Words and photos by Ray Duff – On Saturday the 1 June, scores of people gathered for the annual commemoration of the the life and work of ‘Sailors Friend’, Samuel Plimsoll, at St  Martin’s Church, Horn Street, Cheriton, marking the bicentenary of his birth in 1824.

Joining the congregation were the Mayor and consorts from Folkestone, Hythe, New Romney, Margate and Ramsgate alongside this year’s speaker the author Nicolette Jones, who wrote the modern biography of Plimsoll -The Plimsoll Sensation’ and has researched him for 30 years!

Eileen Webb welcomes all to the commemoration Photo: Ray Duff

The event was opened by Eileen Webb who welcomed all to the commemoration and related the story of just one horrific event concerning the SS London which set sail in late 1865 from Gravesend in poor weather, for Australia, with 263 passengers and crew as well as being overloaded with a cargo of railway metals and badly stowed fuel. In early 1866, the ship encountered heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay and despite attempting to return to port; which in itself may have been an error; the ship foundered with the loss of 244, only 4 of which were passengers.  The cargo and ships owners merely claimed the insurance of the cargo!

Plimsoll’s biographer, Nicolette Jones was the speaker Photo: Ray Duff

Indeed it was this and many other such examples of what became known as ‘Coffin Ships’, which led Plimsoll to campaign for a load-line on all vessels.

Following this the congregation proceeded to the grave of Samuel Plimsoll in St Martin’s Churchyard for the laying of the wreaths and a prayer in memory of him before returning to the Church for the annual Plimsoll Memorial Talk, given this year by his modern biographer Nicolette Jones.  

Nicolette Jones gives the bicentennial talk Photo: Ray Duff

Along with screening a series of illustrative photographs and news articles, Ms Jones proceeded to tell the audience about Plimsoll’s birth in Bristol, followed by his initial attempts to find work and start businesses eventually becoming a coal  mine owner in Derby. Having previously failed in his business attempts he knew what it was like in those days for people at the bottom of Victorian society, and so when he became successful he began to champion the rights of mine-workers. Indeed he was originally known as the ‘miners friend’.

Later when he became extremely concerned for the welfare of ships, their crews and passengers, he started to campaign on those issues also including meetings with a very sympathetic ship builder on Tyneside, James Hall, who had already called for a load-line.

Plimsoll became the Liberal MP for Derby and this enabled him to propose Bills to introduce a load-line on all shipping to save lives. However he ran into great opposition from the ship owners of the day, who benefited from the insurances on the cargoes, especially if overloaded. Such sank and never mind the loss of lives!

Michael Foad, at right, leads the congregation in ‘A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll’ Photo: Ray Duff

Eventually and after an outburst in Parliament against Disraeli’s government and the ship-owning Tory MPs shouting “murderers” and “villains” across the floor of the House; his loadline Bill was passed in 1876 thus beginning the establishment of safety measures. Sadly it took another 14 years to fully implement.

Ms Jones also recounted more of Plimsoll’s life and work before and after his stint in Parliament, of which there were many and that he eventually retired initially to Clifton Gardens, Folkestone and later Augusta Gardens. From these he ventured to Australia and the USA on campaigns, but eventually died in June 1898 and was buried, with a view of the sea, at St Martin’s Churchyard.

Finally, Michael Foad one of the founder members of the Folkestone Samuel Plimsoll Campaign, along with St Martin’s Church choir led the congregation in a stirring rendition of the musical hall song ‘A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll’, followed by tea, cakes and the signing of copies of Nicolette Jones book all of which sold out!

Plimsoll Memorials

  • The Folkestone Plimsoll Memorial is located on the outside wall of the Fishing History Museum in the Fishmarket, and there is a plaque in Augusta Gardens.
  • There is also a small exhibition to mark the bicentenary at Folkestone Library Heritage Hub on Grace Hill for a short while.
  • In London the Plimsoll Memorial is on The Embankment, erected by the National Union of Seamen in 1922; and a bust of Plimsoll is at Cavendish Place, near the docks at Bristol erected in 1962.

Further information:-

SS London 1866.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_London_(1864)

Samuel Plimsoll: – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Plimsoll


Biography: -The Plimsoll Sensation  (New updated edition February 2024) from most bookshops: 

By Ed

©2024 Hawkinge Gazette       -       The Hawkinge Gazette is not responsible for the content of external sites