Lifeboat 150: The ‘Samuel Fletcher’

We recently included an article on the shipwrecks along the Fylde Coast. They have been a feature of life for the people and for the town’s prosperity for hundreds of years. Disasters at sea and the ‘rewards’, either from Sightseers, wreck salvage or from resulting tourism have contributed significantly to the towns prosperity.

In its 150th year, Blackpool Lifeboat enjoys a much praised recorded history. The stories of exploits, tragedies, rescues, lives saved and people involved, are testimony to the courageous work of the volunteer crew of our Lifeboat. Articles, newspaper reports, books and pamphlets and Pathe Newsreels, together with actual accounts and records provide a real insight into the workings, personalities and activities over many generations.

From its humble beginnings, political intrigue, strident personalities, as well as humanitarian motives have played there part in ensuring that those using the sea for work or play, can do so safe in the knowledge that a team is on hand to reduce the risks involved.

This, the first in a short series of articles, doesn’t seek to rewrite or recount what has already been written, it seeks to signpost people to the Legacy of artefacts linked inextricably to the Lifeboat service at Blackpool. It does so by highlighting locations and current situation of many of the items that provide real evidence of our connection with it.

The legacy presented by the many volunteers who work unstintingly fundraising, in the office, shop, the shore crew and the crews themselves are not included, though they are present representatives of the people legacy of the Blackpool Lifeboat.

The first lifeboat, theRobert William’, was launched on 20th July 1864. In service from 1864 to 1885, it was launched 21 times and saved 81 lives.

Samuel Fletcher of Manchester

The second Blackpool Lifeboat, had been paid for at a cost of £398, by a legacy from Samuel Fletcher of Gt Ancoats St, Manchester. Sadly, Mr Fletcher had died intestate, before his dream to provide a lifeboat in Blackpool had become a reality. When his assets were passed to the Crown, Queen Victoria herself decreed that his long time wish was to be fulfilled and she directed that funds from his estate should be appropriated to the RNLI in order to provide a Lifeboat to Blackpool.

The new, 10 oared, self-righting boat was named on a date coinciding with the launch of the new tramway system, in September 29th 1885. The combined event drew a massive audience and the Lifeboats from Fleetwood, Lytham & St Anne’s. The naming ceremony was a grand affair with a procession through the town and no less than 27 Mayors of towns throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire. The Lord Mayor of Liverpool carried out the naming of the ‘Samuel Fletcher of Manchester’.

The ‘Samuel Fletcher’ would have a celebrity career, attending some of the most well known rescues and wrecks of the time, The ‘Bessie Jones’ (1880) when the Coxswain, Robert Bickerstaffe won one of the RNLI highest award, the Silver Medal. Attending the wreck of the ‘Abana’ followed in 1894.

However, its second outing in December 1886 was to the most tragic episode in the history of the Fylde Coast, the ‘Mexico: the Widow Maker’, with the loss of the 14 crew of the St Anne’s Lifeboat and 13 from Southport. The Lytham Lifeboat, having landed the Mexico Crew, put to sea again in dreadful conditions in order to find the long over due St Anne’s Lifeboat. It was joined by the Samuel Fletcher, which was promptly overturned in the wild sea, losing its Coxswain, Robert Bickerstaff. Luckily he was pulled back to safety by other members of the Crew. The St Anne’s Lifeboat was found washed ashore in the midmorning and both boats were recalled.

By 1893, the crew were looking to a new boat with features that made it more stable and safer and with a sail to augment the oars. By 1896 Blackpool had a new up to date ‘Watson Class’ lifeboat. She was also to be called the ‘Samuel Fletcher of Manchester’. In a continuing illustrious career, both Samuel Fletchers attended 17 callouts saving 49 lives between them, including the ‘Foudroyant’ (1897).

She was retireDSC07132d in 1930 and sold to Blackpool Council for £70 and used as a pleasure boat on the Stanley Park Lake. Left derelict for many years in storage, in 2009 she was handed to Sea Cadets at Bispham where she provided a glimpse of real boat handling to the youngsters. There is a hope to refurbish her at a cost of £25,000. Meanwhile, as if in waiting, she sits quietly at the Lightworks depot at Squires Gate. If want more information about the ‘Samuel Fletcher of Manchester’ contact the author.

May 2014

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