The wreck of HMS Foudroyant, near North Pier, Blackpool.
Legend has it that the boardroom of Blackpool Football Club is lined with oak panelling taken from Lord Nelson’s flagship. Of course, Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory survives and is safely berthed at Portsmouth Naval Base – but perhaps the panelling was taken from another grand ship which foundered off the Fylde coast. When I included this story in my book ‘Lancashire Folk’, I said; The naval ghost seen in the boardroom, then, may not be Nelson as some have claimed, but perhaps he is a long-lost sea captain we will never identify.
Nothing pleases me more than to be proved wrong! History enthusiast Lawrence Sutcliffe contacted me with more information on this snippet of a tale. To my surprise, he told me that one of Nelson’s flagships did indeed founder on the Blackpool coast, and the proof of this is in the above photograph, taken at the time, showing interested residents examining the wreck.
HMS Foudroyant was launched at Plymouth in 1798 and foundered on Blackpool beach on June 16th, 1897. She was a full-rigged sailing ship, 184 feet long, with a crew of 650 officers and men. She was, very briefly, Nelson’s flagship – from June 1799 to June 1801 – and in fact Nelson began his affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton during that period.
Foudroyant became a training vessel in 1862 and that remained her role until 1862. In 1891, now a very elderly ship in need of much renovation, she was taken out of service altogether and sold to a firm of shipbreakers – a move which caused a public outcry. Fortunately, she was rescued by one Wheatley Cobb and turned once again into a boy’s training ship. Faced with vast bills for the necessary work to make the Foudroyant properly sea-worthy again, Cobb put her on exhibition at seaside resorts all around the country – which is why she happened to be at Blackpool when the fatal storm struck. At first just damaged, the ship eventually broke up completely in winter gales a few months later.
Various parts of the ship were rescued and put to use – Monmouth Museum holds a cabinet which was constructed out of flotsam and which now holds a variety of relics from Foudroyant. Her bell is now in Blackpool Town Hall. And, yes, wood panelling from her interior was used to line the boardroom of Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road football ground. It was provided as a gift by a ‘general dealer’, Eli Percival, in 1929.
I now discover that ‘the panelling lined the wall of the Boardroom until 2003’. I know that extensive improvement work has been undertaken at the football ground since then and as I have no knowledge of which parts of the grounds were demolished, I cannot even say for certain that the original Boardroom still exists. If it does, clearly the panelling had disappeared.
However, it now seems more possible that the ghost of a Captain seen wandering through the boardroom might indeed have been Nelson. Or… another interesting snippet of history about the Foudroyant is that in 1801 she was involved in a battle against the French at Abukir Bay in Egypt, which led to the injury and death aboard the Foudroyant of one General Abercrombie. So was it Abercrombie’s ghost who haunted the Boardroom? He surely had more reason to be there, having died on the very ship whose panelling lined the room. In the end, as I wrote originally, we’ll never know for sure…