Four ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Glatton and have served in the Royal Navy. But why name a ship after a tiny village many miles from the sea?
Well in 1611, James I granted the Manor of Glatton to Sir Robert Cotton. In 1752 it passed to William Wells of Holmewood Hall. The Wells family founded Wells & Co, a Shipbuilding Company based in Blackwell on the Thames estuary. Wells & Co found a rich source of quality hardwood on the Glatton estate that William Wells owned. Timber was taken by horse & cart to Whittlesey Mere where it was floated down the River Nene to the port at Kings Lynn before its onward journey to the shipyard at Blackwell. Today, all that is left of the woodland that once extended from Glatton toward Great Gidding is the wood known as “Roundhills”. The first ship built was named HMS Glatton after the source of the timber. On 2nd of April 1801 HMS Glatton, commanded by the infamous Captain William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame), served as part of Nelson’s Squadron at the Battle of Copenhagen. Her service was sufficiently distinguished for the Royal Navy to name three other ships after it.
The first HMS Glatton was a 56-gun fourth rate of the Royal Navy. She was launched as the Glatton, an East Indiaman, on 29 November 1792 by Wells & Co. of Blackwell. The Royal Navy bought her in 1795 and converted her into a warship. Glatton was unusual in that for a time she was the only ship-of-the-line the Royal Navy armed exclusively with carronades (carronades, designed for ranges closer than 400 metres, had similar — and even higher — calibres but used less gunpowder). Eventually she returned to a more conventional armament. She served in the North Sea and the Baltic, and then as a transport for convicts to Australia. She then returned to naval service in the Mediterranean. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars the Admiralty, in 1814, converted her to a water depot at Sheerness. In 1830 the Admiralty converted Glatton to a breakwater and sank her at Harwich.
The second HMS Glatton (1855) was an Aetna-class ironclad floating battery launched in 1855 and broken up in 1864. The Aetna-class ironclad floating batteries were built during the Crimean War for the attack of Russian coastal fortifications. Britain and France each laid down five of these coastal attack vessels in 1854. The French used three of their batteries in 1855 against the defences at Kinburn on the Black Sea, where they were effective against Russian shore defences. The British plan to use theirs in the Baltic Sea against Kronstadt in 1856 was influential in causing the Russians to sue for peace. The development of such iron-armoured batteries was a step towards the development of ironclad warships. “These armoured batteries were among the most revolutionary ships ever built and provided British and French designers with the germ of the battleship.” One of the British batteries, the Trusty, was used for trials in 1861 with a prototype rotating turret, based on Captain Cowper Phipps Coles’ designs.
The third HMS Glatton (1871) was a turret ship launched in 1871 and sold 1903. She was commissioned in 1872 immediately into the Dockyard reserve, as tender to the gunnery school Excellent. She was a part of the 1878 Particular Service Squadron. In July of that year she was fired upon during live firing trials. In 1881 she was fitted to discharge 14-inch (360 mm) torpedoes. At the same time three QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss and 4 machine guns were added to her armament. In 1887 she was specially commissioned for the manoeuvres, and with Prince Albert allocated to the defence of the Thames estuary. This is her only recorded operational sea-time. Thereafter she passed through second class reserve, fleet reserve and from April 1902 dockyard reserve status, until she was sold in 1903.
The fourth HMS Glatton (1914) was a coast defence ship, originally the Norwegian Bjørgvin, purchased in 1915. She was requisitioned from Norway at the beginning of World War I, but was not completed until 1918 although she had been launched over three years earlier. On 16 September 1918, before she had even gone into action, she suffered a large fire caused by an ammunition failure in one of her 6-inch magazines, resulting in the deaths of 60 crewmen. Glatton’s commanding officer, a Royal Naval Vice-Admiral, fearful that the damage would ignite her main magazines and a neighbouring munition ship, and, obliterate half of Dover, ordered her to be scuttled. Her wreck was partially salvaged in 1926 and moved into a position in the northeastern end of the harbour where it would not obstruct traffic. It was subsequently buried by landfill underneath the current car ferry terminal.
Author Terry Brignall MBE