South Tyneside College is a large, further education college in South Shields, north east England, offering part-time and full-time courses for young students and adults. It was formed in 1984 by the merger of Hebburn Technical College and South Shields Marine & Technical College. The latter was founded in 1837 by a deed executed by Dr Thomas Winterbottom, possibly South Shields’ greatest philanthropist. However, it was to be another 29 years before it opened its doors to students in 1866, 155 years ago!
The college is still one of the largest merchant navy training colleges in the UK and attracts students from all over the world, offering courses in a wide range of marine subjects.
At first, the Marine School occupied rooms in the Mechanic’s Institute, but in 1869 it moved to a brand new building on Ocean Road in South Shields town center. The aim of the School was to train masters and officers of the Merchant Service in all areas necessary to qualify them for the highest duties of their profession. Students had to be bona fide seamen, already possessing some elementary knowledge, and with the essentials of an ordinary education. In October 1886 a Boys’ Department was opened, in separate accommodation, divided into a nautical class and an engineer’s class, with special lessons for those wanting to become navigators or sea-going engineers. Boys had to be aged 13 or over, pass an entrance exam and produce a certificate of good conduct from their previous school. They paid a fee of £2 per term but there were a few free places for those who did very well in their entrance exam.
Dr. Thomas Masterman Winterbottom was born on 26th March 1766 in South Shields and was an English physician, philanthropist and abolitionist. He was the eldest of what were to be eight children of Dr James Winterbottom (c1742-1797), a Whitby man who had come to South Shields to practice medicine and who had married local girl Lydia née Masterman only ten months earlier. After a private education, young Thomas was sent to Edinburgh University and then to Glasgow University, where he qualified as a doctor of medicine. After a brief probationary period he was appointed physician to the colony of the Sierra Leone Company in 1792 and spent 4 years in Africa. In 1796 he returned to South Shields to take over his father’s practice. He wrote an account of his time in Africa which was published in 1803, and which contains the description of African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), for which he became well known.
In 1803 he also married Barbara, the widow of James Wardle, a local ship owner. They settled in Westoe village and he ran his general practice for 30 years, publishing several medical books and papers. He retained his interest in medicine until his death in 1859 at the grand age of 93, and at the time the oldest doctor in Britain.
His wife had died in 1840 and they had no children, so his considerable estate was left to a number of charities which he had supported during his lifetime. The bulk of this bequest was to found the South Shields Marine School, which he had already established in 1837. His friends ensured that the school opened on 26th March 1866, the centenary of Winterbottom’s birth. South Shields Marine School is now part of South Tyneside College, and is a world-renowned center of excellence for marine education and training, offering programmes across the whole spectrum of marine education and nautical sciences, including navigation, operations, marine and electrical engineering, communications and catering.