Colourised collection of historic lifeboat photos released to celebrate RNLI’s 200th anniversary

Candid snapshots of lifeboats in Sussex and along the south coast have been cleaned and colourised to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the RNLI.

The stunning collection of historic photos has been released by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to bring some of its rich history to life ahead of its anniversary on March 4.

Hayley Whiting, RNLI heritage and archive research manager, said: "The carefully coloured images illustrate just a few highlights of the incredible history of lifesaving over the previous two centuries, where over 144,000 lives have been saved to date.

"Each image has been brought to life by our own in-house creative team, with hours spent on attention to detail, along with research being undertaken to ensure each one gave a true, lifelike representation."

Lifeboats from Brighton in 1904 and Poole in 1940 are among 11 black and white images which have been painstakingly cleaned and colourised, with folds, scratches and dust removed using digital technology to shine new light on 200 years of saving lives at sea.

The striking images include courageous lifeboat crews, early fundraising street collections and iconic scenes of close-knit communities working together to launch and recover lifeboats.

One photograph taken in 1904 shows the lifeboat William Wallis at Brighton when it was new, boasting ten oars and self-righting capabilities. It shows a real sense of community, as local families work together to pull on ropes to help recover the lifeboat up the beach after it returned to shore.

Now, more than 100 year later, Brighton RNLI hosts an Atlantic 85, Random Harvest, one of the RNLI’s fastest boats, which came into service in 2005.

In Sussex, there are eight lifeboat stations in total, Rye Harbour, Hastings, Eastbourne, Newhaven, Brighton, Shoreham Harbour, Littlehampton and Selsey.

The lifeboat station at Rye Harbour operates an inshore Atlantic 85 lifeboat. During its 165-year history, Rye Harbour saw one of the worst lifeboat disasters in the RNLI’s history when 17 crew lost their lives in 1928.

Hastings Lifeboat Station operates both all-weather and inshore lifeboats and the lifeboat crews have been presented with more than 30 awards for gallantry.

Eastbourne Lifeboat Station, in Sovereign Harbour, was established in 1822 and the lifeboat crews have been awarded 10 medals for gallantry.

Newhaven Lifeboat Station was established in 1803 and it covers from Beachy Head to Brighton. It is a modern afloat station and operates an all-weather Severn class lifeboat. The crews have been awarded 19 medals for gallantry.

Shoreham Harbour Lifeboat Station has records dating back to 1845, when there was a 30ft boat pulling 12 oars and costing £100. The lifeboat station was established in 1865 but it was closed in 1924 owing to lack of water, due to silting. Five years later, when the harbour bar had disappeared, it was decided to re-open the station and place a motor lifeboat there.

Littlehampton Lifeboat Station was established in 1967, on the east side of the River Arun. It was home for 49 years to successive lifeboats named Blue Peter 1, funded by viewers of the children's BBC television programme. These days, the station is equipped with an Atlantic 85 lifeboat and D-Class inshore lifeboat.

Selsey lifeboat volunteers have been saving lives at sea since 1861 and crews have received ten awards for gallantry. The old inshore lifeboat shed was demolished in 2016 to make way for the building of a new onshore lifeboat station. The new Selsey Lifeboat Station was finished in 2017 and it houses a Shannon class lifeboat.

Along with Brighton, photographs in the colourised collection include RNLI Poole’s lifeboat Thomas Kirk Wright, which can be seen launching from the old lifeboat station to join 18 other RNLI lifeboats taking part in the Dunkirk Little Ships armada. Crowds can be seen gathering on the quayside to wave them off.

It was May 1940 and a fleet of hundreds of pleasure boats, fishing boats and other civilian vessels were gathering, at the Admiralty’s request, to take part in the evacuation of British troops from the French port. A total of 19 RNLI lifeboats were part of the armada, including Hastings, Eastbourne, Shoreham and Newhaven. Volunteer RNLI crew manned the Ramsgate and Margate lifeboats but the other 17 were used by the Navy as part of this remarkable rescue mission.

Through the war years, lifeboats and their crews continued to launch to those in peril on the sea. A total of seven RNLI lifeboats and 40 crew members were tragically lost during the Second World War, some due to air-raids on lifeboat stations and some being captured.

Poole now hosts the RNLI Lifeboat College, where volunteers train and develop their lifesaving skills. It is also home to the All-Weather Lifeboat Centre, which has the facilities to maintain the existing fleet as well as being fully equipped to build the next generation of lifeboats.

Ballycotton coxswain Patrick Sliney, his wife and son William were photographed at an annual meeting in 1936, the same year the Daunt Rock Lightship came adrift off Ballycotton in horrendous conditions with 12 people onboard.

The lifeboat crew spent 49 hours at sea and eventually rescued all those onboard. Patrick was awarded the RNLI Gold Medal for Gallantry and the rest of his crew, including William, received Bronze Medals.

Colourising the photos has highlighted the fact lifeboat crews would traditionally wear red hats, which was not obvious in the old black and white photographs.

In a picture from St Davids in Wales, the colour brings the vibrant red out as the crews walk up from the boathouse with the Welsh coastline in the background.

The crews in the 1960s image are also wearing traditional RNLI guernseys, sometimes called a gansey, which was a woollen jumper with a simple red ‘RNLI’ embroidered on the front – something today’s lifeboat crews still wear for ceremonial duties.

Coxswain William Brown, who served on Cresswell Lifeboat from 1875 for 50 years, and wife Mrs Brown are honoured in another photograph.

By the age of 70, William had rescued nearly 100 people. Living in a small community, the wives, daughters and younger sons of the crew would act as launchers.

On his retirement William was presented with a Certificate of Service, while his wife was awarded a Gold Brooch in recognition for her services both as a launcher and fundraiser.

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