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1840 – 1918
British Sailors
Biographies
Sailors’ Homes

Agnes Elizabeth Weston, 1840-1918

Biography of Dame Agnes Weston

Royal Sailors' Rest, Devonport. Source: Weston, My Life Among the Bluejackets (1909). Plate facing p. 138.

Dame Agnes Elizabeth Weston was an active philanthropist best known for the teetotal homes for sailors, or Royal Sailors' Rests, that she co-founded with Sophia Wintz. She published a magazine, Ashore and Afloat, that advocated temperance and cheerfulness as a model for young sailors.

Dame Agnes Elizabeth Weston (1840-1918), Organiser of 'Sailors' Rests'. National Portrait Gallery NPG 34437, Unknown Artist, c. 1918

Weston's 'Rests' followed the model that had been successful for merchant seamen’s homes, with a relatively easy going atmosphere apart from the prohibition on alcohol and the rule of ‘no disorderly conduct’. 

Weston was not from a naval family, but developed an interest in the welfare of sailors through her work with the National Temperance League. She was a regular speaker on the temperance circuit, partnering with Lady Henry Somerset for related projects, such as the Duxhurst Farm Colony. Her Monthly Letters, circulated to all ships, and autobiography, My Life Among the Blue-Jackets (1909), confirmed her reputation as a force for good. In 1874, she began working with the Royal Naval Temperance Society, visiting warships and speaking directly with sailors.

The first Royal Sailors' Rest was opned in March 1876 in Fore Street, Devonport, close to the Royal Dockyard gate. A glass panel announced, 'Coffee, Comfort, and Company, for One Penny'. Portsmouth followed in 1908. Weston’s work received generous support from the navy, and she enjoyed general popularity for her ease of manner, kindness and consistent one-issue advocacy.  

Royal Sailors' Rest, Devonport. Source: Weston, My Life Among the Bluejackets (1909). Plate facing p. 138.

On her death in 1918, Weston was buried with full naval honours, in a funeral attended by 2000 naval officers. Rests continued to be built and opened, usually on sites close to naval dockyards. Outside the UK, a Royal Sailors' Rest House was established in Sembawang, Singapore from 1963 to 1971, continuing her legacy. Many of the Royal Sailors' Rests were damaged in World War II and,  although rebuilt, they never recovered their popularity with serving men.

Royal Sailors' Rest, Devonport. Source: Weston, My Life Among the Bluejackets (1909). Plate facing p. 138.

Dame Agnes Weston's Royal Charity for the Naval Service, known more generally as Aggie's, is a registered charity, serving members of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and their families. Although no longer running homes, Aggie's provides pastoral support, and aims to be 'the sailor's friend'. 

References

Kennerley, Alston. 2004. 'Weston, Dame Agnes Elizabeth'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Published online 23 September.

Weston, Agnes. 1909. My Life Among the Bluejackets (London)  HathiTrust

Weston, Agnes. 1912. My Life Among the Bluejackets. Enlarged edition (London) Internet Archive.

Resources

Archives

Portsmouth City RO, Royal Sailors' Rests records

Websites

Agnes Weston 1840-1918. White Ribbon Association https://white-ribbon.org.uk/our-history/agnes-weston/  

Aggie's, Castaway House, Portsmouth. https://www.aggies.org.uk/about-aggie-weston 

Citation for this article

Hilary Carey, 'Agnes Elizabeth Weston, 1840-1918' Mariners: Race, Religion and Empire in British Ports 1801-1914, https://mar.ine.rs/stories/agnes-elizabeth-weston-1840-1918/
Retrieved 22 February 2024