Katara Chen, an international journalism student at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, has uncovered some of the Fylde coast memories contained in a copper cigarette box which she bought in a Preston antique shop for her boyfriend John Newsham. Here they tell its tale
Among the incomplete pieces like dim-coloured Zippos without lids, a cigarette box lies quietly.
Its exterior bears the illustration of a battle ship and words “Foudroyant Nelson’s Flagship”.
The dents on its curved back suggests more than 100 years’ flow of time.
In an antique shop in Cannon Street, Preston, a last sunny day in British summer, far too short for someone from South China, I was desperately looking for a birthday present for my boyfriend John from Blackpool.
He was the first man I met in England.
He offered to set up a washing line for me the first day we met, when I was moving in and he was moving out. We ended up together.
In some of the assorted antiques a huge salt container in the shape of a helmet was shining in the display, and a set of gemmed Islamic pots and cups was stunning in a cabinet upstairs.
I asked Brian Beck, of European Fine Arts and Antiques: “Anything for a man?”
He brought out a cigarette box, crafted using copper harvested from the hull of HMS Foudroyant, Nelson’s flagship for three years, which was wrecked at Blackpool in 1897.
After receiving his gift, John responded: “I were reet thrilled. It’s that quirky I just had to look further into its origin. It turns out that the salvagers had a workshop in a large retail outlet at 38 Talbot Road.”
One of the most insightful recollections was reported in 1933 in Last Memories of Nelson’s Foudroyant by the Sydney Morning Herald, where Captain Thomas W Arthur recalled his memory on Blackpool promenade in 1897: “My father, a trainee of the Victory, with a lifetime’s experience of the sea and her varying moods, seemed troubled.
“After a long silence, he said ‘don’t like the position your ship’s in, Cap’n. If it comes on to blow from the north-west we get the full force of it here’.
“Captain Cobb (of the Foudroyant)laughed. ‘I’ve got two anchors there that would hold your Blackpool Tower,’he declared.”
That chance meeting changed young Tom’s life forever. He was woken in the middle of the storm to go and assist the launching of the first lifeboat to tender the Foudroyant and after watching her wreck, he was put in charge of overseeing her disposal which took 16 months.
Sixteen brave lifeboatmen from Blackpool’s lifeboat The Samuel Fletcher 2 saved 28 crew members on board, and it was their first rescue.
John said: “This piece is a great example of local craftsmanship and a quirky memento of Blackpool’s historical relationship with Britain’s greatest admiral.”
In all, 1,200 English oak trees were felled to build the 219ft, 2005 ton warship, which had 80 guns and 713 crew. Nelson described her as the most perfect ship that ever swam on salt water.
To the dismay of the British public it was sold to a German ship-breaking firm for £1,000 in 1892. The notion of a historical British icon going to the Germans caused public outcry.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to the admiralty in rage: “Take heed! And bring us back once more Our Nelson’s ship.”
Luckily it was purchased by entrepreneur George Wheatley Cobb at his own expense. It was on a fund raising tour of the British coast for public display and training exercises before the destructive gale swept Blackpool.
Back to the cigarette box. Its rusty inside was inscribed with: “Second Golf Sweepstake, Cleveleys Hydro”.
Blackpool historian Ted Lightbown told me it was a large hotel developed in the late 19th Century on the sea front at Anchorsholme from, a house called Eryngo Lodge, and had its own golf course.
It was requisitioned for use by the Civil Service during the Second World War, did not open as a hotel afterwards – and was demolished in the late 1950s.
*Don’t miss some truly fantastic forgotten pictures of the Foudroyant – only in The Gazette’s Lost Archives this Friday