HMS Tongham coffee house

HMS Tongham: Why An Old Royal Navy Minesweeper Will Now Be Delivering Coffee Shots

Former Royal Navy minesweeper HMS Tongham will soon be delivering shots of her own in the form of hot coffee after couple Chris Beer and...

HMS Tongham coffee house

A historic Royal Navy warship called HMS Tongham that served to sweep military mines from shallow waters will soon be delivering shots of her own – in the form of hot coffee.

HMS Tongham, now with the MV Tongham prefix, is joining the ranks of military transportation to be converted into commercial civilian uses after enterprising couple Chris Beer and Janet Fischer snapped her up to turn her into a coffee house.

The vessel is yet another example of how former military vehicles have been turned into businesses, which has included Sea King helicopters converted into holiday lets and accommodation.

Chris and Janet, based in Kent, bought the former military vessel, the most intact remaining in her class, last year and hope to transform her into a coffee house by next summer, replete with yoga room and three music teaching studios. It will also serve vegan food on the menu and a range of high-quality coffees.

Janet Fischer told Forces Network: "We wanted to keep something that works within its [historical] context... [so Tongham will] keep almost all of her original features."

HMS Tongham equipment

Tongham, a 'Ham Class' minesweeper built for shallow waters and estuaries, was named after a village in Surrey, with all the ships in its class named after settlements ending in -ham.

Some of the minesweepers went on to serve with the Australian, French, Ghanaian, Libyan, Indian, Malaysian, and Saudi Arabian navies.

There was sad news for one of the ships earlier this year, when it emerged HMS Ledsham had been gutted by a fire.

But Ms Fischer says the fact Tongham was made from wood rather than aluminium, unlike the first group of ships in the class, has actually helped her survive the years.

HMS Tongham

She's now been helping to restore the minesweeper, which spent 15 years in a shed before being retired from service, to its former glory, alongside partner Chris.

Mr Beer has been putting his time working as a marine engineer to good use in the project, along with training he did on one of Tongham's sister ships.

It'll also allow Ms Fischer, a professional opera singer, space to provide tuition in singing and a range of musical instruments from next autumn. 

HMS Tongham coffee house

She says she got the idea for the project after seeing opera students waiting in a coffee shop between lessons.

They hope to capitalise on the 800 students living at nearby institutions like the universities in Kent and Canterbury, as well as commuters and other local people, with the menu to be vegan-based and including as much local produce as possible. Ms Fischer said:

"We wanted to engage in a more historical way rather than [having Tongham] as a museum piece." 

The area also has a rich military history, with a famous Royal Navy dockyard in neighbouring Chatham, which spilled over into Gillingham, providing over 500 ships for the Senior Service over 414 years until its closure in 1984.

Oberon-class submarines and warships used by Nelson were among the vessels to be built there, while historic warship HMS Gannett and submarine HMS Ocelot are berthed there as museum ships.

Tongham, meanwhile, will be permanently moored next to the PS Medway Queen. One of the "Little Ships of Dunkirk", she rescued 7,000 men in the evacuation of Dunkirk, making a record seven trips.

It's not the first time old military equipment has been used for inventive purposes.

It was reported last year that retired Sea King helicopters were being bought to make garden sheds, outbuildings and 'man-caves'.

Witham Special Vehicles, which was selling off around 30 of the helicopters for the Ministry of Defence, said it had "massive amounts of interest" in the aircraft.

A crowdfunding bid has been made, meanwhile, to turn an old British aircraft carrier into a museum.

It's hoped £100,000 can be raised to bring HMS Hermes, Britain's flagship during the Falklands War, home.

She's already been repurposed once - serving until recently in the Indian Navy under the name of INS Viraat.

If you'd like to find out more about the HMS Tongham project for yourself, there's a free open day this Saturday from 10am to 3pm - just head down to Gillingham Pier.

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