Nicholas) and nursed in their own hospital (The Joseph Rank Sanatorium). As a result of the war, but also because of the established reputation of the Homes, children were admitted from places as distant as Dover, Portsmouth, London and Staithes, a tradition of caring for children of seafarers all over the country which the Society has maintained up to the present day.
Later an Old Scholars Association was set up, with its inaugural meeting in 1936, in order to provide a focus for those brought up at Newland, who wanted to retain links with their family through their adult life from as far a field as Canada and Australia. Anyone who is interested in getting in touch with Old Scholars can contact the Society on this e-mail address or post a message on our Guest Book. For all enquiries for information relating to ex-residents or family history please contact
Hull History Centre where all our historical records are now kept, or the Yorkshire Film Archive, which houses our film records.
During the Second World War children from Newland were evacuated to Brighouse and Pateley Bridge, gradually returning from 1946. The Estate nevertheless played its own part in the war effort at this time of national emergency; William Richardson House was used by the WVS; Buckston Browne House served as a day nursery for babies and small children, whose mothers were on war work; Francis Reckitt House housed emergency stores and for several months became a hostel for Russian seamen and women, who were repairing their heavily damaged vessel in Hull Docks; other houses provided shelter for local people rendered homeless following air-raids whilst Stratten Hall became an emergency feeding centre.
In 1939 the Society opened the first Seamen's Institute in Carr Lane, Hull, providing accommodation for both officers and men. Following destruction by enemy bombing during the War, the Society opened Merchant Navy House, which was soon busy to capacity, and in 1953, after fresh premises were acquired in collaboration with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, the Merchant Navy Hotel was opened by the Princess Royal. This was run separately from the Society's other work, but with a major managerial interest.
The Society has enjoyed unbroken Royal support from 1868 when HRH Rear Admiral, the Duke of Edinburgh became Patron, and was very fortunate to have HM The Queen Mother as Patron from 1937 until her death in 2002 a period which saw huge social change. HRH The Princess Royal graciously agreed to take over this patronage from her grandmother.
The Port of Hull Society changed its name to the Sailors' Children's Society in 1950 and adopted the policy of subsidising children in their own homes where possible. During the Ħsixties the Society also began to diversify its work by providing homes for elderly seafarers in various locations and in the eighties introduced halfway houses for adolescents making the difficult transition from childhood to adult life and work. As a result of this enlargement of scope the Society adopted the name the Sailors' Families' Society in 1991.
During the 1990s the changing social scene had led to a steady decline in the demand for residential care of children, who were now fostered in a family situation wherever possible. The Society's Trustees therefore decided to redirect the focus of work at Newland towards the looking after of abused children placed with them by local authorities as a result of being at risk in their own family environment. A specialised unit to care for severely traumatised children was set up and an advanced child care programme adopted. In 2001 Captain Allison House was closed as a residential home for retired Seafarers and Newland Children's Services was launched. At the same time the on-going support provided to the disadvantaged children of seafarers throughout the country was strengthened and extended.
Sadly Newland Children's Services began to suffer severe financial deficits due to reducing childcare referrals and was unable to secure supply agreements with local authorities. These deficits impacted on the ability of the Society as a whole to maintain its support for seafarers' children in their own homes and in 2004 the Trustees very sadly and reluctantly took the decision to close the Children's Services and
sell the Newland Estate. However in order not to disrupt the education of young children in the Newland area agreement was reached with Hull City Council in 2006 to lease St Nicholas School buildings and some surrounding land to Hull City Council Education Department on a long-term lease. The ownership of the freehold remains with the Society and in the event of the School being closed at some future point, use of the buildings and land will revert to the Society.
Putting the Newland Estate up for sale marked the end of an era, not just for the Sailors' Families' Society, but for the people of Hull for whom the Newland Homes had become a great tradition. Over the years the public had been invited to garden parties and gymkhanas, carnivals and firework displays, carol concerts and latterly car boot sales on the Estate and many people found it difficult to believe that the charitable work of the Society could continue without it.
However the Sailors' Children's Society is a national charity and currently assists 228 families with 417 children from Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and Fishing backgrounds. The sale of the Newland Estate was completed in March 2009, work continues looking at providing additional support to the families with regard to other non-financial needs. Due to the current economic climate the Society still needs to raise funds as requests for help are increasing.
To find out more about the Sailors' Children's Society and how you can help please visit our How You Can Help page.