HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu HMS Conway 1859 - 1974

Alfie Windsor 1998
HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu

The Mersey Years 1859 - 1941

5 Feb 1859 Towed by the Virago from Devonport to the Mersey.
9 Feb 1859

Arrived on her mooring in the Mersey. This was off Rock Ferry Pier (between Rock Ferry and New Ferry). The pier and landing stage at Rock Ferry was built in 1899 and in the same year Birkenhead Corporation operated the ferry service at Rock Ferry and New Ferry. The ferry service at Rock Ferry closed in 1939.

1 Aug 1859 The very first cadet to join the ship was Captain Howard Campbell. He was cadet number 8, but actually arrived on board before cadet number 1: Captain Berkeley Collins.
17 Aug 1859

Official opening of the HMS Conway school ship, interestingly the band of HMS Nile played at the opening ceremony as the Nile was in Liverpool at the time on a recruiting visit.

The ship was fitted to accommodate 120 cadets but opened with just 17.

Numbers were limited to 50 for the first six months. Average numbers of cadets built up to around a hundred. Initially many cadets stayed for only a couple of terms - getting the feel of naval life.

It was quickly realized that the ship was too small for the numbers eventually planned. The Admiralty was petitioned again and offered to replace the first HMS Conway with a new vessel - HMS Winchester.

Nov 1861 The Admiralty decided to loan HMS Winchester to the Liverpool MMSA as a replacement for the original ship which was not large enough to accommodate the cadets. The two ships exchanged names so HMS Winchester became the second HMS Conway.
1861 In the 1850s, in order to qualify as a merchant navy officer a four year apprenticeship had to be served at sea. The Liverpool shipping company of Jones, Palmer & Co and others had, at the opening of the school, announced that two or three years on the Conway would be accepted by them as the equivalent of one year at sea, reducing their apprenticeship time. In 1861 the Board Of Trade decided formally that two years spent training at Conway would count as one year served as a cadet at sea. Thus Conway cadets only had to complete three years training at sea instead of the four required for anyone going straight to sea. For this reason Cadets in their last term were called Quarter Boys or QBs. This practice continued for over 100 years until closure in 1974. Cadets received a Conway Passing Out Certificate of Exemption when they left Conway.
4 Feb 1864 Queen Victoria announces the award of annual prizes to cadets to the value of 50, and the instigation of a Queen's Gold Medal.
Jun 1866 HRH The Duke of Edinburgh presented the prizes.
24 July 1876

The second ship (ex Winchester) also proved too small and so the Admiralty were approached and they offerred a third ship - HMS Nile as a replacement. The date of her arrival in the Mersey is not clear. Conway 2 (ex Winchester) was taken away to Devonport early in July retaining the HMS Conway name for the time being . The officers and cadets relocated to the Nile.

Permission was eventually granted for the name change from HMS Nile to HMS Conway and on 24th July 1876 Nile was moved to the Great Float (the West Float) Liverpool and formally exchanged names with the second HMS Conway - the school ship's third vessel to bear the name.

After the ceremony she returned to her mooring off Rock Ferry Pier, Cadets lived onboard but used sports facilities ashore. Rock   Ferry playing fields were on Knowlsey Road off New Chester Road. They have now been built over.

The cooking ranges from the Great Eastern, Brunel's famous ship which had been broken up nearby, were installed in the Conway.

1877 Cadets manned the yards when the Shah of Persia sailed up the Mersey to visit Liverpool.
8 Sep 1881 Cadets provided a guard of honour for HRH the Prince of Wales , his wife, Princess Alexandra and their children on their visit to Liverpool to open the new Alexandra Dock
1882-4 A number of vessels were moored in line astern in the Sloyne: HMS Defence the Liverpool guardship, HMS Conway, the Akbar (Protestant reformatory ship), Indefatigable and the Clarence (Roman Catholic reformatory ship burnt twice by her boys and replaced!).
1886 116 cadets formed a guard of honour for the visit of Queen Victoria to the Liverpool Exhibition.
16 May 1889 First edition of The Cadet magazine produced.
Early 1890s
This was a a bad period for ill discipline. The Captain Superintendent had formed 'The League' a group of cadets dedicated to avoiding "all drinking, smoking, swearing and impurity". It was "the most hated institution but as it was his pet project most cadets joined for fear of creating a bad impression. It was believed that those strong enough to ignore the pressure to join were penalised for their temerity. In time a small band of malcontents, mainly cadet captains, formed the 'Good Cause League' dedicated to the destruction of Ship's property and causing mayhem. They were very successful in their goals and remained undetected until discovered by accident. The leaders were dis-rated, stripped of badges and buttons and expelled. A number remained and two eventually got very drunk whilst ashore for their confirmation service. It was decided that they would be flogged not expelled. There was mutinous talk of putting the Captain in the coal hole to prevent the flogging but when all hands mustered to witness the punishment the Ships officers and masters were all ranged in front of the Captain. "It was seen that to get at Lippy we should have to fight men whom we loved. We hissed the Captain's speeches but we did not put him in the coal hole."  The mutiny never happened and the punishment was delivered. The next day one of those punished provoked a serious fight and he was immediately expelled. With the ring leader gone the "ship changed for the better".
26 April 1891 A cadet was lost overboard, the first since opening.
28 Feb 1895 The Mersey was frozen from shore to shore.
17 Dec 1895 The ship was docked in Bilston Graving Dock for an overhaul. All her copper was removed. She was scraped, recaulked, refelted and re-coppered. Ten tons of copper were used. She was repainted.
28 Jan 1896 Returned to her mooring.
19 Jul 1899 The Duke of York, later King George V attended and presented the King's Gold Medal to Cadet Jackson. This was presented to and displayed in Sydney Cathedral, Australia but was stolen in 2000. The King encouraged the cadets to "truthfulness, obedience and zeal".
1890 First Conway - Worcester boat race. They won.
1901-02 H B Steel, Lancashire County Cricket player began to coach the cricket team.
19 Jul 1904 141 cadets formed a guard of honour at Liverpool Town Hall for the visit of King Edward VII to lay the foundation stone for Liverpool Cathedral. The King presented the King's Gold Medal in person.
1904 Six acres of grounds were bought for playing fields.
3 Jun 1905 3 cadets saved a man from attempted suicide in the River Mersey.
1905 The ship's two 10 oared cutters were found to be beyond repair and were cremated in the ship's furnace. Two new 12 oared cutters made of teak in Bombay Dockyard were provided.
1906 The Conway - Worcester boat race was discontinued.
19/20 Jan 1907 SS Arbutus dragged her moorings and collided with the ship, breaking upper gangway and smashing a cutter to bits.
Mar 1907 A cadet left after serving 5 years - the longest stay on record!
Jun- Jul 1907
Lay to temporary moorings right off Rock Ferry pier while new, heavier moorings were laid by John Gibney & Sons. Returned on Monday 29th July.
Jan 1909 The band was formed when the piping of orders was replaced by more audible bugle calls.
Jul 1910 Old Boys Association formed and renamed the Conway Club on December 13th.
1912 Preparation introduced two evenings a week, with Cadet Captains taking charge.
11 Jul 1913 HM the King whilst visiting Liverpool went aboard the Mauretania (the wood paneling from her first class dining room is in a wine bar at the foot of Park Street in Bristol). 100 cadets formed a guard of honour on board the liner. The King presented the Gold Medal in person.
Feb 1914 Conway House was opened as a sick bay on the eastern end of the playing fields.
Jan/Feb 1917 The river was almost completely frozen over. The cadets could get out of the Pinnace in the middle of the river and walk about. An instructor fell overboard and died.
Dec 1917 Cadets were granted permission to enroll as Cadets RNR and wear regulation Naval uniform. The same privilege was accorded to Worcester and Pangbourne cadets. Conway's traditional uniform was given up with some regret.
4 Jun 1918 The figurehead, a bust of Lord Horatio Nelson was carried away by the SS Bhamo in a collision with the ship that also carried away the jib-boom. A shortened jib-boom was installed but the figurehead was not replaced for another twenty years.
Jul 1924 HM the King presented the King's Gold Medal in person at the Town Hall.
1925 The 1905 'Bombay' cutters were replaced by a pair of matched fifteen hundredweight, 27 feet ten oared cutters specially built for the ship.
15 May 1925 Miss K Mayo and Miss M Moyca Newell, the founders of the New York Apprentices Club visited the ship.
19 Jul 1927 100 cadets were inspected by HM the King at Liverpool Town Hall. The King presented the King's Gold Medal in person.
4 Nov 1931 The Price of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited the ship and presented the King's Gold Medal. Cadets formed a Guard of Honour on the pier when the Prince re-embarked for Liverpool.
18 July 1934 King George V visited Liverpool to open the new road tunnel. He presented the King's Gold Medal to Cadet H Kirby and spoke to Commander M G Douglas. Acting Captain. The King and Queen then went on to open Birkenhead Library where the majority of the cadets paraded. Finally the King and Queen left from Rock Ferry Station where a guard of 30 cadets was posted.
Sept 1934 Tomas Ethelred Wilby Browne (TEWB) was appointed as Headmaster as a result of the ship's first Board of Education inspection. There had not been a head for some years and his mission from the Management Committee was to raise academic standards. This was not to prove easy as many cadets considered 'school' behind them and had little inclination to academic studies. He stayed for 30 years and made a huge impact. He established a small science lab on the upper deck, a library, a gym in the hold, re-arranged the timetable and introduced prep twice a week. The times they were a'changing.
April 1935 Air Training was introduced with the theory of flight, airmanship taught on board and 15 hours flying at Hooton Aerodrome. This was sufficient for Cadets to obtain their 'A' private pilot's license. By the end of the summer term the first cadets had obtained their pilot's licenses!

There was a common entrance exam in 1937.

In 1937 it was decided that the ship should have a new figurehead to replace the original one (a bust of Lord Horatio Nelson) which had been carried away on 4 June 1918 by the SS Bhamo. A design consisting of a full figure of Lord Horatio Nelson was chosen. The design and construction were undertaken by Mr. Carter Pearson. He took great pains to ensure authenticity, studying Nelson's actual uniform to match colours and various portraits, including Nelson's death mask, to obtain a true likeness. The figurehead was made from teak as this was considered a longer lasting wood than the yellow pine normally used for ships' figureheads. A sound decision as the figurehead still survives although now at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth (the RN's Courts Martial Centre!). It was not possible to obtain a single block of wood large enough so 3 inch planks were used. It weighs 3.5 tons and stands 13.5 feet high.


Heating and hot water was provided from a coal fired boiler. Hot water was limited to the galley and a weekly bath. If you were a senior it was hot. Coaling party (punishment) had to be second or third user of bath by then usually tepid. New chums cleaned the grime line in the baths. The heating pipes never seemed to be more than warm. Heads were really primitive until the 1938 refit. The galley was also improved in this refit and converted to coke fired. Food was also greatly improved. Teaser was freely wielded. What the politically correct would think now I leave to your imagination.

The ship was moved to Cammell Lairds shipyard, Liverpool for a refit under the sponsorship of Leslie Holt and Alfred Holt & Co. The work was undertaken by Mr Dickie. The total cost was 20,000.

11 Sept. 1938 Alongside Liverpool Pierhead Landing Stage for the masting of the new figurehead by John Masefield OM the Poet Laureate.

The Chart House was used for seamanship lessons, but not frequently. A cadet whilst descending to the deck via the backstay fell on the roof and was fatally injured. It was thought that a broken wire strand pierced his hand and he lost his hold.

"In my time there was no nursery table for new chums or any tables on that deck and the Port and Starboard fo'csles had their hammocks stowed in their parts of ship in what from memory we called hammock nettings. No hammocks were stowed in the hold, but there was a stowage in the hold for our Gladstone bags and fresh laundry bags were used for pillows when viewing cinema in the hold."

2 May 1939 A celebratory dinner was held at Liverpool Town Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor.
Pre World War 2 A cutter race took place in London's Royal Docks between Conway, Worcester and General Botha crews. Much to the surprise of the South African organiser it was won by Worcester who still hold the trophy because it was never raced for again.
Sep 1939

Indefatigable cadets came aboard during the summer holidays. They painted out the ships white gun strakes, painted the upper deck battleship gray, fitted concrete bomb protectors to all hatches and skylights, covered the upper deck with sandbags and fitted black out screens to all 130 ports.

The 12 oared cutter, also called the heavy weather cutter was used when the Mersey was too rough for the motorboats.

Oct 1940

Considerable damage was caused to the ship by the SS Hektoria, a 13,000 ton whaling factory ship which had dragged her moorings. Conway was moved into Vittoria Dock, Birkenhead for repairs where, at start of the next term, the cadets all rejoined ship.

There were, at this time, 250 cadets and problems arose. Conway's sewage disposal was direct from the ship into the river, or dock, where she was moored. To discharge sewage into a fast tidal river was one thing but to discharge the effluent from 250+ people into a dock with no tidal flow is another. Cadets were sent home early!

"It has been said that there was no heating in the ship but there was a primitive form of piped hot water central heating. Indeed, such was my executive promise that in my 6th term I became the Working Hand in charge of the Boiler; a position of great power with possibilities for profit. Apart from stoking the thing I could toast (bake, actually) slices of bread by resting them on the inside of the fire door, closing it for a moment, and then opening again - to reveal a golden brown piece of toast (usually smudged with coal dust, but no matter) I charged one old penny per slice! It sys much for the system that I progressed quite rapidly to the higher echelons after that term!"


During the Liverpool blitz the situation became extremely unsafe, particularly when the Germans began dropping parachute mines into the Mersey. Small incendiary bombs landed on the ship most nights - the cadets scooped them up with shovels and tossed them into the river! Bombing became more intense and one night a mine was thought to have settled under the ship. The cadets were evacuated ashore and spent the night in Conway House (Sick Bay), the Royal Mersey Yacht Club and Royal Rock Hotel. They then spent two nights at the Mostyn School before being sent home.

Two nights later two mines narrowly missed the ship, one exploded under and sank a nearby vessel, the S.S. Tacoma City. The only people on board the ship were Capt. Goddard, Lt John Brooke Smith, No.1 motorboat's crew, and a steward. Lt Brooke Smith took away No.1 motorboat (Jim Thompson was bowman) and they picked up everyone from the Tacoma City (45 survivors in total). They then proceeded down the river where larger craft which had come off from shore took the survivors off them. The second magnetic mine drifted well up river where it was exploded by a minesweeper after the ship had been completely evacuated.

It was decided to move the ship to a safer anchorage on the Menai Straits.

8 Mar 1941 The ship left Vittoria Dock and, on 9th March, returned to her mooring in the Sloyne by 0945 hours.
May 21 / 22 1941 Moved (under tow by the Langworth and Dongarth) to Glyn Garth Mooring on the Menai Straits, Anglesey.

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