HMS Foudroyant, Nelson's Flagship, wrecked off North Pier

When HMS Foudroyant – Nelson’s Flagship – got wrecked off North Pier!

HMS Foudroyant was Nelson’s Flagship and sadly had the misfortune to end up getting wrecked off North Pier! A sudden and unseasonable June gale saw the end of the historic vessel.

You might have noticed a blue plaque, mounted on a concrete plinth, the the north side of North Pier. It remembers the sade fate of this once mighty ship. Find out more about this day back in 1897…

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Thanks once again to Nick Moore and his fascinating History of Blackpool for some of the information in this piece.

Why was HMS Foudroyant Anchored at Blackpool?

“Foudroyant” was Nelson’s flagship from 1799 until 1800. An 80 gun, two decker, launched at Plymouth in 1798.

She retired from active service in 1812, staying in harbour service at Devonport until 1851. Foudroyant then became an instructional vessel in gun drill, before being sold out of service in 1891.

Saving her from a German shipbreaker, entrepreneur George Cobb had bought her to use for exhibitions and training. The ship went touring seaside resorts and ports around the country.

Do you have any information about exactly what George Cobb was doing in Blackpool with his historic ship?

Blue plaque to HMS Foudroyant, against North Pier in Blackpool
Blue plaque to HMS Foudroyant, against North Pier in Blackpool

The Day of the Shipwreck

On 16 June 1897, the Foudroyant was lying at anchor two miles off shore, in five fathoms of water between Central and North Piers. That day she broke an anchor cable in a fierce and unseasonable June storm.

The gale caused the Foudroyant to drag her anchor and strand on a sandbank to the north side of North Pier. The first photo shows The Foudroyant, beached in the severe summer storm about 600 yards offshore at around 9.00am.

HMS Foudroyant offshore at Blackpool. Photo: Blackpool Council Heritage Service
HMS Foudroyant offshore at Blackpool. Photo: Blackpool Council Heritage Service

Conditions were so bad that the lifeboat had to delay launching until 1.45pm when the tide had begun to recede. By this time the wind had changed slightly, making a launch possible from the slade (ramp) at Cocker Street.

Sadly, she was damaged and holed because her huge weight continually pounded on the hard sand.

This is an historic RNLI image of the towns oar-driven lifeboat, the Samuel Fletcher of Manchester, pulling away from the Foudroyant. It’s about 2.15pm on 16th June 1897, having just taken her crew of 28 off the vessel.

The towns Samuel Fletcher lifeboat pulling away, having taken the crew of 28 off the vessel. Photo: RNLI
The towns Samuel Fletcher lifeboat pulling away from the vessel. Photo: RNLI

Just an Opportunity…

Anyone who remembers the wreck of the Riverdance will remember just how interested everyone is in a shipwreck!

“We don’t have problems, only opportunities”

Alderman Thomas Challenor was in the advertising business with a contract to erect billboards against railway lines, extolling the virtues of Beecham’s Pills.

Not one to miss an opportunity, within a week he took his team of painters and some white paint to the beach. They wrote in 3ft high letters “England expects every man to do his duty and take Beecham’s pills” along the side of the ship facing the promenade. In a perfect place for the crowds of onlookers to see!

Both Challenor and Joseph Beecham were sued for it, in a case in Aug 1897. Cobb v Beecham and Challinor (spelled incorrectly at the time)… Challinor claimed he had misread a communication from Mr Beecham and was fined 40s. The verdict against Mr Beecham was a £50 fine. Beecham appealed against the verdict.

More Shipwrecks Associated with HMS Foudroyant!

Surprisingly not often mentioned is that another smaller sailing ship, the Sirene, caught the Pier and did some damage to some kiosks at the landward end.

The Sirene was mortally damaged by being continually being pounded into the sea wall next to the pier.

Unveiling the blue plaque took place on 16 June 1997, to commemorate the Centenary of the wreck of HMS Foudroyant.

Detail of the Blue plaque to HMS Foudroyant, against North Pier in Blackpool
Detail of the Blue plaque to HMS Foudroyant, against North Pier in Blackpool

Removing a Shipwreck

So the HMS Foudroyant is now beached on a sandbank at Blackpool – and obviously can’t stay there! It’s not the end of the shipwrecks though…

  • Two salvage steamers working on dismantling the wreck were wrecked themselves, in force 4 winds on 28 July 1897.
  • A month later, the Aurora was also wrecked in force 6 winds on 17 August 1897!

It took 16 months to completely remove the wreck, and the catastrophes didn’t end with the Aurora.

A year later, in August 1898, the salvage team were using dynamite – to the detriment of Mrs Gates of Manchester. When detonated, a 50lb piece of wood, studded with copper bolts, exploded out of the wreck and killed her, as she was strolling along the promenade!

The anchor was stuck in the sand near the Metropole Hotel, marked by a hazard warning buoy. It wasn’t until April 1902 that it was recovered and put on display with 60′ of its chain, before being removed in 1903. In 1925 parts of the chain were seen, wrapped around some of the northern legs of the Pier.

Salvaged Parts

Keith Webster got in touch to say that he believed The Samuel Fletcher lifeboat had ended up on Stanley Park Lake. Can anyone confirm that?

Many parts of the ship were sold as souvenirs for years afterwards. The figurehead and many other items are in Cobb’s former home at Caldicot Castle.

  • There’s a chair in the Masonic Hall in Adelaide Street.
  • Parts of Nelson’s cabin are in the boardroom at Blackpool Football Club.
  • Fleetwood Museum has a beam from the ship.
  • Jenkinsons in Talbot Square built their fine staircase from the salvaged oak.

And Sally Johnson said “some of the panelling on the staircase in the house I grew up in, in Thornton, was also from the Foudroyant.”

Did you know? Blackpool FC’s boardroom was said to be haunted by the ghost of Lord Nelson? Mysterious cool spots are frequently encountered…. !

A Mr Fletcher bought 1000 tons of wood from the wreck, along with the copper. Enterprisingly, he set up the “Foudroyant Furniture Manufactory” at 36 Talbot Road, making souvenirs and trinkets.

Other Shipwrecks

The seas off the Fylde Coast are littered with the remains of shipwrecks from through the ages.

Each one is remembered on the Shipwreck Memorial. You’ll find it on the seafront, where the borough of Blackpool meets Cleveleys. It’s against the beach on the promenade at Anchorsholme, not far from the wreck of the Abana.

Shipwreck memorial on the seafront where Anchorsholme meets Cleveleys
Shipwreck memorial on the seafront where Anchorsholme meets Cleveleys

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13 thoughts on “When HMS Foudroyant – Nelson’s Flagship – got wrecked off North Pier!”

  1. I remember the Samuel Fletcher on stanley park lake and I’m 61. So I believe it carried on service till the late 90s and then retired and was stored in the boat house till 2009. It’s now with the Blackpool Council Lightworks Depot, undergoing a full restoration.

  2. Is not the timber remains of a wreck on the beach at Anchorsholme the HMS Foudroyant? I was always made to believe it was.

    1. Hi Gordon, no the one at Anchorsholme is the Abana – more about it here: We have more than our share on this coast line!

  3. I own what is quite probably the over door mantle to the Winter gardens board room which is carved from very old oak. I have been told it was removed when Blackpool Tower Co bought the Winter Gardens Co and that the carved over mantle was made from oak from HMS Foudroyant and in particular Nelson’s cabin. It’s a bit of a far fetched Story.

  4. My home has lots of the Foudroyant within in. The staircase was taken from there, there are two ornate panels in the hallway, the beams in the dining room and in one of the large bedrooms are from there. There was also a very strange panel in the living room that looked like an over mantel or even bedhead from the ship. The strangest thing is that although I didn’t know this prior to buying our home, I was very aware that Nelson resided in a house owned by my Aunt, in Kent, and was indeed the place he entertained his mistress (who was his good friend’s wife and the mother of Nelson’s only child, Horatia).

  5. I remember the Samuel Fletcher lifeboat on Stanley Park lake in the 1940s and 1950s. By then it had gained an engine. Perhaps it was converted before it was retired as a lifeboat. One of my friend’s parents had the grocery shop in Windsor Avenue opposite my Mum’s boarding house. My friends uncle who was called Mr Hull (don’t remember his first name if I ever knew it) was the driver (skipper?) of the Samuel Fletcher and my friend and I were treated one day to a free ride!
    Glad to hear that the lifeboat is being restored to its former glory

    1. I can’t believe it I’ve been obsessed with the shipwrecks for ages now and never realised I’ve been On The original lifeboat so many times as a kid on the park wow ? I never really appreciated what I was on I thought it was just a boat back then…kinda makes some of them memories a bit more warm and fuzzy now ?

  6. Yes, the lifeboat Samuel Fletcher, gaily painted in red, white and blue, was used for pleasure trips around Stanley Park Lake in the 1940s, when I was a lad growing up in Blackpool.

  7. You ask what Cobb was doing with the ship off Blackpool. It’d sailed from Liverpool on 4th, and for ten days had been anchored offshore for visitors to come out to on pleasure steamers, charging 6d per head. This attracted the Whitsuntide crowds.

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