Tonight we have a delightful little fork, dating back to the Victorian era:This fork has a large naval crest engraved into the end of the handle:This has the angular crown of Queen Victoria and the letters ‘TS’ around an anchor. Note also the small /|\ mark indicating military ownership. Unusually this is stamped into the front of the handle rather than the rear. The fork itself is made of Electro Plated Nickel Silver (EPNS) as indicated by the initials on the back:Quite what the ‘TS’ stands for is unclear, but the most likely explanation is that it indicates the fork came from a ‘Training Ship’. Due to the quality of the engraving I would imagine that this fork was used by the officers instructing on the ship, rather than by the cadets themselves. Training ships were old warships that were used to train cadets and boy sailors in basic seamanship skills needed before sending them out to join the fleet. Two types of training ship were used, some were still operational ships and would go to sea to provide practical training in real life conditions. Others were older ships that were permanently moored in harbours and acted as floating classrooms, often extremely old sailing ships were used for this purpose.
The Royal Navy’s own first training ship was HMS Implacable at Plymouth in 1855 followed by HMS Illustrious at Portsmouth. They aimed to give a training in naval life, skills, and discipline to teenage boys (or ‘lads’ as they invariably called) and, of course, provide a ready source of recruits for Her Majesty’s ships.
Boys typically joined the ships at the age of eleven or twelve and stayed until they were fifteen or sixteen. Discipline aboard the ships was strict and the birch often used to enforce it. Food was limited in quantity and variety — biscuit, potatoes, and meat were the staples, with occasional green vegetables. Many of the new boys could not swim and needed to be taught — unfortunately some drowned before they mastered the skill! Sleeping accommodation was usually in hammocks, which could be comfortable in the summer but icy-cold in winter. As well as learning nautical skills, boys on training ships were often taught other useful crafts such as tailoring, shoemaking or carpentry.
Training ships were often used to educate boys taken in by the workhouse and give them a trade. A 1904 report extolled their virtues:
The Poor Law authorities, who directly and indirectly encourage and support a training ship like the Exmouth are performing a great national service. The question which next arises is whether from the point of view of the boys themselves the Guardians are not doing the best that can be done for them in sending them to the Exmouth.
In the first place the life is a healthy one for the boys, their physical development is carefully attended to, their education from an intellectual point of view is adequate, and they receive at the age at which they can most readily profit by it that technical training which at any rate as far as the sea is concerned, can only be properly acquired at an early age. More than all, the so-called stigma of pauperism is removed, and the boys are sent out into the world with a profession of national utility and under the aegis of the name of their training ship, and, when the training ship has an established position, it is an enormous advantage to a boy in after-life, to be able to claim association with it.
The advantages of the Navy as a career can hardly be over-estimated. Quite apart from the great traditions of the service and the universal respect which the uniform inspires, there is the substantial fact that a boy who goes from the Exmouth into a naval training ship can at the age of 40 secure a pension of over £50 for life. What is more, there are few, if any, recorded instances of a blue-jacket receiving relief from the poor law.
In the Merchant Service the career is not quite so satisfactory, but a boy once launched into any of the first-class lines has only to do his work well and his worldly success is assured.
HMS Implacable was still being used as a training ship into the Second World War when this photograph was taken: