The Missions to Seamen Institute, Rochester

A feeling that the physical, moral and spiritual welfare of merchant seamen were at risk led to the creation of the first Mission to Seamen in Bristol in 1856. New branches soon sprang up all over Britain. Clergy, scripture readers and other lay workers dedicated themselves to saving seamen from the dangers and temptations which were assumed to be besetting them. Ships in port were visited, church services held and working and living conditions on board scrutinised.

In 1861, following an appeal from local clergy, the Missions to Seamen organisation sent a lay reader to serve the Port of Rochester. Three years later, a shore facility in the form of a reading room was opened near Rochester Bridge. A larger building at Blue Boar Pier replaced it in 1877. The Rochester Mission got its own chaplain in 1885, and a small yacht – the Oriel – was donated by Oriel College, Oxford. A steam launch followed in 1897.

A landmark was reached in 1908, when thanks to the efforts of the then chaplain Rev R Griffiths, a substantial new building, the Missions to Seamen Institute was opened at the corner of High Street and Furrells Road.

The Institute contained bedrooms, recreation and dining rooms and a simple chapel. The workers based there served the River Medway from Maidstone to the Nore, although within three years the Thames/Medway estuary area centred on Sheerness formed its own station.

The Rochester Seamen’s Institute continued to flourish for more than forty years. By the late 1940s it had twelve bedrooms, hot and cold showers, a canteen, a reading room, a library and a writing room as well as a chapel.

However, the amount of shipping using the Port of Rochester was in decline, and in the austere conditions of the post-war period, there was an urgent need for economy. The imminent closure of the Rochester facility -  the Flying Angel Institute as it was by then called -  was announced in 1951. Some functions would be transferred to the growing port at Tilbury. Meanwhile, the Admiralty would donate a redundant motor launch for the missioners to use on the Thames and Medway between Tower and Rochester bridges.

Following its closure, the former Rochester Institute became home to car showrooms – for the Rootes group in the first instance, and presently it houses a Peugeot dealership; see picture below.

The Mission to Seamen was renamed the Mission to Seafarers in 2000.