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By Frank Cooke ©
photos from Barnardo's archive
26/04/2002

Watts Naval Training School
Derham,
Norfolk.

watt's

 

The Watts Naval Training School was first used in 1903 but was not formally opened until 1906. The building dated back to 1871 when it had been built as a County school for fee paying students. WNTS admission was open to orphan and destitute boys who were between 11 and 14 years of age who would now live a military-style life and training. The boys were given numbers to identify themselves more so than their own names. Their hair was clipped short and they were rigged out in sailors’ uniforms.

In a strict regime which seems terribly harsh by today’s standards, the boys’ lives were now to be governed by bugle calls. The cane was used as a swift punishment for those breaking the rules. The boys’ best kit was stowed away, and their boots and socks were locked up. Apart from on Sunday parades and for church services, they would wear nothing on their feet inside or outside the building from April to October – regardless of the weather!

Their days began at 5.45am. The first hour of the day was reserved for cleaning, sweeping, scrubbing and polishing. Next would come breakfast and then assembly. Classes began at 9.15am and would continue through the day till 4.50pm. The boys would learn seamanship, physical training, gunnery, drill and signals, as well as other lessons.

The evenings were busy too – tea, homework, supper and, at 8pm, the teeth-cleaning ceremony when hundreds of boys lined up for a spoonful of cooking salt with which to scrub and gargle. After another assembly, it was time for prayers and lights out at 9pm. Throughout the night, boys would take turns at sentry duty. It was a tough life and one which hit hard during those first few weeks, but the reports seem to indicate that most boys grew to love their unusual school in the end.

Watts Naval School prided itself on turning out many a fine young sailor to serve the country during the period covering the two world wars.  Dr Barnardo's also had another Nautical Training  School, training boys for the Merchant Navy, this was called the Russell Cotes Nautical School.

WNTS housed just under 300 boys. It stood on high ground at North Elmham in Norfolk, about fifteen miles from Norwich, and twelve miles from the sea. The whole estate covered some 54 acres, and was bounded to the west by the river Wensum. A ship's mast stood in front of the building seen in the above photo.

One Watts boys name will stand the test of time, he was a plate steward on the unsinkable R.M.S Titanic for more information click here

The Watts Naval Training School closed in 1949 with most of the boys were transferred to The Russell-Cotes Nautical Training School, Parkstone, Poole in Dorset. In 1950 Watts became an 'ordinary' Dr. Barnardo's home for mixed family groups of children aged three to 15 years. It remained open until 1954.

For more information on Watts Sea School Click here

To read what Dr Thomas Barnardo wrote about Watts Click Here

To view some photos of the Naval Schools. Click here


When was the home built? The home was built in 1871 as a county school. It included a principal's house, a chapel. a laundry. an infirmary cottage, a swimming bath and boat house. This was for fee paying students.

Who lived there? It was built by Mr Ernest H Watts, a local farmer and landowner as a private school to educate gentleman farmers, but was never a financial success.

When was it a Barnardo's home?  The school was generously donated to Barnardo's in 190I, In the Dr Barnardo's Homes annual report for that year, it states:

There is a splendid gift by Mr E H Watts of a magnificently appointed building at North Elmham in Norfolk, to be devoted to the purposes of a naval training school. "350 lads can be accommodated", The whole was acquired and presented to the Association by Mr E H Watts, who has also agreed, in conjunction with his son, Mr Fenwick S Watts, to defray the cost of necessary alterations, furnishings and fittings, together amounting to over £13,000. Watts Naval Training School was officially opened on 11th March 1903 by King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales.

How many children lived there? There was around 300 boys a time at aged 10 to 16 years at Watts during its life as a naval training school.

When did the home close? Watts Naval Training School closed in 1949. The home closed in 1953 and the main buildings were later sold and demolished in 1960, The school house, chapel, captain's house, four cottages, sanatorium, old rectory and gardener's cottage still remain.

What is the home used for today? In the 1960s, a turkey and chicken farm was established on the old school's foundations, For a while, the chapel was used to house pigs, The chapel, gardener's cottage, captain's house, four cottages and old rectory have now been sold, refurbished and turned into private dwellings. Four new houses were built on the site of the old school in 2005/6.  During clearance of the site before building started the floors of the school were exposed and a few hundred of the Norfolk Pammets which were throughout the school. These have been set into the paved areas around the house - a reminder of times past!

The new houses are all occupied by young professional families with young children, which has added a new dimension and community to the County School or Watts Navel school.


Did you know: In 1920 The Prince of Wales Sea Training School opened as a Merchant Navy Sea Training Establishment in Dover. They are also recorded as having a school at Limehouse E1. The School in Dover was named after the same Prince of Wales that opened Goldings in 1922. They also had a Sea Training Hostel at  Ingham, Stalham, Norfolk. (1940 -1953) but this school was not run by Dr Barnardo's To view the web site click here


I READ with much sadness of the death of Mr Bertram 'Bert' Busby, late of Watts Naval Training School (Guild Messenger summer '98). I called to see him in 1992 at his home, on the 50th anniversary of my time in Watts. My memory of him while I was at Watts was of a very fair and just officer.

One incident we both recalled was when we were to have a visit from a high-ranking officer of the Royal Navy. Preparations had been going on for some weeks before. We were drilled on the parade ground every day for a fortnight, until we could almost carry out all the drill blindfolded. I was a leading hand at the time from Jellicoe division and was on duty with the night officer the very night before the big day.

We were doing our rounds of the quarter deck and dormitories just on daybreak when I spotted some white streamers fluttering from the trees at the side of the parade ground. It turned out to be a dozen or more toilet rolls decorating the fir trees. For the next two hours all hell broke loose but by breakfast time all was calm and on the face of it back to normal. The visit went off very well and the 'big man' from the Navy was most impressed. After the visiting parry had left, full parade was called and the lieutenant ordered the culprits who had seen fit to affix the decorations to take one pace forward in the ranks. Not a move was seen - after the third request, the order came: extra drill for the whole school for one week. We never did find out who did the deed and, as Mr Busby said, maybe just as well!

Our sincere sympathies to Mrs Busby and family.

Basil George, Watts 1941-43


Sidney Asbury continues his story of his time in care. The first part started a Euston Hall:

When I was about 12/13 years old, I went to W.N.T.S. for about three years. I think it was from 1942-1945. That's where I met John Wilcox (or Tank) as we knew him. He was in STURDEE? division and I was in TYRWHITT division (N0257). Mr A. Price if I remember rightly was Lieutenant Price, or 'Jimmy the One'. Bert Busby was the P.T.I. There were two Mr Greens one was Green 'G' because he taught us gunnery and the other was Green's' because he taught seamanship ('Boxing' the compass, steering the ship etc.) Another officer who taught us semaphore signalling etc. was a gent by the name of Sid Pointer. The bandmaster was Mr Joyce? We had a very good band in those days. But I think the "star" of the band was a young man named Trevor Lintott  he could really play the bugle. I think he went on to do very well in The Royal Marines. Anyway, I have rambled on a bit, haven't I?

Sidney Asbury
WNTS 1945 - 1948

Sidney had his story published in The Guild Messenger Winter 1992. In answer to Sidney's question No not enough.


Hello everyone. My name is Leslie John Bowyer. I am a former student of Watts Naval Training School and my number was 117 I was In six and three companies, my instructors were Fizzy Spain, Killer Stark, Bert Busby and my head master Hugh Wallace Hoskins. My time at WNTS was between 1937 and 1941. at age nearly 79 I still have vivid memories of the school most of which I must truthfully state were not to my liking. Reading various stories of former people at the school, the school had its good points, but these were not reflected by the actual students; whose creature discomforts were at a low point compared to that of the staff, to state the obvious I was rarely happy at WNTS. I having seen better times before my arrival there.

My favourite teachers were Mr Stokes and Mr Phillips who I was more comfortable with. I now live in Australia since leaving the Royal Navy on Pension in the late sixties. Recently I came in possession of a book published by Trafford in Canada titled "Waving Goodbye To A Thousand Flies" The author 'John Leonard Spencer', this person states that he was a student at a school named Halls Naval Academy. I having searched for this school I came up with a blank, it never existed. But wait for it. Reading between the lines and a description of that said Academy, required little persuasion for me to believe it was WNTS. I found the book Wholesomly interesting with few dull moments. I will send a copy of the school description from John Leonard Spencers book "Waving goodbye to a thousand flies" for you to work out for yourself.

Yours faithfully
Leslie John Bowyer
NSW Australia.

Click here to view John Leonard Spencers book "Waving goodbye to a thousand flies"

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