Lambeth Road, notable inhabitants

The Marine Society, Lambeth Road

The Marine Society, 202 Lambeth Road

The following article appeared in The Vauxhall Society’s Newsletter of May 1980.

A major contribution to the refurbishing of properties in Lambeth Road has been made in recent time by the Marine Society. In December 1979, HM the Queen officially opened its new headquarters in the former Archbishop William Temple’s school, at 202 Lambeth Road, after a careful programme of cleaning and conversion of the old buildings.

The Marine Society was formed in 1756 and is the oldest marine charity in the world. Until 1940, it administered a succession of training ships (usually’ named ‘Warspite’) on the Thames, and it has always been directly concerned with training and assisting British seafarers, fishermen, light keepers and wives at sea with their husbands. In 1974-75 the affairs of the Sailors Home Trust and the Red Ensign Club together with the British Ship Adoption Society were transferred to the Society.

The Seafarers Education Service, formed in 1919, and the College of the Sea (1938), which together provide ships’ libraries and further education facilities for seafarers, also merged their operations with the Marine Society in 1976.

The renovated William Temple’s school provides a combined headquarters for all these activities, as well as a home for the London head-quarters of the RNLI and for the London School of Nautical Cooker. Every British foreign-going ship of 1,000 tons gross tonnage or more, going to sea from any port in the British Isles (or on the continent of Europe between the river Elbe and Brest) is required by the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 to carry a duly certified cook. (No other member of a ship’s company, other than the Master, is compulsorily required in this way.) The School was originally established in 1893 and offers courses leading to the award of a Department of Trade certificate of competency as a ship’s cook.

Entering through the gatehouse of the former William Temple’s school, one notices the newly-cleaned brickwork and red asphalt driveway (which always gives a lightening touch to the urban landscape). The gatehouse is now converted for use as study bedrooms by seafarers who wish to study intensively while on leave. The drive has also been planted with birch saplings and shrubs. The forecourt of the old school has been remodelled so that the Marine Society’s large commemorative sundial, on the exterior wall of the headmaster’s study, is a focal point. This sundial is formed out of a seadog, in copper, holding a torch at an angle so that it casts a shadow across a bronze armillary sphere. The dial is calibrated for GM and BST; its sculptor was Edwin Russell and the designer C St J H Daniel.

Over the entrance door are three circular plaques the seadog holding the Marine Society arms, the Society’s seal, and the armillary sphere. To the right, mounted on posts, is a bronze bell, cast by Mears and Stainbank, bell-founders of London, in 1897. It was formerly used for waking the inmates each morning at the Red Ensign Club. Although the premises are not normally open for inspection by the public, we understand that the fomer classrooms have been converted to make library and storage space for the Marine Society’s books and films. At the request of ship-owners or rig-operators of any flag, the Society supplies libraries to ships, each library being changed approximately three times a year. It is estimated that at any one time, these libraries account for close on one million books at sea all over the world. The school hall bas been divided horizontally, the lover part being used for book storage, and the upper part transformed into the Cookery School, with large windows let into the roof. The basement provides accommodation for a staff restaurant and other services.

Throughout, the conversion of the building has been sensitively applied to the original 1902 shell by the architects, Messrs Riley and Glanfield. The work vas not without its tribulations – the school was in a near-derelict state when taken over and the requirements of the Borough planning department were stiff. But the final outcome is a worthy example of how conservation can be combined with practical usage, and is a credit to all concerned. One item is missing: the statue from the niche in the front gable. Ideas for a replacement will be much appreciated.

Captain William Bligh
Captain William Bligh

William Bligh (1754-1817), 100 Lambeth Road

William Bligh was born in Plymouth in 1754. He joined the British Navy and from 1772-5 was navigator to James Cook on his second voyage around the world. By 1787 Bligh was commander of the Bounty, which was sent to Tahiti to collect breadfruit trees for shipment to the West Indies. He was a strict master and gave out harsh punishments and on 28 April 1789 his crew mutinied and set him adrift in an open boat along with 18 men still loyal to him. By some amazing seamanship and after suffering severe hardships he and his crew sailed 3,618 miles (5,823km) to Timor, near Java, arriving there on 14 June.

By 1805 he was made governor of New South Wales (Australia) but his harsh reign upset the colonists, civil servants and military officers. In 1808 they rebelled and imprisoned Bligh for two years then sent him back to England. There was an enquiry, resulting in Bligh being exonerated and the mutineers found guilty. Bligh was made Rear Admiral in 1811 and then Vice Admiral 1814.

Sir Philip Ben Greet
Sir Philip Ben Greet

Sir Philip Ben Greet, actor-manager, 160 Lambeth Road (1920-36).

Greet (1857-1936), the younger son of Captain William Greet RN and his wife, Sarah Barling, was born on board a Royal Navy recruiting ship tied up at the Tower of London. He made his professional stage debut in 1883, playing Caius Lucius in Cymbeline. In 1886 he started staging open-air productions of the classic English stage repertory; his companies, called the Ben Greet Players, the Sign of the Cross Company, and the Woodland or Merry Woodland Players, toured Great Britain and the United States. Greet led a return to Shakespeare’s original texts in simplified productions and staged a range of other dramas, including the morality play Everyman.

From 1914-18 he was director of the Old Vic Theatre in London and later in his career he concentrated on productions for London schoolchildren.

He was knighted in 1929.

He is commemorated by a blue plaque on the facade of 160 Lambeth Road, where he lived from 1920 until his death in 1936.