Watts Naval Training School

The plaque that is inside the Children's Church Barkingside.

I have started listing the old home of Dr Barnardo's. To see the sea schools click on a link below
 NB please let me know if any of the information is wrong.

This information is held on The Goldonian web site you can find all the homes by clicking on past homes.

Russell Cotes Nautical Training School
Watts Naval Training School
Parkstone Sea Training School

The following is an extract from "Night and Day", the one-time magazine of Dr Barnardo's Homes, shortly after Mr E. H. Watts had purchased the school for the charity.

Watts Naval T. S. (Dr Barnardo's)
Elmham, Norfolk
1903 Inauguration
1906 formally opened


The old Norfolk County School at North Elmham is tenanted once more and the playing fields are again ringing with the merry shouts of boys. Very shortly after the purchase had been completed and the transfer made, Mr E. H. Watts died. However, his eldest son, Mr. Fenwick S. Watts, took up the work that had dropped from his father's hands, had the fabric put in thorough repair, furnished the institution from the basement to the top storey at a cost of several thousand pounds and handed it over to Dr. Barnardo's Homes as one of the most complete institutions of its kind in England. Dr. Barnardo entertains no apprehension of his ability to fill it. Indeed, commodious as the County School looks, it will only accommodate about three hundred and twenty boys; what are these few among so many? Those of them who elect to go to sea will go to North Elmham when they are 10yrs or over. Four or five years training there will fit them to go to sea in the Royal Navy or the Mercantile Marine. Henceforth to earn their own living and do their duty as Nelson did.

The person who, after Dr. Barnardo, is best known in the school, whose word is law from one end of the building to the other is, "The Captain," Commander H. C. Martin of the Royal Navy, formerly the captain of the training ship Warspite. Under Captain Martin are some fifteen assistants, men and women, who like the good captain, are interested in the work - good, God fearing people, willing to help with all their hearts to clean up the mess of nineteenth century civilisation. Captain Martin took over command some eleven weeks ago. When his crew is fully made up, he will have some 300 - 350 hands onboard. At present, he has just over 100. The remaining 200 will join him in batches of 50, if they come in larger numbers they will retard the ships routine. The boys will take the subjects of the elementary code up to the seventh standard. In addition they will learn drilling, swimming, splicing, knotting and handling of ropes and all that is comprised in the word "Discipline. Just now, ordinary eight day clocks mark the time at the school but a ship's bell is going up in he central hall, known as the "Quarter Deck". The bare-foot miniature blue jackets will then lay aside that last habit of the land lubber and talk of "Eight Bells" instead of whatever its equivalent may be on the face of the clock."

"In the main the fabric remains as it was in the old days of the County School (1890- 1902) plus many needed improvements. The central hall has been opened up by the substitution of a heavy glass roof and the construction of a fire escape within easy reach of every window. This enables the whole building to be evacuated within three minutes when the bell rings as it often does for frequent fire drills. Every part of he building is heated with hot water and acetylene gas has been installed throughout. The central hall, reception room, classrooms and staff rooms are on the ground floor. On the first and second floors are the boy's sleeping wards. The central hall reaches up to the glass roof and the three stories look down into it as into a well from the galleries that run around on each storey. In the grounds there is a fine chapel, an isolation hospital, an open-air swimming pool and boat-house down by the river. Down in the basement are bathrooms, boys' locker rooms, and other store and office accommodation. There are three fives courts, football, and cricket pitches. It is a pleasant place in which these sailor laddies live, in which they are sheltered from all harm and where they are taught."

The boys rise at 6.30am (I remember that was on Sunday morning, it was 6am on other days). After worship and washing, they have breakfast at 7.30. At 9am they fall in for inspection on the parade ground and march to the central hall for inspection by the captain (Captain's inspection was only at Sunday divisions in my day). After morning assembly attended by the full staff the boys are marched off to school classes, nautical training and drill. Dinner is at 1230. At 2pm they fall in again and are marched off to school and drill followed by a half-hour special drill at 4.30. Tea is at 5.30 and evening prayers and bedtime come two hours later".

The lads have as much plain, wholesome food as they can eat. Cocoa and tea are the breakfast, tea and supper beverages, with bread and dripping or butter." Butter on Sunday, if we were lucky. There follows this priceless remark: "At North Elmham, as in the army, the value of dripping is quite appreciated."

Value of training at W.N.T.S.

"Watts is classified as a Secondary Technical School, the technical side of the instruction being devoted to nautical subjects and musical instruction for those lads who show an aptitude, and wish to be enlisted in the Royal Marines or other military bands. It would, perhaps, be better described as a Naval Preparatory school since the boys who join the Royal Navy initially serve a period of approximately one year in one of the Admiralty Boys training establishments, such as H. M. S. Ganges. The training they receive both here at Watts and Ganges enables them to have a good start to their naval careers. With few exceptions, the Watts boys pass the educational examinations for the navy as soon as they reach the minimum entry age of fifteen. The majority of the naval entrants are prepared for the seaman or communications branches, but some boys leave the school to train in a trade such as carpentry before joining the navy as Artisan Ratings.

Choice of Careers

It is a common mistake to think that all but a few of the boys enter the services. This is not the case for a variety of reasons. A number of boys are admitted to the school who do not wish to follow a seafaring life but are thought to be suitable for training in a large group and would benefit from the healthy, outdoor and active routine of the school. The majority of boys, however, are those who are keen to be trained for the sea or service bands. There is no suggestion of compulsion with regard to choice of careers and boys are free to decide against a seafaring life if they change their minds after joining the school. It might be thought that time spent at nautical instruction by those not destined for a life at sea was a waste of their time but this is not the case. It may be true that a certain amount of the instruction will be of little practical value to them in later life. However, it is of value in sharpening their intelligence and giving them an insight into subjects not normally found in ordinary schoolwork."

The Norfolk County School went bust at the turn of the 1900's and the School was subsequently turned into a Barnardo's children's home (training the orphans for a life at sea) under a bequest from a benefactor who lent his name to the Barnardo's 'Watts Naval Training School'.

The Barnardo's home was shut in 1949 and the school demolished shortly after. The other buildings all remain, chapel, sanatorium, vicarage, etc - all now houses, as does the stunning little station, set in the middle of the Wensum flood plain, and surrounded by nothing but fields and summer pastures. So the insurance companies will like them, if they can get insured.

The gymnasium at Watts

There is no doubt that the Barnardo's sea schools were very good and very successful. On the discipline front the procedure at Russell Cotes and then Parkstone as it became was the usual defaulters' report and then between three and six 'cuts' in the gymnasium over the horse, in private but with the inflicting Petty Officer plus three officers. No ritual or special dress and executed very formally and properly. At Watts up to 1926 it was done with trousers off and the boy strapped over a four-legged horse and biting on a lump of cloth, and always with either the entire school or the defaulter's division mustered to witness it. Afterwards it was over either naval shorts or P.E. shorts in the gym. Cdr 'Flogger' Campbell was in charge between 1934 and 1940, and then back again in 1943 following a war wound. The wound did not appear to impede the movement of his right arm! He usually meted out the canings himself in his own study, and there were reported instances of it being on the bare. Campbell was dismissed in 1946 . The reason was the result of 37 boys enjoying a mass absconding, which was more for devilry and a bit of apple scrumping than anything else. The less resolute came back within an hour or so and were locked in a basement cellar. It took two days for the remainder to be brought back. It seems that Campbell held the equivalent of a court martial and every boy was sentenced to 12 cuts of the cane. The canings took over two hours to complete, done in the basement cellar with the vaulting horse taken there complete with canvas strappings. The boys were caned on their bare backsides and it was said that their yelps could be heard in the classrooms. Two boys, on being released, ran off again and when caught by the police one of them revealed the state of his buttocks. A police doctor was brought in and then a complaint went to Barnardo's. Campbell retired on grounds of 'ill health' shortly afterwards. That is the only known instance of abuse at Watts, otherwise the discipline was very strict but fairly imposed.

The Watts Naval Training School, was opened in 1903, was a branch of Dr. Barnardo's Homes And was controlled by the Director and the Council of the Association, having an independent Board of Managers responsible for the educational work. The building its self dated from 1871, and had been a County school. They provided a two year course of general education, followed at the age of 14 by a two year course of Naval Training. There was accommodation for 300 boys, the majority of whom, on leaving, went to H.M.S. Ganges, a boys Naval Training Establishment at Shotley Suffolk. Only a few boys went into the Merchant Navy. Admission was open to orphan and destitute boys who were between 11 and 14 years of age. Dr Barnardo's also had another Nautical Training School, training boys for the Merchant Navy, this was called the Russell Cotes Nautical School.

Both schools closed in 1949 and were amalgamated as Parkstone Sea Training School, in 1964 Parkstone also closed with most of the remaining boys going to Goldings.

Click here to view some photos of W.N.T.S 

Barnardo's Archive

Note: I had an email from No 78 Jelicoe Division Reg Trew of which part stated: Whoever wrote that had got the names of the Capt. Supts. wrong. The man at the helm in August 45-49 was Cmdr. Felton who went on to be the first Capt of Parkstone in 1949 when they amalgamated the two schools. His predecessor, who was there when I went to Watts in Jan 1945, was a Capt Lewin/Lewelyn, not sure of the correct name. He went to the TS Arethusa from Watts and he was dismissed in 1947 after the Arthusa boys mutinied. Reg was at Watts from 1945 to 1947

Below is a small section from 232 Dennis Sloan's Book The 23rd Little Varmint priced @ 8.95 All profits from the sale of this book are to be donated to Dr Barnardo's in the appreciation of the tremendous "lift-off" they gave to a life that was never boring. Dennis was at Watts 1938 to 1943......


Immediately after our arrival we were given a bath and then paraded, naked, into the tailors shop. There were two men in the shop, both very badly crippled. It was the first time I had ever seen such handicaps and was somewhat taken aback. Mr Runcie, who was in charge, walked with considerable difficulty, but the other fellows legs were so bad that he just sat, cross-legged on the table.

First, we were given a haircut-a very short haircut. Next, we were kitted out with our uniform. It was an exciting moment. I had never had long trousers before and now, here I was receiving bell-bottoms, just like my uncle John had worn. We were each given a pile of clothes and a pair of brand- new boots. We dressed quickly and struggled into the stiff, new boots. Thus , well-shorn and immaculately clad, off we went into a strange new world where everything was done by numbers, by bugle calls or by flags; where people spoke of the "quarter-deck" when they really meant the assembly hall; where the "foretop" and the "maintop" were simply balconies and where even the corridors had names-"Trafalgar", "Nile" and "Camperdown".

Our day began with a bugle call to reveille at a quarter past six. In each of ten dormitories, thirty boys leapt from their cots onto the cold, polished lino. each boy had two blankets and two sheets. These were carefully folded according to precise instructions and placed at the end of the bed so each looked exactly as the next. After prayers, the daily routine continued apace and our next activity was a visit to the washroom. It was all done under strict supervision. We were assembled in the Drill Hall, marched away for our ablutions and then marched back again for inspection. That completed, we were marched into breakfast.

Breakfast was at seven-thirty and was typical of all our meals in the Hall. Here, again, everything happened strictly to the word of command. It really had to be that way. We all dined together-upwards of three hundred boys. Without discipline, we would never have got through our meals. In the room there were eighteen long, wooden refrectory tables -six rows of three-with benches on either side and a single stool at one end. Eight boys sat on each side and a senior boy, a kind of table monitor, at the head. It was his job to dish out the food and keep order. We stood silently at our places until the Officer of the watch was satisfied that everyone was present and standing properly to attention. When he was ready , he would say, 'Prepare to sing Grace!' As one we would begin.

Grace over, he would continue,' Right, sit down!' At that three hundred youngsters would scramble over their benches and sit down. Food would be served by the senior boy at each table but no-one would lift a spoon until the next command, 'Carry on eating!' We were not allowed to talk while we were eating but when the clatter of cutlery had finally died down, the Officer of the Watch would announce,' Right, carry on talking!' At that point, every boy in the hall would decide that he wanted to talk to a boy three tables away. There would be absolute pandemonium for the next few minutes.

We studied the usual school subjects of those days and, in addition, of course, there was our nautical instruction. There were specialist instructors, Petty Officers ex-experienced in Signaling, Seamanship and Gunnery as well as Physical Training. Lessons continued until four O'clock with a lunch break at noon. There was drill at four-thirty and tea an hour later. The bracing Norfolk air gave us all enormous appetites and we were always hungry. After tea we had a break and then there were prayers. The whole school gathered for evening service on the 'quarterdeck'. There we would stand, barefoot but immaculate, twelve ranks deep, looking up at the bridge, the great ship's bell overhead. At half past seven, precisely, we would hear the clip-clop-clip of approaching feet on an upstairs corridor floor. It was the Admiral! Just as the great man arrived, the Officer of the Watch would bark out 'Off Capps,' and immediately our short-cropped heads would be bared.

After prayers we would retire for a shower and then bed. The nightly bathing routine was a remarkable exercise- a mixture of Naval efficiency and pure pantomime! It all took place in a big room which housed no less than thirty-seven showers. Seventy-four of us, at a time, would be assembled and marched, absolutely naked, into the room. We would then stand properly at ease beneath the showers-two boys to a shower. There we would stand, as the Officer of the Watch slowly turned the huge water valve. We all knew what was coming next and before the first drop of water fell, most heads would be surreptitiously lowered, eyes closed and shoulders gradually hunched. Then, out would come the water- freezing cold ! Seventy-four little boys would shout and scream- but not for long! It was traditional that the water would stay cold until everyone was completely quiet and, believe me, if there was a new boy making any noise, he was quickly given a friendly nudge and told to shut up.

As soon as the water was warm, we would be told to, 'Soap yourselves down!' Now between the showers, there were wooden railings and every eighteen inches, or so, a piece of soap and a scrubbing brush. We would grab these and have a really good wash before the water was turned off. Afterwards, we would replace the soap and brush and stand properly at ease again. When everyone was quite still, we would be ordered to 'Swill yourselves off!' and back would come the water. Then followed something that still turns my stomach. we received the order, 'Clear your heads!' and for some reason we were expected to blow our noses through our fingers. Finally, we were ordered to 'Clear the bathroom!' and we would line up around the edge of the room ready for inspection. One by one we would present ourselves, hands held high in the air. One Officer would inspect the top half, back and front, and then we would go to another room where a different Officer would inspect the bottom half-back and front!. Each boy would shout out his number. 'Two-three-two!' I would call out. A boy would tick off the number off his check list and that was that, you'd been through the bath!

After our shower it was off to bed. Clothed only in our long white nightshirts, we would snuggle down into our cots. Despite my shortcomings, however, I must have impressed someone because one evening something happened which would dramatically affect the rest of my time at Watts. During the evening, after the bath and before bed, a number of boys would be summoned to the Executive Officer's room. This was often for some minor infringement of the rules and it usually meant a few cuts of the cane. If, for instance your towel was found in the wrong place, it was put in the scram-bag and it cost two cuts to redeem. It was no great deal but it did stop everyone leaving their things all over the place. I was expecting a few cuts, therefore, but when I was told, by the Executive Officer, to report to the Admiral's Office, I thought that I was going to be shot. When I entered the office, however, I was surprised to see, not the great man himself, but his wife, Lady Gertrude Eaton Ellis. She told me what a good job I made of the top deck toilets. She asked me to start work as the Admiral's houseboy.

Dennis Sloan 1988
The Self Publishing Association Ltd



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