Charterhouse, Chief Among Lifeboats

Throughout history, coastal communities have come together to help those involved in shipwrecks. It might surprise you to know that the first record of a boat being kept expressly for the purpose of saving lives during shipwreck was in Formby, Lancashire, in 1777. 

It was still a few years before Lionel Lukin, a coachbuilder from London, is reputed to have designed the first unsinkable boat using air pockets, cork and other lightweight materials. He patented his design in 1785. A year later he was commissioned by Archdeacon John Sharp of Northumberland to convert a fishing boat into a purpose-built rescue boat. It was housed at Bamburgh, at the first lifeboat station in Great Britain.

In 1789 following a violent storm in the mouth of the River Tyne where the crew of the Adventure were drowned because the local boats could not reach them, an inventor was sought for a more advanced lifeboat that would be safe in the roughest of seas.

Two of the entrants,  parish clerk William Wouldhave and boatbuilder Henry Francis Greathead, both from South Shields, became joint winners.

Wouldhave’s design would right itself in stormy seas. Greathead’s design was not self-righting but had design features that gave it a joint first. It was he who went on to build the final design and is generally remembered as the inventor of the lifeboat proper.

Here in Fishguard, there is a long history of saving lives at sea and there have been a number of boats that have been in service over the years. Chief among them was the Charterhouse which was in service between 1909 and 1931.  At that time, she was the most technically advanced lifeboat in Wales. She was self-righting and motorised, with both sails and oars.

During her time in service, Charterhouse saved many lives. The combination of sails and oars was invaluable in the spectacular rescue of the crew of Dutch schooner Hermina in fierce gales. Under coxswain John Howells, only one life was lost, and Howells went on to be presented with a gold medal by the Prince of Wales. The boat was displayed outside the Houses of Parliament for a time.

When Charterhouse was decommissioned, she was sold into private hands and that might have been the end of this little piece of history if it were not for the late Phil Davies who led a project to bring her back for exhibition, having found her still afloat in North Wales

Phil spent the last years of his life researching the Charterhouse, drawing together a team to help.  He lived to see her return to Fishguard and Goodwick, creating a blog  www.charterhousereturns.com as an ongoing record of the enterprise. 

For a while, the boat was housed in Goodwick while a dedicated team made plans for her. For a while, there were some concerns that she wouldn’t find a more permanent home.

We are delighted to have heard from Patrick Beaumont, one of her staunchest supporters, that she is now safe and the committee can continue with plans to get the recognition she deserves for her service.

Patrick told us: “The Old Girl is sitting on the dockside in Hancock’s Yard, all dry and secure.”

Watch this space for more news. Coming soon.

Kitty Parsons

Kitty Parsons

Kitty is an incomer, with five summers under her belt and the knowledge that even the wettest and greyest of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire. She knows she will never live long enough to be considered a local but hopes to leave some small mark through writing about this beautiful county and its people.

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