Industrial School Ship 'Formidable', Bristol, Gloucestershire

The Formidable was leased from the Admiralty in 1869 for use as a training ship in a scheme financed by several Bristol businessmen, led by Mr Henry Fedden, who were concerned about the high numbers of urchins wandering the city's streets. The vessel was moored at Portishead in the Bristol Channel, and anchored about four hundred yards off the pier. Much of the cost of her conversion, around £3,000, was raised by organising excursions out to the ship for local people.

Training Ship Formidable. © Peter Higginbotham

The ship could accommodate up to 350 boys aged from 11 to 14, the first of whom arrived in December 1869. The official opening was performed by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho! and The Water Babies.

Portishead Pier, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

On November 18th, 1869, the Formidable was certified as an Industrial School Ship, allowing it to take children committed by the courts. The ship had a tender, 'Polly', which was similarly certified on February 27th, 1875.

Tender Polly. © Peter Higginbotham

The Formidable was withdrawn from service by the Admiralty early in 1906 after suffering damage in strong gales. The vessel was replaced by a new shore establishment known as the Incorporated National Nautical School at Portishead.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Bristol Record Office, 'B' Bond Warehouse, Smeaton Road, Bristol, BS1 6XN. Holdings include: Annual reports (from 1875, with gaps); Register of boys (from 1878).



  • None identified at present.