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Conway memories

22 March 2010 by stepheng

archive photo of a ship lying at an angle on a rocky shore

The wreck of the Conway. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.

It was 1954 and I was an excited six-year-old on the coach with my parents and brother heading for two weeks’ holiday in an ancient cottage at Llanddona, Anglesey.

As we moved slowly over the Menai Bridge, everyone instinctively looked down. There, on the seaweed covered rocks, was a wrecked galleon just like something out of the hit film of that year, Long John Silver.

The rip-roaring yarn starred Robert “Jim Lad” Newton as the one-legged rogue. The wreck was HMS Conway and the remarkable sight remains vivid – I remember particularly her dark hull and yellow gun ports.

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of HMS Conway where thousands of cadets trained to be Merchant Navy officers between 1859 and 1974.

The Mercantile Marine Service Association set up the school after the Admiralty offered the Conway, a frigate used as a coastguard ship. She sailed from the naval base at Devonport, Plymouth, to the River Mersey where she moored off Rock Ferry. The school was opened on 1 August 1859.

The original was replaced after two years by the larger HMS Winchester which was renamed Conway. In 1876 there was another swap to accommodate growing numbers of cadets when the former HMS Nile became the final Conway.

A traditional wooden warship, the Nile was a 92-gun second rate ship of the line launched in 1839. She was converted to screw propulsion in 1854.

HMS Conway was a popular sight moored on the Mersey for decades. However, in 1941 Liverpool became a prime target for German bombers and Conway was moved to the Menai Straights off Anglesey to avoid the Blitz.

In 1953 it was decided to take her back to Liverpool for a refit. Sadly, the lovely old ship ran aground near the Menai Suspension Bridge and broke her back. She lay there for three years before being destroyed by fire.

From 1953 the Conway flourished as a stone frigate or shore establishment at Plas Newydd, Anglesey.

Its eventual closure followed the decline of Britain’s Merchant Fleet and on 11 July 1974 the last 85 cadets laid up the colours in Liverpool Cathedral.

Conway’s huge anchor can be seen outside the entrance to Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Famous Conway cadets included Poet Laureate John Masefield, Captain Matthew Webb, the first person to swim the English Channel, and Sir Arthur Rostron the captain of the Carpathia who rescued the Titanic survivors.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).

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