An occasional column of notable people from, or connected to, Ipswich who don’t quite qualify (yet) for an Ipswich Society Blue Plaque.
Sir Thomas Slade – the designer of HMS Victory. A visit to Portsmouth is not complete without a visit to Nelson’s flagship; HMS Victory, the ship on which he died heroically at Trafalgar in 1805.
She has been the flagship of the First Sealord since October 2012 and is the world's oldest naval ship still in commission, with 243 years' service as of 2021 (launched 1778). It is not surprising therefore that she has physically deteriorated rapidly in her later years and has recently undergone emergency repair works to prevent the hull decaying and sagging. The hull is moving at a rate of half a centimetre each year, about 20 cm over the last 40 years although there are plans to create new hydraulic supports that will better fit the ship. The ship will benefit from a £35 million restoration project, utilising Scottish elm and oak trees as wood for the restoration project.
She was constructed using around 6,000 trees. 100 acres of oak trees were cleared using simple hand tools in Kent and Sussex. Around 90% of the wood used was oak, some of it two feet thick. Huge oak trees were used so that as much of the ship was made in one piece to increase strength.
After service in Ushant, the Siege of Gibraltar and the Battle of Cape St Vincent she was completely reconditioned in 1800 and became Nelson’s flagship in 1803.
Her designer was Thomas Slade. He was a member of a shipbuilding family based in Ipswich and Harwich. Sir Thomas was born in 1703 or 1704. He designed over seventy fighting ships across fifteen classes, including frigates and giant warships like HMS Bellerophon, HMS Windsor, and HMS Agincourt.
Sir Thomas died in 1771, seven years before his ship, Victory, was launched and thirty-four years before she fought at Trafalgar. He died in Bath but was buried in St Clement’s churchyard in Grimwade Street in Ipswich. St Clement’s has always been regarded as the seafarers’ or mariners’ church. Slade’s wife Hannah and her parents were buried next to the west boundary of the churchyard and there is a memorial to Sir Thomas outside the west front of the church.
Tuesday, February 23rd 2021 marked the 250th anniversary of the death of Slade and to mark the occasion, the bells of St Clement's Church rang out and played appropriate tunes including the sea shanty A Drop of Nelson’s Blood and the naval hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save.
A wreath was laid at Slade’s memorial by Captain Geoffrey Hartgrove, former chairman of Ipswich Maritime Trust and chairman of the Merchant Navy Association, and Peter Brooks, chairman of Ipswich Historic Churches Trust.
Photographs by Mervyn Russen except where stated. Sir Thomas Slade painted by an unknown artist (Photograph in the public domain). Views of HMS Victory photographed in 2017. St Clement’s Church, Ipswich. The memorial to Sir Thomas Slade.