The doors reopened on Lytham Old Lifeboat House and the Chapman lifeboat in autumn 2015 after 10 years of closure. The Chapman first underwent a period of extensive restoration before being put on display.
Lytham Old Lifeboat House and Chapman Lifeboat
Lytham Old Lifeboat House is the building to the seaward side of Lytham Windmill. It forms part of the Windmill Museum and displays a full size, 1901 pulling and sailing lifeboat.
The Chapman is the first lifeboat in the Old Lifeboat House since 1931 when the Kate Walker was replaced by the JHW. The Chapman lifeboat has strong links to the north west and is also a sister vessel of the St Annes No1 lifeboat ON587 James Scarlet. James Scarlet was on station from 1908 to 1925 and launched 9 times saving 20 lives.
History of Chapman Lifeboat
ON461 Chapman a Liverpool class pulling and sailing lifeboat was built in 1900 – 01 at Thames Ironworks. She is 35 feet long by 10 feet beam, the height to the top of the gunwhale is 5 feet and she originally weighed 4.5 tons. She is probably nearer 3.5 tons now. Built in the era before engines she was designed to be rowed and sailed by 15 men, 12 oarsmen, a coxswain, second cox’n and bowman. The boat hull is 100% original, Honduran mahogony. Sadly this is no longer available as all the trees are gone.
Chapman was originally stationed in Groomsport, County Down until 1920. When Groomsport closed, Chapman joined the RNLI Reserve and in October 1920 was sent to Cromer, where she was briefly “cox’d” by Henry Blogg, the most famous of all lifeboatmen. Henry was awarded 3 RNLI gold medals, 4 silver medals, the George Medal and British Empire Medal during his 53 years of RNLI service.
In 1924 Chapman was sent to Hilbre Island (above) where she was operated by the Hoylake lifeboat crew. As motor lifeboats succeeded “pulling and sailing” lifeboats and war approached, the Hilbre Island station closed in 1939 and Chapman left Hoylake.
War Effort and Day Trippers
Having left Hoylake in September 1939, it is believed that Chapman joined the war effort as a working boat on the opposite side of the River Dee estuary at Point of Air colliery.
The next we know of her is in the early 1950’s. By this time she has had an engine installed, has been re-named Harbinger and is taking out day-trippers into Morecambe Bay.
A Lancaster man Harold Gardner and his brother Thomas bought the Harbinger on 10th March 1956. She was fitted out for piloting in the River Lune estuary by James Nicholson Ltd of Glasson Dock and commissioned for piloting on 16th May that year. Harold and Thomas decided to rename their boat Peggy.
Peggy served as the Lancaster pilot boat for 35 years, being moored off Sunderland Point. On one occasion she resumed her role as a lifeboat, being summoned by Lancashire Police to save 2 men from a capsized dinghy in Glasson Dock.
Harold Gardner sold Peggy to Hoylake RNLI Mechanic Alan Tolley on 9th October 1992. Alan sailed her back to Hoylake under her own steam in order to convert her into a tripper. Alan’s intention was to return the lifeboat to her original RNLI livery. He removed the wheelhouse, decking and engine but found himself unable to complete the project. The boat was donated to the Burbo Caravan Park where she became a plaything for children.
Securing the Future for the Lifeboat
Standing outside in all weathers saw the boat begin to deteriorate and, concerned, the owner of the Park decided to try to find a secure future for the lifeboat, recognising that she was something special. She was acquired by a Midlander who transported her to the Douglas Boatyard, Tarleton, on the Ribble estuary.
Unfortunately the lifeboat was then deserted. Left uncovered, rainwater played havoc with her deteriorating condition. The engine bed rusted badly and this penetrated her timbers. Each gunnel burst and she began to rot badly.
When John Parr and his father Bill visited the Douglas Boatyard in 1998, Peggy was in a sorry state. She was full of leaves and rubbish and also home to a small sycamore tree.
However, she was and always will be the last Hilbre Island lifeboat: unique. John bought the boat and brought her back to the Wirral to the Laird Foundation in Birkenhead. The expectation was that she would be restored by apprentices working at what was, in effect, the shipyard’s training school.
She was fully inspected by John Kearon, Keeper of Historic Vessels at Merseyside Maritime Museum. There was a great deal to be done. Delays occurred, however, and Chapman was laid up for over 3 years.
Restored by Apprentices
Finally, however, the go ahead was given and Chapman was restored by a team of apprentices under the leadership and guidance of Graham Steedman, shipwright and training instructor.
The project was financed by John Parr and his father Bill who proudly re-named the lifeboat Chapman at Hoylake’s annual Lifeboat Day in August 2003.
For the next 3 years Chapman formed part of Wirral’s Historic Warship display in Wallasey until this sadly closed in 2006. A period of storage followed.
With the vision of a Lifeboat Museum finally realised in 2011, Chapman finally returned to Hoylake, 72 years after she left at the end of her RNLI service.
Ready for some refurbishment, the volunteers at Hoylake Lifeboat Museum, under the painstaking leadership of Jon Britton, spent countless hours further restoring the lifeboat over the winter of 2011 and spring of 2012. Some original features were reinstated bringing Chapman even closer to her original appearance.
The Hoylake Lifeboat Museum also unfortunately closed.
A New Home in Lytham
The beautifully restored Chapman is the main exhibit in the new Lifeboat Museum at the Old Lifeboat House, Lytham.
As the oldest surviving example of the Liverpool-class lifeboat, of which around 100 were built, Chapman is of national importance and listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels. It’s a local and national treasure!
John Parr/Steve Williams – August 2015
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