H.M.S. Ganges Slop Room

       

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Origins and aims.

 

The ‘H.M.S Ganges Slop Room’ came from an idea at reunion 1982 at Shotley when the subject was discussed during an informal meeting by a few dedicated members in the shadow of the lower yardarm.

This was during the days when a company by the name of Anglo-European Properties owned the old Ganges site, having made the purchase from the PSA in 1979, 10% to be paid by purchaser on signing contract – balance by Feb 1980

During March & April of 1980 two surveys of the Ganges Mast were undertaken by C.H. Dobbie & Partners on behalf of Anglo-European Properties and provided a very detailed report, giving a projected refit cost just under £19,000.00.

 Ganges Mast taken in 1982

To raise funds and look into the various means of encouraging the owners to proceed with this work it was decided that Geoff Hill and myself Dickie Doyle, (pictured left) not at this time members of the committee, should undertake this task.                    

This lead to many meetings in the Shotley area with, not only the site owners but Department of the Environment (Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission) English Heritage plus representatives of Babergh District Council.

It was during these meeting we were made aware of the conditions imposed upon owners of Group 2 Building, which the Mast had been designated as a ‘Suffolk Landmark’, this indicated there was no compunction upon the owners to maintain any such building, or were any public funds available to carry out any such work, but neither could the building be taken down or moved the sting in the tail was no planning permission for the site could or would be given unless the building was at a good standard of repair.

To encourage the site owners to proceed with at least the intention of refitting the Mast by putting our money where our mouth was, a scheme was put into practice to raise funds by establishing our own stores – which in true Naval fashion we titled ‘HMS Ganges Slop Room’.

Committee Members in office at this time were not prepared to undertake monetary risks with Association funds, requested we keep said slop room separated from the main association. This we did by using the Midlands Division, with the consent of the Midland Membership, as our base of operations. These decisions were confirmed at reunion AGM on the Isle of Wight.
Initially the only items stocked were gold wire and ‘silk’ blazer badges together with car stickers followed shortly by the Mast Motif sweaters plus other embroidered garments and printed tee shirts.
Shortly afterwards the slop room took over the sale of Association ties.
Following the 1984 reunion, contact was made with the company who had until shortly before this time supplied NAAFI with metal lapel badges etc, who, after our original approach, no doubt helped by the fact one of their directors was and ex-airy fairy type, agreed to supply not only the ‘Ganges’ badges but also all other ships badges left in their stock room.
Sadly before contact was made, due to the loss of NAAFI business, a decision to close the badge department down had been made. With all the badges, dies and trimming tools to be disposed of for scrap hence the irreplaceable gaps in our stock of ‘Old Ships Badges’. With the present day combined price each die and trimming tool costing in the region of £250.00, would entail the sale of at least 1,000 badges of any such individual ships badge not held in stock before the set up costs could be recovered.
All proceeded very slowly until 1986, when Anglo European sold the site to Potten Ltd, a company who specialised in wooden framed retirement homes.
This company on purchase immediatley applied for planning permission to build retirement homes on the site.
At first a feeling of, shall we say apprehension set in when the demolition of the mess-decks took place. Therefore, just in case they were not aware we politely passed the information gained at our earlier meeting with English Heritage re Group 2 Buildings to Potten’s resulting in a meeting at Shotley with one Jack Hutchinson, Potten’s financial director who after listening to our story over a very convivial lunch at the Bristol Arms became as enthusiastic as we were with regard to the Mast.
 
Another person present at this meeting was one Bob Miller, (seen right presenting Dickie with a toffee apple for services to the Mast) who had for many years been employed by the Public Services Agency as their representative at HMS Ganges. His knowledge of the site was second to none, knowing more about the site than anyone living. Bob was at this time employed by Potten’s, having been ‘inherited’ from Anglo European Properties.                                              
Jack, after our original meeting became a Mast enthusiast, turning the whole business of the necessary refit over to Bob who was to work closely with us.
These meetings had taken place shortly after the Home Office had approached Potten’s to lease the remains of the site as a police-training centre. Details of this side of the business was of little or no consequence to the refitting of the mast other than from the security angle with regard to site access
 

  Dickie Doyle &  Bob Miller

Early in 1988, our first move with Bob was to have an up to date survey completed, this was carried out by mast riggers from the Portsmouth area who compiled a report for Potten’s, following this report a company by the name of Square Sail, with their head office in Colchester was commissioned to carry our the necessary remedial work once the mast had been struck.
The Portsmouth Riggers, aided by a 150 ft crane arrived at Shotley on 16th April 1988 to strike the mast and load the rotten sections on to Potten’s lorries for shipping to Square Sails yard in Bristol, where workmen, mainly Danish, were employed to form the new sections using timber taken from a couple of Douglas Firs felled in the Forest of Dean some three weeks previously. During this time a visit to Bristol was made to see the work in progress. The fighting top and truck (button) were manufactured in Potten’s own yard.

Experts informed us, that the some sections of the timber originally used were over 160 years old.

Dickie & Geoff survey the damage 

It was during the striking of the Mast we attracted attention from both local Press and TV stations, with both BBC & ITV arriving on site to film during the Saturday afternoon, resulting in appearances on the Local news programmes that evening.
This in turn attracted the national newspapers to the   extent, a picture and article appeared on page two of the Daily Telegraph the following Tuesday, which in turn attracted the attention of BBC TV’s Children’s programme Blue Peter resulting in an appearance the Thursday evening programme when re-run of the programme made in 1968 of John Noakes attempting to climb the mast was shown.
 
All giving much publicity to our Association
On Wednesday October 12th 1988 word came to us that work at Bristol was completed and the new sections were returning to Shotley where the mast was to be re-stepped by the riggers from Portsmouth. Work to commence on Wednesday 19th, re-stepping was completed by Friday 21st in time to fly Nelson famous signal hoisted at the Battle of Trafalgar on the evening of the celebration dinner held in the former ward room to commemorate this action, with our President Captain Murray Dunlop as guest of honour.
Division of costing of the whole exercise was for Potten’s to pay for the refit work at Bristol plus transport, with the Mast fund paying the riggers for the striking and re-stepping and other ancillary work necessarily required with the mast itself, our total was £5,700.00.
It will be seen that the refit was completed in sufficient time to allow plans for a suitable ceremony celebrating the refit be held during our reunion in 1989. Reunion that year was held at Gunton Hall, Lowestoft when all attending were ‘bussed’ down to Shotley to attend a dedication parade organised by Potton’s, ourselves, local RN representation, Police parade ground marshal plus representation from Local Sea Cadets & RHS Holbrook who were to provide the guard and band.

RHS Band April 1989

Naval and Local dignitaries attended this ceremony, with the dedication conducted by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich with our then President Admiral Place VC performing the unveiling ceremony of the plaque. The crowning glory was the White Ensign once again flying proudly from the gaff (by Royal consent) this complete  ceremony featured on BBC TV Look East.

Admiral Place VC unveils plaque 1989

Geoff Hill Paints ship

 Sadly shortly after the ceremony our very good friend and ally Jack Hutchinson had a stroke, ‘Crossing the Bar’ shortly afterwards, a sad loss to all especially with regard to the Mast.

Painting of the mast took place early in 1991, when a firm of steeplejacks from Manchester descended upon Shotley complete with scaffolding and Bosun’s chairs to complete this task, we were allowed upon signing a chitty to say it was ‘at our own risk’ climbed the scaffolding up to the fighting top. Painting contract cost nearly £11,000.00 of which our contribution was approx £5,000.00

All continued over the coming years with the occasional repairs and maintenance being carried out, with the cost being spilt between  Potton’s and the Mast Fund until the closure of the Police Training Centre and the sale of the site, this time to another property company now known as Haylink Limited.

On the acquisition of the site by the new owners very nice letters were receive from the Managing Director of Potten Ltd, the previous owners, thanking us for our co-operation and assistance, wishing us well with our future efforts re the Mast also introducing us to the new owners who from initial contacts were very interested in our previous efforts indicating our services would no doubt be sought before development took place, this is still abundantly clear from the latest communication received in January 2006 stating the intention of being in contact after the public enquiry to be held in February 06.

To date the Mast fund had contributed in the region of £11,000.00 with respect of the original refit and painting with around £1,500.00 in contributions towards various repairs and alterations during the years the site was owned by Potton Ltd.

That is how and why the ‘Slop Room’ came into being and will continue to be in operation as long as needed to keep the ‘Mast we all loved to hate’ standing for future generations to gaze in awe at the towering Mast standing some 142ft 10ins or 45.5 metres in funny money, high. And be aware of the existence of the Band of Brothers remembering the long gone specie known as ‘Boy Seaman RN’ who climbed the ruddy thing – mostly early in the morning!

Following the pipe at 0730

‘Mast class to muster under the mast

’Upton 'falling in' awaited the Instructor’s order

‘Front rank way aloft’