All the records which reach the Lancashire Record Office are informative, and many are interesting even to the layman, but it is a rare event to receive records which are genuinely dramatic. Such an event did occur this year, however, when the Blackpool Lifeboat Institution serve records were deposited here (DDX 1153) [this article was first published in the Lancashire Record Office annual report for 1977]. The records comprise two short series of books: quarterly reports of expenses and exercises, 1864-1889; and returns of services, being signed copies of the official records of active service, 1864-1953. A few extracts from the service records are printed below, providing vivid glimpses of one of the lesser-known aspects of Blackpool’s history.
The following extract is the account of the first outing of the new lifeboat, launched 14 July, 1874, and is also the earliest entry in the service records. The ship involved was the St. Michel, a brig of 300 tons with a crew of twelve, bound from Le Havre to Fleetwood.
Early on Sunday morning the 18th of Sept a Brig was seen from Blackpool with a Pilot Signal flying and very soon she began to drift into a dangerous Scitituation. She then came to an Anchor on Crusader Bank, we at Once Assembled the crew and Lancht the lifeboat through a very happy Surf the first two Seas breaking over her bows and very near filling the boat but she never stopt enty herself imiditly at this time they was there fishing boats macking for Fleetwood harbour, seeing her the rann down the first was than 10 before us and was Lying by her. The had not hands to board her, we put 2 hands an bord the bout at that time she parts her chain but the succeed in bording her and put her into 2 pilots Hand. This being the first time this boat as been out in a stormy wind and Sea. I have great pleasure of informing the institution that she rowd well and under Sail she whent like a steamer.
Robert Bickerstaffe, Coxswain.
The second extract illustrates the problems encountered by lifeboats which had no engine and were therefore entirely dependent on sails or oars. The ship was the Bessy Jones, a schooner of 114 tons carrying steel railway metals from Glasgow to Liverpool, which ran aground on 24th February, 1880.
At 7.30 word was brough to my Home that a vessel was aground on the Banks. I imiditly assembled the crew and and Launched the Boat, and as their was no chance of pulling the Boat through the Surf and as the wind was west north west, I determined, to Launch her off the Carrage under Sail. She went of Splendidly, but filled maney times. Saild her to whith in ½ mile of the wreck, then put her under oars.Had a Hard pull for at least one hour, drop Anchor to wind word of the wreck and veard alongside took the men of through the water. In Runing in under Oards a tremendious Sea brock over the Boats stern and although the 2nd Coswain and 2 turns on the trick Head it took it out of his Hands and boath lines and drogue (drouge – sea anchor) was lost, Boat throw on her beam Ends broke three Oards and washed one man out.
Robert Bickerstaffe, Coxswain.
Of the Bessy Jones’s crew of five, one man was lost.
The next extract concerns the rescue of 17 men from the Norwegian barque Abana, which ran aground five or six miles north of Blackpool on 22 December, 1894. In those times of lifeboats without engines, it was quicker to take the boat on its carriage overland and launch fairly near the distressed vessel than to sail there. The boat was stored mounted on its carriage, and horses owned by the Corporation were used to get it from the boat station to the place of launch. The service record always includes among the ‘details of expense’ an item for hire of horses; in this case the cost was £1.15 – ‘for 6 horses 2 hours in the morning and for 7 horses 8 hours at night’.
The undermentioned ship was sighted about 4 in the afternoon of Saturday. All her sails were torn to ribbons, half of her mainmast appeared to have gone and she was evidently unmanageable and at length shortly after 5 o’clock she grounded about 400 yards from the
cliffs (five miles to north of B’pool). Meanwhile the Coxswain (Cartmell) had his men in readiness. The barque came ashore bow first but was slewed broadside on by the force of the waves. Signals of distress were then fired from her and the Lifeboat started by road shortly after 5.30. the journey was seven miles through rough country lanes. The wind was blowing from the N.W. & the LifeBoat was Taken ¼ of a mile to the north of the wreck. Very little delay was experienced in launching the boat into the terrible surf. It was a stiff pull against wind & sea but the boat was admirably managed, the Coxswain steering her nicely
to the lee side of the vessel. About 25 minutes after the signals announced that all were safe and in another 20 minutes the rescued men were safely landed. The LifeBoat was then taken back by road to Blackpool which was reached at about 12 o’clock. The performance of
The crew was a splendid one & one to be proud of. You will notice that I have not stated how many times they have been afloat on lifeboat service. I have not been able to ascertain this, but the majority of them are young fellows who have not been out to a wreck before.
J. Walter Smith, Honorary Secretary.
The last extracts deal with perhaps more typical incidents, where the crew displayed their usual valour but without positive result. The difficulty of communication before wireless was invented is apparent, and the narrative also highlights a problem specific to Blackpool: the difficulty of launching the boat off a very level strand. The incident began on the evening of Friday, 15 December, 1911.
During the day the wind which had been E. Veered round somewhat suddenly S. To West and blew some strong squalls – the lighter “Douglas” proceeding in tow by tug Energy parted her warp – and went adrift flares were noticed from this station from S.W. and a look out was maintained – at 8-0p.m. a telegram was received from S. Annes by the Secretary asking for the Blackpool Lifeboat to be launched – telephone messages also from Police and other persons. Lifeboat Signals fired at 8.10 – Lifeboat left Boathouse almost immediately after proceeded along Lytham Road thence by (gap) Road on to shore where she was launched N. Of Squires Gate – difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable place to launch on account of the level nature of the shore – The Lifeboat proceeded along the Channel in a Southerly Direction, then by the Hindings into the Channel cruising about the neighbourhood where the signals had been seen but ultimately had to return without finding anything – Lifeboat took the shore Westerly of Thursby Home proceeding by Thursby Slade and Lytham Rd. to the Boathouse – meanwhile the Secretary went to S. Annes for further information - after making enquiries he met the Coxs. Of the St. Annes lifeboat at the residence of Sir Charles Macara, reports were exchanged as it was now nearly midnight it was decided after telephoning Lytham to await day light before prosecuting the search – information came to hand that the Lytham Lifeboard was aground on The Horse bank – it was thought improbable that the Lighter had survived. A look-out was ordered at S. Annes. The Secretary then proceeded by Taxicab to the Boathouse where the Boat had already arrived – a look-out was ordered to be kept – after consultation with the Coxs. It was considered probable that the lighter had sunk with those on board.
It would be pardonable to expect that at this point the crew of the lifeboat would consider that all possible action had been taken, and would call off further rescue attempts till first light, but no so.
While the Secretary Coxs. officers and several of the crew were proceeding along the Promenade near the Wellington Hotel after housing the Lifeboat a flare was seen in a S.W. direction – they at once returned to the Boathouse and prepared for another launch another flare was seen in the same position, when after consultation with the Coxswain and Signalman it was decided to order another launch. The Rocket Distress Signals were then fired and in about ten minutes the Lifeboat was on the road – she proceeded along the promenade to Waterloo Slade thence on to the shore for some 3 ½ miles in a W. and then S. Direction finding a suitable place to launch her off Thursby Home – launch was difficult and somewhat dangerous owing to the level nature of the sands making it necessary to go a considerable way into the surf before getting sufficient water to launch her into and owing
to the soft sand allowing the wheels of the carriage to sink unless kept moving, it is also impossible to see inequalities of short for the water. A successful launch was made but great difficulty was experienced in getting the carriage away as the tide was now on flood and coming in very rapidly – the five horses of the Corporation and Sidesmen got the carriage away – the boat proceeded in a W. Direction cruising about but were unable to discover any trace of the lighter returning to shore about the same spot – the boat was then taken home by the Thursby slade and Lytham Road. The absence of any signal by which the distressed vessel could indicate her position to the Lifeboat made it impossible to find her in the dark. Later on in the morning information was received here the “Douglas” had been taken in two Preston by tug.
Charles Henry Turner, Honorary Secretary.