How it all began 

Sir William Hillary founded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on March 4th 1824, however it was not until 1882 that a lifeboat station was established in Weston-super-Mare.

A legacy of £450 was received from the estate of Col. W. J. Holt of Bangor “for a lifeboat to be placed on the shores of the Bristol Channel”.

The first lifeboat ‘William James Holt’ was hung from davits on Birnbeck Pier. She was 25ft long and was an eight-oared self-righter, cost £266.10.0d and she arrived in Weston on November 5th 1882, beginning a long association of Weston lifeboat with Birnbeck Island.

The William James Holt being launched from its davits

The William James Holt being launched from its davits

‘William James Holt’ served for seven years, but was only launched on service twice.

On August 4th 1887 it was agreed to replace this boat with a larger boat. To accommodate this boat, a boathouse, with a slipway 100-foot long, was built on the north side of Birnbeck Island, close to the Pier and still visible today. This boathouse cost £718.1.4d and the new boat, which arrived on July 16th 1889, also called ‘William James Holt’, cost £463.

The second ‘William James Holt’ was not called out for six years and then only three more times in her 14-year career in Weston.

1882, 5th November – Weston’s first lifeboat, the ‘William James Holt’ was placed on station on Birnbeck Pier. An 8 Oared Self Righter is launched via davits from the side of the Pier. Seven years on station with two launches.

1889, 16th  July – William James Holt II, larger oared lifeboat was put on station. To accommodate it a boathouse, with a 100ft slipway, had been built on the north side of the island. It spent 14 years on station with four launches.

Early Crew

1901, 12th December – a legacy was received from the estate of the late Mrs Anna Sophia Stock in the sum of £4888.11.3d. It was decided to use this money to provide a new lifeboat and boathouse at Weston-super-Mare.
The boathouse was built by H W Pollard, cost £2575.3.0d and is still in use today.

1903, 29th May – the new lifeboat, a Watson Class, costing £891, arrived on station and was named ‘Colonel Stock’.
‘Colonel Stock’ was not called on for 12 years, but when she was, on 13th January 1915, she came to the assistance of the ketch ‘The Fame’ off Sand Point and the crew of three was rescued.

1933, 7th September – a new motor-lifeboat, a Liverpool Class non-self-righter with a top speed of 7.33 knots was delivered to Weston-super-Mare.

1934, 2nd September – The first service launch for the motor lifeboat to rescue the crew of the motor launch that took supplies out to the then inhabited Steep Holm island. The lifeboat crew found the supply boat taking on water one mile NE of Steep Holm. They took the crew onboard the lifeboat and towed the casualty boat back to Weston.

1935, 27th June – The naming ceremony for the motor lifeboat took place at Knightstone Harbour where HRH the Duke of Kent, President of the RNLI, christened the boat ‘Fifi and Charles’ . She had cost £3207 and was the sixth boat paid out of a legacy of £10,000 left to the institution by Mr Charles Carr Ashley of Mentone in France (This legacy eventually paid for TEN boats!).

Fifi & Charles 31950, April – ‘Fifi and Charles’ was fitted with a ‘Coastal Radio’.

1962, 17th March – saw a new lifeboat put into service at Weston-super-Mare, she was an ‘Oakley’ Class self-righter and cost £33,000. As she had been provided out of a gift from the ‘Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’ she was christened ‘Calouste Gulbenkian’. This lifeboat had a top speed of 8 knots.

1962, 22nd September – ‘Calouste Gulbenkian’ is dedicated.

1963, May – the RNLI introduced the first of its inflatable rescue boats and accordingly in May 1966 it was Weston’s turn to receive one of these ‘D’ Class boats. She was no.83 and served alongside ‘Calouste Gulbenkian’. The top speed of this new style of boat was 20 knots.

1966 & 1967 – The RNLI tested various high speed rescue boats, ‘Hatch’ and ‘McLachlan’ types.

1967 – No. 83 was replaced by No. 74.

1969, 2nd February – ‘Calouste Gulbenkian’ was launched for the final time at Weston, when she went to the assistance of a dinghy off Clevedon, but her services were ultimately not required.

1969, 12th April – the Barry Dock lifeboat ON 806, on relief duties at Weston, broke her moorings and was wrecked. No lives were lost.  A second ‘D’ Class (No. 47) was sent to Weston as an additional boat and it was decided not to re-station another conventional lifeboat at Weston.

1970, 9th May – The McLachlan was the preferred boat from the trials in 1966 and 67 and was put on display at the Earl’s Court Boat show in January 1970. At the end of the show and after the required boathouse alterations, this boat (number 18-004) was transferred to Weston-super-Mare.

1970, 9th May – D-Class No. 47 is removed, leaving No.74 as the second lifeboat on station.

1973 – the McLachlan was re-numbered as A504 and ‘D’ Class No.74 was replaced by No.170.

1975 – Bronze Medal awarded to Helmsman Julian Morris in recognition of the courage, seamanship and determination he displayed when the Maclachlan lifeboat rescued five men from the motor boat ‘4D’. The casualty boat was stranded on the rocks at Brean Down in a strong north by easterly gale and a very rough sea on 13th September 1975. Fifi and Charles 1956

1979 – The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to Helmsman Nicholas White and crew members Richard Spindler and Anthony Blizzard. This was in recognition of the skill and determination they displayed when the D-Class lifeboat rescued three boys who were trapped by the tide in a cave on the south side of Brean Down. Also rescued were two Coastguards how had gone to the aid of the boys. There was a southerly gale and rough sea with breaking surf on 12th November 1978.

The Ralph Glister Award, a monetary award for the most meritorious inshore lifeboat service in 1978 was made to Nicholas, Richard and Anthony. The Royal Humane Society also awarded their testimonial on parchment to Richard and Anthony, with a certificate of commendation to Nicholas.

1981 – No.170 is replaced by D282, provided by the Farnham branch of the RNLI.

1983, 13th August – A504 is replaced by Atlantic 21 B557 is named “Weston Centenary”. A504 is now on display at the National lifeboat museum at Chatham.

1986 – The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to crew member Richard Spindler in recognition of his selfless act of bravery when he swam from the lifeboat B557 to rescue two boys cut off by the tide at Brean Down on 20th July.

1989, 11th July – D282 is replaced by D387

1998, 17th October – D387 was replaced by D537 and was provided for out of a gift to the institution by Mrs Kathleen Willoughby. D387 was named ‘Faith’.

2001 – Atlantic 75 Lifeboat B769 ‘Coventry & Warwickshire’ replaced B557 ‘Weston Centenary’.

2001 – A framed letter of thanks signed by the chairman of the institution Mr Peter Nicholson was awarded to Helmsman Peter Watts, in recognition of his resolution, fine judgement and boat handling skills, when B769 conducted a search in poor weather conditions in a treacherous operating area in surf close inshore on the night of 7th / 8th October.

2007 & 2008 – B701 & B736, Atlantic Lifeboats from the relief fleet were used during this period instead of B769. This was when the Atlantic lifeboat was operating from an afloat mooring in the River Axe, due to the poor state of the station slipway. During this time, carriage launch trials took place, resulting in the tractor and trailer launch and recovery equipment we have now.

2008, 7th September – D537 “Faith” is redeployed to the Lifeboat College in Poole, Dorset, and replaced by D696, named “Anna Stock” as the boat was funded by the residue of the legacy received from the estate of the late Mrs Anna Sophia in 1901 – see above.

The current boats on station replace all of the above.

Acknowledgement – This is a very short extraction of details from a book called ‘The Story of Weston-super-Mare Lifeboats’ written by and produced by Jeff Morris to whom we are grateful for allowing us to reproduce the parts you have read.