Retaining Heritage: Foudroyant’s Legacy

For sale on Ebay: ‘A Medallion With A Blackpool Connection’.  What on earth is the story behind this token of Blackpool’s maritime heritage?

Indeed, there’s more!  A cupboard and chair made from Foudroyant’s timbers; Walking Sticks; Copper plates and watch fobs; pictures and cards; news articles, paintings, photos and prints, all at surprising prices and available from all over the World.

The message from these adverts is two-fold. On the one hand, the fact that these items are for sale, on the other, at least the memory of Foudroyant lives on, through these artefacts, as does the connection with Blackpool.

Investigation of the connection starts as usual with a look at local newspapers and of course, and internet search.

So what did we find out?

What was the ‘Foudroyant’? 

In fact there were two ‘Foudroyants’. The one with the Blackpool and memorabilia connections is ‘HMS Foudroyant’. Built in Plymouth and launched there in 1798; she was an 80 Gun, ‘Full Rigged’ warship, a sister ship to HMS Caesar and named after the French ship, bearing the same name, captured in 1758 during the ‘Seven Years War’ with France and Spain, during the blockade of the Spanish Port of Cartegena. The name is derived from the French for ‘Thunderbolt’.

HMS Foudroyant had a somewhat chequered service, despite service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, including a three year spell stationed on the River Plate, in Rio de Jeneiro; action in Egypt; Royal visits; Troop Transport; roles as ‘Flagship’; punctuated by long periods in dock for repairs, or service as a Tender or Guard Ship. She was decommissioned in 1812. In her later years she was a Gunnery Training ship and a Naval Training ship. An attached annexe ‘A’ gives details the service history of the Foudroyant. It’s most celebrated role was as Nelson’s ‘Flagship’ from June 1799 until 1800.

In June 1891 she was put on to the Navy’s ‘Sales List’. Bought by J Read of Portsmouth for £2350 and quickly resold to German Shipbreakers, who promptly started dismantling the upper decks,  prompting protests in the press and at the highest levels in the UK. Arthur Conan Doyle resorted to poetry and ‘Punch’ magazine published a follow-up piece ridiculing the Royal Navy decision to sell off the ship.

She was re-bought at a cost of £6,000 and brought to London eventually by Mr Geoffrey Wheatly Cobb, with a plan to redevelop the Foudroyant as a Boys Training Ship, at a cost of £20,000. In order to recoup costs of refurbishment to original design, the ship was to be exhibited at Seaside resorts.

By 1896 the Foudroyant, ‘Nelsons Flagship’ was on tour, carrying a crew of 27, 20 of who were Boy Sailors. On 11 June 1897 lay off Blackpool Promenade, between North and Central Piers, about a mile out. The Gazette & News reported the ‘Man-o-War’ ‘framed in a sea of glass, which was only broken by the fussy passenger steamers’. All setting the scene, for what was to be a short season of attraction for the visitors at Blackpool and an opportunity for Mr Cobb to make a contribution to the running costs of the venture.  The article went on to describe the visit to the ship by the local dignitaries, leaving North Pier in the ‘Clifton’. Commodore G.L. Seed, the Chief Constable and Mr J.L. Smith all munching on chocolate ice cream.

Entry to the ship was a shilling, the Boy Sailors provided a band playing nautical ditties. On the 15th a new venture was tried – Dancing on the upper Deck, by all accounts a great success, promising a lucrative visit to Blackpool, for the owner.

Foudroyant doomed!

On the evening of the 15th , the weather was fine, albeit with a sprinkling of fine rain, but nothing to keep the crowds away.

By 4am on the 16th a rapidly developing storm had blown up, almost ‘out of the blue’. By 6am a ‘an iron chain as thick as a man’s wrist’ had snapped in the weight of the wind and sea, pushing the Foudoyant on to the beach, approximately in line with the end of North Pier, in just 14ft of water. The force of repeatedly ‘bumping’ on the beach, with the ebb and flow of the tide, causing her hull to breach in places, snapping masts and tearing sails,. Now on her side and flooded, about 600 yards offshore she rolled and writhed in the storm tide, which was now ‘sweeping over the Sea Front’.

The Owner and Crew were still on board. At 09.00am they hoisted a Distress Signal and the Samuel Fletcher II was brought from the Lifeboat house on Lytham Road, harnessed up and towed up the Promenade, now crowded by sightseers. The launch was further hampered by waiting for the tide to turn. She launched into a wild surf at 1pm, four hours after being called. Eventually battling through debris, rigging and broken timbers, the ‘Samuel Fletcher’ struggled to stay on station, but managed to scoop all to safety. The full complement of twenty seven and Mr Wheatley Cobb were rescued and brought to shore at about 2.30pm, under the gaze of excited crowds on the Promenade.

image005The following day, the damage was clear. It was possible to climb into the mud caked and battered hulk via a hole created by one of the 32 Pounder guns, which had broken loose on the lower deck. The upper deck was strewn with timber, planking and guns wrenched from their carriages. Nevertheless, the crew attempted to gather their belongings left their in the hurry of escape. One managed to retrieve his Concertina, before the incoming tide of the 18 June washed over her.

image006By the 19th June, prompted by the enterprising efforts of Blackpool’s Marketing Manager, visitors from all over the north were filling trains to see the spectacle and the resort. It hadn’t been a good season until the wreck. The Queens Jubilee year had kept folk at home

Losses for Cobb were estimated at £30,000 and there was no insurance cover. Already there was talk of the value of the remaining hulk and options available: perhaps sold piecemeal- guns, timber, etc. or made watertight and retained as tourist attraction. The Directors of North Pier had a more pragmatic approach; they sought an injunction to have the wreck removed, since if it broke away or broke up further it would pose a hefty threat to the pier structure. By mid July, Foudroyant’s fate was sealed. Cobb had agreed with a Clyde based salvage company to re-float the wreck and tow it away for dismantling. Progress was being made, however, the Foudroyant was not finished yet.

A steam tug, the ‘Anna’, employed to by the salvage company found itself in difficulties during another freak storm and had pulled away from the Foudroyant to anchor offshore to ride out the squall. She was carrying ropes and some of the guns from Foudroyant, with the weight of the wind and tide, she slipped her anchor and drifted to shore. Deluged, she was unable to operate pumps and steam engines and eventually only the mast was visible in the swell. The crew had been taken off by off duty fishermen using a pleasure boat.

The following morning debris and wreckage were strewn along the North beach

In front of the ever present crowds on the North Promenade, another salvage attempt was made in mid August. The ‘Aurora’, a trim, neat 300 Tonner arrived to restart operations, loading more guns, ropes and rigging, timbers and artefacts from HMS Foudroyant. The Aurora was tethered to her broadside and as the tide increased, her moorings gave way and she broke free, bobbing precariously in the swell rolling heavily with every wave until she hit one of the beach banks, rapidly filling with water. As the tide rolled in she was battered against the Sea Wall.  Another thrilling spectacle for the Blackpool crowds.

On the 20 August, the Gazette reported ‘Never has there been a season in which exciting incidents have been so plentiful’

Exciting, but also dangerous. There were a number of accidents involving people getting close to the Foudroyant, and reported in the Gazette: a sailor fell from the wreck; a cannon ball fell from the deck injuring a Policeman and the tragic death of a bystander, reported later in this piece. Latterly, crowds were kept away from the wreck, initially to stop looting, later to reduce risk of injury. However, the Blackpool phenomena of any opportunity to make a shilling, was not to be thwarted and many stands were established close by selling all manner of goods and services.

Now what about those Ebay artefacts, souvenirs and museum pieces? 


Display Case from Foudroyant’s timber

By November of 1897, The Foudroyant was in the hands of Mr Michael Hayhurst of Birkenhead, for just £700. Demolition was planned using Dynamite, however, the weather and tide continued its toll on the ship. Until in August of 1898 more misfortune beset the Foudroyant when, Hayhurst and his young son set charges to demolish the ship. During the explosion a large fragment of wood and copper sailed through the air and caught a female visitor, killing her instantly.

Eventually, the salvageable oak timbers, copper sheeting and bolts from the ship were sold to Cabinet Maker Robert Fletcher of Talbot Road.  The Copper Sheeting from the Hull of Foudroyant was made into many souvenirs, including medals.  In 1901 the Oak was sold on to a Manchester Company: Goodhall, Lamb and Heighway where the oak was turned into furniture. As early as 1899, newspaper report told of the removal and installation of Foudroyants staircase into what was Jenkinsons Café (on the site of what became ‘Rumours’, on Talbot Road). Many of Foudroyant’s artefacts are held at the Nelson Museum, Monmouth. The panelling from the Captain’s Cabin is reputed to have lined the Board Room at Blackpool Football Club.

There are also two paintings of the wreck and its aftermath, one at the Nelson Museum and one held by the Messel Family at ‘Nymans’, a National Trust property in West Sussex. Local resident presented a painting by Charles Simpson to the Borough Library & Galleries Committee, which is still there.

The name ‘Foudroyant’ lives on too in the Training Ship. In 1903 HMS Trincomalee was renamed TS Foudroyant, after the ship she replaced. She remained in service as TS Foudroyant until 1986, after which she was again restored and renamed back to TS Trincomalee in 1992.  Billed as the oldest warship afloat anywhere in the world’, she is berthed at Hartlepool’s Maritime Museum.

Nov 2016

Sources and Further Reading

Acknowledgement:  This piece has been constructed from materials gathered by Tony Sharkey at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library. Without his help this work would have been made difficult.

Where possible, images are included under ‘Creative Commons’ licences

Foudroyant on the Beach – Unknown author, Gazette image

Wreck of HMS ‘Foudroyant’, Blackpool, 1897 at:

Foudroyant Medal, by the Author

Cabinet from Fourdroyant Oak, Nelson Museum, Monmouth by John Cummings at:

Paintings of the Wreck of the Foudroyant at:

Newspaper Reports

Sailor falls from Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘A remarkable number of accidents’, 01/09, p2 col 8

Loss of Aurora and plans for disposal of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘Our latest wreck; and the next’, 21/08, p5 col 6

Court case:
Times, 1897, ‘The Advertising on the Foudroyant’, 04/08, p2 col 9

Fate of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times. 1897, (Editorial comment), 17/07, p4 col 6

Preserving of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Editorial comment), 07/07, p5 col 4

Blackpool Times, Goulden, J., 1897, ‘Lines on the wreck of the Foudroyant’, 30/06, p3 col 9

Ladies Swim to Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Editorial comment), 23/06, p5 col 1

Danger to North Pier:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘What will become of her?’, 23/06, p5 col 1

Account of the loss of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Several headings with picture), 19/06, p8 cols1-6

Newspaper coverage and a poem:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘Our wreck editions’ & ‘Ode to the Foudroyant’,  22/06, p3 col 1

Disposal of the Foudroyant wreck:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘What of the ‘Foudroyant’?’’, & Her owners intentions’, ‘Value of the vessel’, 22/06, p3 col1

Visit to the ship:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘With Lord Nelson’; ‘On board ‘Foudroyant’’, 11/06, p5 col 6

Account of the loss of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Gazette & news, 1897, (Several Headings), 18/06, p8 cols 1-8

Presentation of a Painting:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1943, ‘Foudroyant for the Art Gallery’, 24/07, p1 col 2

Foudroyant’s cable found:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1925, ‘A Nelson relic’ (with pic), 24/02, p7 col 4-6

Foudroyant Supplement:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1921, ‘About our special Supplement’, 13/12, p6 cols 3-6

Staircase to Jenkinsons Café:
Blackpool Gazette, 1899, ‘Jenkinsons developments’, 25/08,  p2 col6

Foudroyant fatality:
Blackpool Gazette, 1898, ‘Foudroyant Fatality: a day trippers sad end whilst watching the ships’, 19/08, p3 col 3

Story of the Foudroyant:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897,‘Story of the ‘Foudroyant’’, 30/11, p3 col 1-4

Wreck of the ‘Anna’:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897, ‘Another Shipwreck The salvage steamer swamped’, 30/07, p8 col 3

Wreck of the ‘Anna’:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897, ‘Another wreck’’, 20/08, p6 col 6

Wreck of the ‘Anna’
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘Our latest wreck’, 21/08, p5 col 6


The literary response to the sale of HMS Foudroyant in :
Doyle, A.C., 1892: The Fighting ‘Foudroyant’, in Peschel B., (et al), 2014, The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes’,  Peschel Press,  Available at: Google Books

Short account of the Lifeboat rescue in :
Morris, J., 2002, Blackpool Lifeboats, Lifeboat Enthusiasts’ Society, Coventry

Lifeboat 150: Horse Hero’s

Much has been written about the heroics and exploits of the Lifeboat’s Crews, and about the good work of Patrons and Volunteers and about the hero’s. However, little is known about the ‘Facilitators’ of those heroic events: the horses used in the launching and recovery of the Lifeboats and the Horsemasters; the ‘Hostlers’; the men responsible for sourcing, harnessing and trecking the horses.

A conversation with Bruce Allen, the man committed to raising awareness of the Blackpool Lifeboat the ‘Samuel Fletcher of Manchester’ (1896-1930), brought my attention to the paucity of information about the Lifeboat Horse-masters. I was intrigued enough to investigate further.

The most common method of launching the Lifeboat, right up to the 1930’s was by Horses, hauling the weighty boats and their trailers across sand and mud to their launch point, often in appalling weather and rough seas. Many horses were lost, swept away by ferocious tides and currents or caught in deep mud. Many of the techniques of haulage by Horse were learned from the experience of pulling heavy artillery though mud and water in World War 1. However, that experience did not take account of Horse procurement, or of working in deep, rough water.

Teams of up to 12 horses had to be found, gathered together, harnessed and led before the Lifeboat could be launched. The Lifeboat Stations had no Horses of their own. On the Fylde Coast, Haulage Contractors, Towlers in Lytham and Thomas Whitesides at St Annes provided the heavy horses under contract and at a fixed rate (2/6p per hour, at St Annes). At Blackpool, the Horses were provided by the Corporation from their own stock, from stables on the site of the Coliseum on Rigby Road. The ‘Merchant Shipping Act, 1854’ had enabled Lifeboat Stations to demand horses to be provided at an Hourly Rate negotiated between RNLI and horse suppliers

The picture is of the Hoylake Lifeboat in about 1920. (at: LINK)
Over the years, Lifeboats were hauled in to the sea by volunteers working alongside the Horses. At St Annes anecdotal evidence suggests  up to 100 ‘Helpers’ were used to get the boat launched, along with a team of horses.. The Isle of Wight’s Brooke Village Lifeboat was launched with ‘the help of thirteen crew members, ten heavy horses and up to thirty helpers. Six horses were needed to launch the boat and ten to recover it when it was heavy with sea water.’  LINK

Records of the Redcar Lifeboat tell of an incident in 1921: ‘Mrs Margaret Emmans was knocked down by the carriage and killed; two other women were injured. They were all helping to launch the lifeboat as no horses were available to pull the carriage.’  LINK

Occasionally the Launch Point was several miles from the Lifeboat Station. The Wreck of the ‘Abana’ in December 1894 required the Lifeboat to be hauled the 7 miles to Bispham before it could be launched in the dark and in the teeth of a storm, and then wait on the foreshore, ready for the recovery. Bear in mind the north of Blackpool was much less developed in those early days, with tracks rather than roads.

One story recounts the Lynmouth Lifeboat, in January 1899, being pulled 13 miles overland. An account describes the action:  ‘This meant using whatever horses and men could be obtained to haul the boat and its carriage (which together weighed about 10 tons) the distance of 13 miles, including climbing up the 1 in 4½ Countisbury Hill, reaching a height of 1,423 feet above sea level, and later taking it down the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill.  20 horses were brought from the local coach proprietor, and six men were sent ahead with shovels and pickaxes to widen the road. The combined efforts of the horses and 100 local men eventually brought the boat to the top of Countisbury Hill, where a wheel came off the carriage and had to be put back on.   4 Horses died, in harness that day.  The story can be found HERE  A superb picture of the ‘Overland Launch’ can be seen HERE

In the early 1900’s, Crews experienced difficulties obtaining sufficient heavy horses, not just to cover ‘Shouts’, but to service the regular training exercises; operating on mud and in deeper water, along with stories of Teams being washed away, there was a understandable unwillingness of owners to release their best horses. Making the work of the Horsemasters that much more difficult.

By the early 1920’s trials of ‘Motorised Tractors’ were taking place, as the shortage of horses threatened the Lifeboat Service. Not until 1930 did the RNLI provide ‘Launching Tractor’ for Blackpool, ending over 100 years of service by Blackpool Horses. There is little by way of record of who the Blackpool and Fylde Coast Horse-Masters were or what their precise duties entailed, but for some of us they must be counted amongst the key Lifeboat personnel of their time. It’s disappointing that records and research on this topic appear to be sparse. My earnest hope is that a future Under Graduate will choose to investigate the role of the ‘Lifeboat Hostlers’ in the not too distant future.

Aug 2015.

Sources and Further Information
Mayes, G.I. & Mayes J.E., (2000) On a Broad Reach: A history of the St Anne’s on the Sea Lifeboat Station 1881 – 1925, Bernard McCall, Bristol.

Forshaw, D., (1992), On those Infernal Ribble Banks: A Record of Lytham St Annes Lifeboats, sponsored by British Aerospace Defence Ltd.

Morris, J., (2002), Blackpool Lifeboats, RNLI

History Heroes RNLI Lifeboats, Nelson, Shipwrecks and more at:

‘THE LIFE-BOAT’: The Journal of the National Life-Boat Institution. Vol. XI. From Feb 1880, to Nov 1882. Published in London  by Charles Knight & Co. Accessed 01/08/2015 at:

Photo’s at:

Overland Launch at:  With a picture at:

Brooke Village story at:

Redcar Lifeboat Incident at:

The Mellings: A lifeboat connection


DSC07670Prior to the installation of the Lifeboat at St Annes, the saving of lives and vessels usually relied on the Fishermen families in St Annes. The Mellings were probably actively engaged in the ‘Lifeboat’ business before there was an official Lifeboat. As well as altruistic motives there was always the prospect of ‘Salvage’. After all, these men had to make a living.

Attached to this page is an account of the contribution made by one St Annes family to the Lifeboat service in that town.

Link to Lifeboat Exploits

Lifeboat 150: The ‘Abana’

In this the second article commemorating the legacy of 150 years of the lifeboat, we look at the first major engagement of the Blackpool Lifeboat ‘Samuel Fletcher’ as she battled through heavy seas to support the foundering Norwegian flagged, 1200 ton barque ‘Abana’.

Sailing from Liverpool, on the 22 December 1894, the Abana was bound for Sapelo, Florida. As she sailed through the Irish Sea off the Isle of Man she encountered a major storm. The same storm had already claimed a Fishing Smack, the ‘Petrel’ off the Blackpool Coast. Mistaking the Tower for a Lighthouse, she first hit North Pier then drifted north with tattered sails. At about 3pm, Little Bispham landlord Robert Hindle, was watching the storm from an upstairs window of the Cleveleys Hotel.

To his horror he was able to see the Abana in great difficulty just off the headland in front of the hotel. He summoned the lifeboat by sending a man on horseback to the Lifeboat Station at Blackpool, located opposite what was the Coliseum. The crew had just returned from rescuing the crew of the ‘Petrel’, washed ashore opposite Uncle Toms Cabin. Within 20 minutes, six horses were harnessed to the Lifeboat wagon and driven at full speed down the lanes to Bispham, arriving and launching some 5 hours later..

image002The rescue was only partly successful, whilst the crew of the Ababa was saved and taken to the Red Lion Inn, Bispham. The ship was lost.

For his part in the rescue, Mr Hindle was presented with the ships bell at a short ceremony, by the ships Captain. Shortly after, the bell was presented to St Andrews Parish Church, in Cleveleys for both safekeeping and as a reminder of the fragility of life at sea. The hulk of the Abana lay rotting and plundered for souvenirs for many years.


The ‘carcasse’ of the Abana

In terms of the legacy of this event the bell can still be seen in the North porch of St Andrews along with a framed citation of the events leading to it being presented to the church. More especially the carcass ribs of the Ababa can still be seen at low tide, just off the promenade at Anchorsholme Park, Cleveleys, quite close the place where the ‘Riverdance’ foundered 110 years later.

June 2014

Lifeboats 150: The story of ‘The Sea Serpent’

Scan.BMPThe history of Blackpool Lifeboat is peppered with heroes. Men who, when called from their ‘proper’ job, risked life and limb for the sake of others. One of these was Jack Parkinson or more properly, Mr John Arnold Parkinson.

‘Jack’ was born in Blackpool in 1874, to John, a ‘Boatman’ and Mary Ann who lived in York Street. Young Jack served his time as a fisherman, in a small craft located near Central Pier. He joined the lifeboat crew in 1894. His father, and brothers were all Lifeboatmen.

As well as a distinguished career as a Lifeboatman, ‘Jack’ had other talents. His real passion was Football and he enjoyed a glittering career in the ‘Beautiful Game’. As a young lad, he played for a number of Fylde Coast Clubs and Liverpool, before moving to Blackpool FC, where he played in over 400 League and Cup matches. He also took a Managers job with Barrow.

Jack’s Lifeboat career lasted for 20 years. It included well known rescues of the ‘Petrel’, the ‘Abana’, the ‘Harriet’, the ‘Maggie Kelson’ and the ‘Rosaleen’. He served on the ‘Samuel Fletcher of Manchester’. His title, ‘The Sea Serpent’ recognises his alternating role of Footballer and Lifeboatman.

In 1910 after a lacklustre period as Barrow’s Manager he was offered and accepted a job as Superintendent at Cocker Street Baths in Blackpool. Within 12 months he would suffer a hero’s death.

On December 11, 1911, a routine Baths maintenance task turned into a nightmare. Baths Engineer Isaac Howcroft went to turn off a hot water valve, located above a boiling hot salt water tank. As he turned the valve, the wooden platform on which he stood gave way and he fell in. Alerted by his screams, Jack raced to help, as did his wife Ada Bessie who worked at the Baths. They attempted to pull Isaac out of the scalding water, as they did so, the platform on which they were standing collapsed too and both Jack and Isaac fell in. Jack struggled in the boiling water but managed to assist Isaac out of the tank, with the help of Ada Bessie. She managed to help Jack out too, but both were badly scalded. They were treated on site since an attending Doctor thought it unwise to move them. Within a week both men were dead.

Jack’s funeral was a grand affair, befitting a Lifeboatman, Footballer and Lifesaver and local celebrity. His coffin was laid on the Lifeboat and trailer, draped with a Lifeboat Flag. The Lifeboat Band played as the cortège moved from his house in Cocker Street to Christ Church, where he had been married only a year before. He was buried in Blackpool Cemetery at Layton. His stone can be seen today as a splendid

The Inquest returned a verdict of ‘Accidental death’ and the Coroner chastised the Borough Engineer for the condition of the wooden joists supporting the platform, which appeared to be ‘rotten’. He was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund awarded Jack a Medal and his wife a small allowance.

DSC07592The London Evening News, of 26 August 1913 reported:

’ A monument is to be erected at Blackpool to the memory of John Arnold Parkinson, who, as superintendent of the Blackpool Corporation Baths, lost his life in attempting to rescue an engineer from a tank of boiling sea water. . Parkinson for many years played as centre half for the Blackpool Football Club. He was also for twenty years a member of the Blackpool lifeboat crew.’ The Monument was never built, but his grave headstone carries the same inscription. John Arnold Parkinson was inducted into The Blackpool Football Hall of Fame when it opened in 2006.It’s ironic that ‘The Sea Serpent’ was destroyed by seawater, however tragic the story.

The author is grateful to the following:

Some accounts of Jacks life at:, where most of this information and more can be found.


Inspiration and picture: Brenda Warburton, Archivist, Blackpool Lifeboat, Interviewed on 09/05/2014

Sept 2014

Lifeboats 150: The story of the ‘Shoeblack’

On a sunny Saturday in August 1906, a young 10 year old Bolton lad, was happily sitting on the beach steps, opposite Cocker Street, chatting with his three brothers and a cousin. All were dangling their feet in the water and enjoying the rare experience of sea water. The water was rough and they were laughing when they were splashed by the spray, watched by hundreds of holidaymakers.

Catastrophe struck when Harry Gradwell stepped down an extra step and was immediately swept off his feet into a deep and angry sea. He struggled in the heavy swell and in no time had disappeared from view.

The brothers and cousin had arrived in Blackpool from Bolton only an hour before for a holiday with his parents.

On hearing the shouts of the boys and of holidaymakers, seventeen year old George Fox, took off his cap, jacket and boots and ran into the rough sea in a vain attempt to save young Harry. He swam strongly but was no match for the turbulent sea and besides, by now, Harry was no where to be seen.

In the early afternoon at low tide, the body was found by a man, Robert Isherwood, a Railway Clark from Manchester who was paddling in the now calm, shallow water. He dragged the body onto dry sand, the Police were called and the body removed.

Whilst George was fighting the tide, an onlooker thief riffled his jacket. The Blackpool Times on 26 August reported that a ‘coward took 3 shillings from his pocket’. George was a ‘Licensed Shoeblack’ working on the Promenade and the 3 shillings was his morning’s earnings.

Georges story came to light when the Coroner at Harry’s Inquest, commented on his bravery, congratulating him on his efforts, while returning a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ on Harry. The Minutes of the Lifeboat Committee record that George’s action should be recognised and ‘sum of £5 out of the Lowe Award and Relief Fund be invested in a suit of clothes, boots, cap, medal bearing a suitable inscription and a sum of money be placed in his name in the Post Office Savings Bank’

In September 1906, George was presented with silver medal by the Mayoress. The chairman of the Blackpool Lifeboat, Rev W Evans, commented on his bravery and hoped for better times ahead.”

The Blackpool Herald that carried the story of the ‘Shoeblack’ incident, also reported the drowning of an unknown ‘one-armed’ man off the Promenade in front of the Tower, just a few days later. He had been ‘boasting that he could dodge the waves’. His body was also recovered by North Pier later that day

Notes, sources and further information:

George Arthur fox, Born 1889 making him 17 at the time of the incident. George lived with his parents and six brothers and sisters at 38 Wood Street South Shore

This incident was recorded in the Blackpool Lifeboat Archive and was reported in the with details supplied by Zena Burslam the Archivist..

Blackpool Lifeboat Committee Minutes of August 28, 1906.

George’s younger brother Horace would die exactly 10 years later, in Abbeville France, serving with the Kings Liverpool Regt. He is commemorated on the Memorial Window at Waterloo School.

Inspiration: Interview with Brenda Warburton, Education Officer Blackpool Lifeboat, May 2014.

Newspaper Reports:

The Blackpool Times, 21 August 1906

The Blackpool Herald, 21 August 1906, p8 Col 5

The Blackpool Gazette, 2 July 2013,

Sept 2014

Our Shipwreck Heritage: Tragedies, Rescues & Profit


The Fylde Coast Shipwreck Memorial, Cleveleys. Photo by the Author.

When writing his ‘History of Blackpool’ back in 1837, Thornber included reference to the shipwrecks along the coast. He commented that ‘…a full list of them would be a very big one’. Indeed, it is recorded that he put his pen down to observe a ship in difficulties off Bispham (Clarke, 1910). After the incident, he was to be instrumental in raising awareness of the need to provide Blackpool with a Lifeboat.

Whilst records and reports clearly feature the ‘celebrity’, wrecks: Mexico (1886), Abana (1894), Foudroyant (1897), Riverdance (2008). There are however, other notable events recorded – the 12 vessels lost in a storm in 1833; the loss of Lifeboats and their crews in 1852 and 1886; and the loss of the Fleetwood Ferry in 1863, fully laden with passengers. We would be relieved to find that all but the Ferryman were saved. There are also 11 vessels listed as ‘Unidentified’, as indeed are, those lost also remain ‘Unidentified’.

The research for this paper included producing a comprehensive list of the 170+ serious incidents and multiple life loss recorded since before 1700. The list will be available at Blackpool’s Central Library.

The list testifies to the fishing families as the main rescuers before RNLI intervention. The list also indicates the volume of traffic along, to & from the Fylde Coast. The cargo types show the dependence of the Fylde area on sea traffic. This coupled with the Shipbuilding and dock facilities at Freckleton, Lytham, Grannies Bay (Fairhaven), as well as at Fleetwood.

‘Those Infernal Banks’ and unpredictable weather, have contributed to the likelihood of disaster. Mayes (2000, p105-108) illustrates the shifting of the banks over a period 1885 to 1919, only adding to the unpredictable nature of sailing this coast. The decline of the ports, legislation, advent of the RNLI and predictable weather have mitigated risks and reduced casualties.

Mention must also be made of the War time rescues, reflecting aircraft ditchings of operational and training flights from the 3 airfields in area. Other wartime records not recorded here are those of Fleetwood Trawlers lost in service and recorded on the ‘Real Price of Fish’ Memorial in Fleetwood Museum. Post war launchings have been directed to mainly leisure craft and people rescues. Fleetwood and fishing all along the coast might have provided Vessel names in the list but there are surprisingly few.

Wrecks are defined in law in Section 255 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, they include the debris of wrecks “jetsam, flotsam, lagan and derelict found in or on the shores of the sea or any tidal water”. Prior to the 1854 Merchant Shipping Act and the appointment of the ‘Receiver of Wrecks’ to protect them from theft, ‘Wrecking’ was seen as contributing to the good fortune and economy of those who lived round the coast. Occasionally, locals enticed ships to founder on banks and shore, in order to pillage their cargo’s. Whilst there is no evidence of that on this coast, in 1839 three Marton men were convicted of theft of silk from the stricken ‘Crusader’. In contrast, there are records of the relief felt by locals when the ‘Happy’ foundered in 1779 providing a bounty of peas to locals suffering from famine at the time.


Coin made from Copper plating of the ‘Foudroyant’. Photo by the Author.

Other commercial opportunities were presented by these wrecks. Enterprising businessmen were able to bid for the carcasses of a wreck to make money from them. Souvenirs like that on the right, cast from the copper from the hull of Foudroyant (wrecked June,1897) and furniture made from the timber, found their way in to shops and market stalls in the town, for the ‘benefit’ of the tourists.

The List also testifies to the bravery of Lifeboats’ Crews in those early years, in open, oar driven boats; often in appalling conditions. A ship in difficulties used flairs to summon help. If help came, it had to come via horse drawn trailers to the sea. There are occasions when it took hours to gather the horses and launch the Lifeboat from points along the coast, not just from the Lifeboat stations. Crew were mainly drawn from local Fishermen, who may have been out fishing at the time of the call.

The Sources used in the research, derive from the internet, local newspapers, the Cleveleys Shipwreck Memorial and historical accounts of the Lifeboat Stations of St Annes, Blackpool and Fleetwood. In one or two cases the author recalls conversations with his Grandfather about adventures of his great grandfather, a crew member and later Coxswain of the St Annes Lifeboat, Henry Melling.

A table is available HERE showing many of the Wrecks on the Fylde Coast.

Our Wreck Heritage offers many more fascinating stories yet to be told and ‘facts’ to be confirmed for someone in the future. My hope is that this article serves as a prompter to that research.

Dec 2013

Sources & Bibiography

Clarke, A., 1910, The Story of Blackpool Lifeboat: a record of Stormwrecks and Rescues on the Fylde Coast, Teddy Ashton Printing Co.

Forshaw, D., 1992, On those Infernal Ribble Banks,: A record of Lytham St Annes Lifeboats, British Aerospace.

Mayes G.I. & J.E., 2000, On Broad Reach: The history of the St Annes on the Sea Lifeboat Station, Bernard McCall, Bristol.

Morris, J., 1981, Blackpool Lifeboat: A Souvenir History, McMillan (Agent for Blackpool RNLI)

Rothwell, C., 2008, Shipwrecks of the North West Coast, The History Press,

Thornber, W. 1985, The History of Blackpool and Its Neighbourhood, The Blackpool and Fylde Historical Society. First published 1937.

Web Bibliography:

Wood, M & J., 1995, ‘A Tale of Two Shipwrecks’, available at: accessed 12 Dec 2013

Shipwrecks Memorial, Cleveleys, available at:, accessed 12 Dec 2013

Wikipedia at:, accessed 12 Dec 2013

Stories and Photo’s available at: accessed 12 Dec 2013

The loss of Fleetwood Lifeboat available at:, accessed 14 Dec2013

Fleetwood Lifeboat available at: , accessed 14 Dec 2012

Losses in Morecambe Bay available at: Accessed 15 Dec 2013

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

Lifeboats 150: The Ladies and the Reverend Gentlemen

The history of the Blackpool Lifeboat is characterised with the ‘manly doings’ and bravery in the teeth of a relentless Sea. However, little is written of the others who, without their intervention, would not have established a Lifeboat at Blackpool, 150 years ago.

This is a story of alternative heroics, how a Preacher Historian, a Congregational Minister and a group of women with foresight, were able to stir a community to found the towns own Lifeboat.

Until the mid 1800’s it had fallen to the fishing families of the town: Bickerstaffes Jollys, Parkinsons, Parrs, Rimmers, Salthouses, Stanhopes and Swarbricks to launch their boats in order to save lives, vessels and cargoes. All too often and in spite of their best intentions, rescue efforts were uncoordinated and dependent on who and what boats were available at the time. The prospect of a fully functioning coordinated service was some time away. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a groundswell of opinion in favour of a ‘Lifeboat Service’. However, it took a series of disparate events to prompt effective action.

In 1837, The Reverend William Thornber, Vicar of St John’s, Blackpool, was engaged in writing his ‘Historical and Descriptive Account of Blackpool and it’s Neighbourhood’. Coincidentally, he had been writing about the shipwrecks along the Fylde Coast, when looking from his window, he noticed a commotion in the sea opposite. He put down his pen and ran down to the beach to witness the grounding of a brig on the sandbank. He was probably witnessing the wreck of the ‘ROYAL OAK’, in November 1837. She was inbound for Liverpool from Carrickfurgus. Following the incident, he persuaded the Liverpool Dock Commissioners to contribute £20 towards the £100 required to fit out a Lifeboat.

At about the same time, The Reverend Richard Raby Redman of Victoria Congregational Church, raised the issue of need for a lifeboat with his congregation. A visitor, ‘Mrs Browne, of Manchester’, heard the impassioned plea for the establishment of the Lifeboat and ‘showed a deep interest’ in the idea. She immediately contributed £100 ‘to assist any local fund to be formed’. Another initially anonymous lady and her daughter pledged a further £250. The Lady and her daughter were revealed to be Mrs and Miss Hopkins, widow and daughter of the late Robert William Hopkins of Preston. Miss Atherton of Manchester donated a further £100. Mrs Eccles of Blackburn, provided the land onto which would be built the first Lifeboat Station, in Lytham Road.

In March of 1864, a ‘Lifeboat Committee was formed and by May of that year a Coxswain appointed, Robert Bickerstaffe. The first lifeboat , built by Forrestt of London and transported free by the London & North Western Railway, was launched with great ceremony on July 14, 1864. It’s name reflected the generous donation of Mrs Hopkins and her daughter, it was called the ‘Robert William’ and by September of that year was facing its first challenge, in the teeth of a howling gale, the Robert William set out to the aid of the Brig ‘St Michael’, foundering whilst on its way from Le Havre to Fleetwood, rescuing fourteen crew from the wrecked vessel. From then on the Blackpool Lifeboat would rescue 163 seafarers on 121 ‘shouts’ and all thanks in part to ‘The The Ladies and Reverends’.

Sources and further information:

Morris, J.P., (c1974), Blackpool Lifeboats: A Souvenir History, McMillan Martin Ltd

Morris J., (2002), Blackpool Lifeboats, Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society, Coventry, including Jeff Morris, David Forshaw and Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society for permission to use photographs from the book.

Kilroy, F., (1995), The Ladies: A Century of Service, at Blackpool Central Library at: LN434

Clarke, E., (1910), The Story of Blackpool Lifeboat: as well as some account of the Fleetwood, Lytham & St Annes Boats, Teddy Ashton Printers Ltd.

Collins B., ‘Women got Blackpool its first Lifeboat’, Evening Gazette, 29/09/1961, p8, Col 1

Author not known, ‘A Lifeboat at last thanks to the ladies’, Evening Gazette, 24/07/1964, p20 Col 1

Brenda Warburton, RNLI Blackpool,  for additional material and photographs


  1. ‘Off to the Rescue: The Blackpool Lifeboat Robert William off to the Bessie Jones’ from Clarke above, which includes a full reference.
  2. The Robert William at Sea, original source unknown. This picture extracted with permission from

This article was originally published in ‘Blackpool Heritage’, Issue 8 – December 2014 and updated on 1 November 2020.


Sept 2014 & Nov 2020