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SOUTH SHIELDS MARINE COLLEGE AND ITS FOUNDER

by Geoff Nicholson

 

            South Shields Marine College was founded in 1837 by a Deed executed by Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom, (1766-1859) possibly South Shields’ greatest philanthropist, and enrolled in the High Court of Chancery that year.  It was to be another 29 years, however, before it was to open its doors to students.

 

Dr Winterbottom was born on 26th March 1766 in a house on what was to become the corner of Dean Street, on the north side of South Shields Market Place, and was baptised at St Hilda’s parish church on 29th April that year.  He was the eldest of what were to be eight children of Dr James Winterbottom (c1742-1797), a Whitby man who had come to South Shields to practice medicine and who had married local girl Lydia Masterman only ten months earlier.  After a private education at the hands of Rev Brown, the Curate of St Hilda’s, young Thomas was sent first to Edinburgh University and then to that of Glasgow, where he qualified as a doctor of medicine.  After a brief probationary period he was appointed, in 1792, as Physician to the colony of Sierra Leone, a job which took him to Africa for several years.  While there he met George Macaulay, father of the historian Lord Macaulay, who was to remain a lifelong friend.  Dr Winterbottom’s professional experience in Sierra Leone was summed up in his book “An account of the native Africans in Sierra Leone, to which is added an account of the present state of medicine among them”.

 

In 1803, after having returned to South Shields in 1796 and having taken over his father’s practice, Dr Winterbottom married, at Jarrow parish church, to Barbara, the widow of James Wardle, a local shipowner.  He settled down in Westoe village and when not engaged in the duties of his practice wrote several medical books and papers.  A major philanthropist, he was much admired by his fellow townsmen.  Although he retired from general practice after some 30 years, Dr Winterbottom continued his active interest in the subject right up to his death, which occurred on 8th July 1859 at the age of 93, by which time he was the oldest qualified medical practitioner in the country.  He was given a public funeral which was probably the largest in terms of attendance which South Shields has ever seen, and was buried in the central portion of Westoe cemetery, reserved for notable local worthies.  Unfortunately his tomb, with an elaborate inscription on it, has been the object of attacks by vandals who do not share its occupant’s ethos of public service, and is today as much a monument to their lack of civilisation as to Dr Winterbottom’s attainment of it.

 

Having no children of his own, and his wife having pre-deceased him in 1840, Dr Winterbottom left his considerable fortune to the various charities he had instituted and supported in life.  These included the Master Mariners’ and Annuity Society, which he had created in 1839, which provided cottages and payments to aged and infirm master mariners, their widows and orphans, the Winterbottom South Shields Fund for the Relief of Deserving Widows of Seamen, whose title is self-explanatory, the Unmarried Female Servants’ Reward Fund, which he had created in 1849, the Lying-In Charity, the Scullerman’s Charity, Ploughing Prizes and a Coal Charity to provide coal for the poor of the village of Westoe each Christmas (how long, the author wonders, since there were any families in now-affluent Westoe village poor enough to qualify?).

 

            The bulk of Dr Winterbottom’s fortune, however, was left towards the Marine School, and his friends, among them Robert Ingham, MP, and Richard Shortridge, JP, made it their business to get it established, such that it opened on March 26th 1866, the centenary of its founder’s birth.  At first, the Marine School occupied rooms in the Mechanic’s Institute  but in 1869 it moved to a new building on the corner of Ocean Road and Wesley Street.   The object of the School was the training of masters and officers of the Merchant Service in all

 

 

things necessary to qualify them for the highest duties of their profession.  Students had to be bona fide seamen, already possessing some elementary knowledge, and with the rudiments of an ordinary education.  In October 1886 a Boys’ Department was opened, in separate accommodation, divided into a nautical class and an engineer’s class, with special lessons for those wishing to become navigators or sea-going engineers.  Boys had to be aged 13 or over, pass an entrance examination and produce a certificate of good conduct from their previous school.  They paid a fee of 2 per term but there were a few free places for those who did conspicuously well in their entrance examination or later.  From 1880 to 1890 the school produced 365 master mariners, 392 first mates, 385 second mates, 7 extra masters, 7 compass deviation officers and 3 coastguard officers.

 

            After being a credit to its town for about a century the Marine School eventually evolved into what is now the South Tyneside Marine and Technical College, which operates on two sites, a “commercial” one at Hebburn and a science-based one at Westoe, where the principals established by Dr Winterbottom are still taught.

 

Murder of a Senior Magistrate

 

 

The funeral of one of South Shields' senior Magistrates, Nicholas Fairles Esq, took place at St Hilda’s Church on Wednesday 27th June, 1832.  He was well respected within the town and also within the church community and so the mourners, led by his wife, included many of the town's dignitaries.

 

There was a strike at a local coal mine and, as its owners were expecting further trouble, Mr Fairles had been in attendance.  From the mine he set out to visit Mr J A Foster, a viewer who worked at Jarrow Colliery, but on his way across Jarrow Slake he was stopped by William Jobling, who was quite intoxicated.  Jobling took hold of the reins of Mr Fairles's horse and begged for money for more drink, which of course was refused by Mr Fairles. Jobling was then joined by Ralph Armstrong who also worked at Jarrow Colliery.

 

Whilst Jobling retained his hold on the reins of the horse, Ralph Armstrong struck Mr Fairles on the head with a heavy stick, knocking him from his horse to the ground, whereupon there was a violent struggle.  Armstrong beat Mr Fairles about his head whilst Jobling stood and watched the attack, doing nothing to help the victim.  By the time help arrived, Jobling and Armstrong had both left the scene of the crime.  Shortly after, Mr Fairles died of the injuries he had sustained, but before that he did manage to say that William Jobling was not his attacker.

 

Jobling was soon caught, on South Shields beach; a reward was put out for Armstrong. 

 

Jobling pleaded his innocence at Durham Assizes but was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Nicholas Fairles.  He was hanged in front of Durham Gaol and his body was then taken to Jarrow Slake, where it was gibbetted within site of the scene of the crime.  William Jobling was to be the last man to be publicly gibbetted in this country, but in fact that gruesome process did not last as long as had been intended, as the body mysteriously disappeared very soon afterwards.  It is said that some of Jobling's friends rescued it and gave it a decent burial in a place which remains secret to this day (or does it? - there are some in South Shields who can tell you where it is!).

 

To this day no-one really knows the truth of what really happen on that fateful day.  It is said that Armstrong fled to Australia but, who knows, maybe he did or maybe he didn’t

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