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Scandinavian seamen in London

Scandinavia and London
The seamen's churches
The Scandinavian Seamen's Temperance Hostel
The links today
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The Scandinavian Seamen's Temperance Hostel

The Hostel

The former Scandinavian Seamen's Hostel.
View full size imageThe former Scandinavian Seamen's Temperance Hostel. © NMM

The most prominent symbol of the Scandinavian maritime presence in London was the Scandinavian Seamen's Temperance Hostel. This was founded in 1880 by Agnes Hedenström, a remarkable Swedish woman who had once worked as a Lutheran missionary in India. 

The foundation stone of the former Scandinavian Seamen's Hostel.
View full size imageThe stone at the entrance to the Hostel. © NMM
In February 1889, it moved to a fine building in Garford Street, near the West India Docks. Prince Oskar of Sweden and Norway performed the opening ceremony.

For many years, its warden was the businessman and inventor Axel Welin, who became Agnes's husband. 

A dormitory in the former Scandinavian Seamen's Hostel.
View full size imageA dormitory in the former Scandinavian Seamen's Hostel. © NMM

The Temperance Hostel was clean and safe, and each resident had his own bed in a dormitory. For seamen used to hammocks and the cramped sleeping conditions on board small merchant ships, this was quite generous. As the name indicates, no alcohol was allowed in the Hostel. 

The Temperance Hostel catered for all nationalities. In the 1901 census there were 159 boarders, including:

  • 80 from Sweden
  • 29 from Norway
  • 13 from Finland
  • 10 from Denmark
  • 27 from other countries, including Germany, the United States, Britain, Japan and Russia.

The Officers' Annexe

Foundation stone of the Officers' Annexe to the former Scandinavian Seamen's Hostel.
View full size imageFoundation stone of the Officers' Annexe. © NMM

In 1902-03, an Officers' Annexe was built alongside the Hostel. This attractive, Baroque-style building was designed by the architects Niven and Wigglesworth.



The Titanic link

SS Titanic leaving Southampton.
View full size imageThe Titanic leaving Southampton. © NMM

In 1901 Axel Welin founded the Welin Davit and Engineering Company, to make davits to enable the hoisting and lowering of ships' lifeboats. His famous Quadrant Davit won a prestigious John Scott Award in 1911.

One of the ships using the davit was the unfortunate Titanic. Equipped with Welin's davits, she could have carried a far larger number of lifeboats. The AB Welin company still produces safety equipment for ships and rigs.

The closure of the Temperance Hostel

Plaque commemorating Agnes Welin, founder of the Scandinavian Seamen's Hostel.
View full size imagePlaque commemorating Agnes Welin. © NMM
The Temperance Hostel closed soon after the death of Agnes Welin, in 1928. However, the fine building continued to serve the community into the 21st century. In 1930, it reopened as a Salvation Army hostel. As Riverside House, it remained in use until June 2003.

In 2003, the Salvation Army decided to close Riverside House, as it was no longer appropriate to its needs. The home's dormitory accommodation had been designed for short-term stays only, and the seamen who slept there required little privacy.

In constrast, the Salvation Army increasingly caters for medium-stay individuals who need far more privacy. For this reason, they are replacing the old hostel with purpose-built flats.

The Welins' legacy 

The Welins are still commemorated by two charities. The Agnes Welin Memorial Fund supports the work of the Swedish Seamen's Church in London. The Axel Welin Sailors' Care Fund supports the work of the Seamen's Missions in Liverpool and Middlesbrough.


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StoriesThe welfare of seamen
Making life secure and comfortable for visiting seamen in the port
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