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:

Mum and the ‘Clubs’: an affectionate look at Blackpool’s ‘Clubland’

‘Clubland’ refers to those Working Men’s and Social Clubs that provided entertainment on a grand scale, in Blackpool for over 150 years. Some still do.

Prompted by a tenuous link with Clubland, this piece worked its way on to the page. The link is through my Mum’s ‘work’ in the 50’s through to the 70’s, in those clubs. She was a Singer, in fact at 91, she can still ‘belt it out’ at any given opportunity.

The clubs provided a small income to supplement the income of a family of 8. Initially, Mum would have the family bathed and ready for bed when Dad came home from work, he would babysit while Mum travelled to and from the Club by bus. Later, we had Baby-sitters, my Grandad, or Aunties or Uncles, but as we got older, my Sister and I took charge when Mum set off with Dad driving, to entertain the demanding audiences in ‘Working Men’s Clubs’. Dad in the audience.

Mum 1950, Carrol Levis Audition

Mum in her Heyday

Until the research for this piece I knew only the bare essentials: they were for working men; that the audiences were hard work; but they provided a grounding for some of the most famous UK acts in the business, among them, Jimmy Tarbuck, Roy Castle, Frank Carson and many, many others, all of whom cut their teeth entertaining the Blackpool crowds. At one stage Roy Castle’s name on the bill was at the bottom, Mum’s at the top!

Work was found by going to ‘Auditions’ where the Concert Secretaries of the Clubs met and, as a group, tested the ability and capability of the Artiste, then booking the artiste if they thought they had a chance against the noisy but well meaning crowds at their club. My Mum survived singing in Clubs for over 25 years, singing songs from the shows, light opera and pop-songs that
were within her range, or those popular with the audience. She did so whilst bringing up 6 kids, having 4 of them over the same 25 years. Mum went on to appear on Television, returning always to the Club stage.

The Clubs that she loved and hated simultaneously, fell always into only 2 categories the good ones and the bad ones. The good ones, where the pay was good and the audiences appreciative, and the bad ones, where the reverse was true. My memories are of her talk of favourite Concert Secretaries, Accompanists, Bands and Clubs’ names. When she wasn’t shouting at the kids, she sang all the time, no doubt rehearsing the next new song.

For over 60 years, until the late 1970’s, The Empress Ballroom and the larger Clubs hosted the ‘Command Performance of Clubland’. Stars from throughout the year were invited back for the biggest Blackpool showbiz event of the year. Mum regularly appeared and occasionally starred.

But what of the Clubs themselves? They began to emerge as places of entertainment for a working class with a little disposable income. Often built and run by the men themselves as an antidote to the entrepreneurial offers available at the time, although some sought Patrons to provide initial funding and association with a ‘Name’. The rise of unionism and new ideas of self-determination, encouraged both social cohesion and enterprise, giving the Working man an opportunity to contribute to the welfare of his local mates. The clubs were run by a Secretary, with an elected committee and Officers. They would have the power and the subscriptions to book and pay for entertainers to perform in their establishments.

CIU LogoThe Working Man’s Club ‘movement’ leapt forward with the formation of the The Working Men’s Club & Institute Union (CIU) in 1862 by the Rev Henry Solly, a Unitarian Minister, supported by local dignitaries and Politicians, specifically ‘to encourage self-improvement and promote temperance among working men’. For over 150 years, the ‘Union’ provided, and still does, guidance on the setting up and running of Clubs. Affiliation, meant that Members could visit any club in the Union.

The Temperance lobby was strong at the time and members, and their families, were pleased to be seen as contributing to and benefiting from the cause. It did not last, the growing prosperity of the members and their clubs enabled choices to be made as to whether drink would form part of the entertainment. Committees soon realised that to buy beer in bulk and to sell volume relatively cheaply would generate profit and benefit for the members.

By 1865, the CIU Allowed clubs to decide their own path and the majority settled for a not-for-profit bar for the benefit of Members only and the surpluses to be ploughed back into the Club. A Royal Commission and a consequent ‘Friendly Societies Act’ of 1875 sought to regulate clubs, protect members from exploitative activities of those in charge, enabling them to hold property and pay benefits to sick and infirm members.

From the few dozen Clubs in the early days through their supremacy in the 1970’s when there were over 4000 ‘affiliated’ Working Men’s Club to the present day when there are about 1900 throughout the UK.

Blackpool, as a centre of entertainment, was host to many Clubs, some still in existence. The oldest, the No1 or Bloomfield Club, recently celebrated its 150 anniversary. The Central Library local history archives has a programme for the Club’s Golden Jubilee (at LT94(P)), with a fascinating history of the Club and its changes of location, name and activities.

The largest by 1954 was the Central Club, formerly the Blackpool WMC. The Blackpool Directories perhaps tell the growth story best: in 1924 there were 7 Clubs listed, in 1929 it was 9. By 1934, Barretts Directory records 22 Clubs, excluding Sports, Church, Political Clubs and British Legions. The local press bears witness to the evolution of Clubland, recording formation, acquisitions, amalgamations and changes of name and location.

Appendix ‘A’ provides a list from those Directories. Many in the list will be instantly recognisable today. They are for me!

Appendix ‘B’ provides images of Membership Cards and Rule books from Blackpool Clubland available in The Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library,.

The place of Clubland in Blackpool’s Heritage can not be over stated. Over the years, they provided, entertainment, employment and a vibrancy to the Town, as well as a welcome break from drudgery of work for both men and for women. The paucity of research on the Clubland scene in Blackpool demands that this sector is taken into account in the assessment of Blackpool as the leading UK centre of entertainment. I can only hope that the planned Museum will initiate that research, or at least a bright young Undergraduate might see the potential for a Final Year Dissertation.

Jun 2015

Sources & Further Reading

Cherrington, R., 2012, ‘Who cares about Working Mens Clubs’, available at:

Cherrington, R., 2012, ‘What is the CIU’, The Club Historians, available at:

Blackpool Clubs at:

Cherrington, R., 2012, Not Just Beer and Bingo! The Social History of Working Men’s Clubs’,

Tremlett, G., 1987, Clubmen: the History of the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union, Secker & Warburg.

‘Command Performances of Clubland’, Cyril Critchlow Collection, Blackpool Central Library. An Index is at:—November-2012-%5BPDF-173MB%5D.pdf

Fylde Coast Heritage Links and Resources

Just a selection of Links available, explore them by clicking on them. If you have others please add to the list:

General Links:
‘Amounderness’ Website
‘Amounderness’ Resources
John Ellis Lancashire History Blog

Facebook Links:
Old Fylde & Wyre
Blackpool’s Past 
Blackpool Heritage Champions
Lytham St Annes Past 
Fleetwood Trawlers Past
Poulton Wyre Railway
Marton’s Past
Poulton Le Fylde’s Past
Layton Blackpool Past & Present
Bispham Past & Present
Blackpool Hotel & Catering Students Society
Thornton Cleveleys’ Past
Blackpool Old Shops, Old Pubs, Old Clubs
Blackpool Trams & Buses
Blackpool Treasure Trove

Blackpool Links:
Blackpool Heritage News
Blackpool Heritage Tours
Blackpool Council – Heritage
Blackpool Heritage Open Days
Nick Moore’s Fabulous Resource – ‘Progress – A History of Blackpool’
Blackpool Civic Trust
Blackpool Heritage Trail
Blackpool Seaside Heritage
Blackpool Heritage Attraction – Museum
Blackpool Gazette ‘Then & Now’ Feature
Blackpool Gazette ‘Memory Lane’ Feature

Fylde Links:

Wyre Links:

Special Interest Links:
Lancashire Family History & Heraldry Society
Fylde History Network
Fleetwood Trawlers – Bosuns Watch
Fleetwood Maritime Heritage Trust 
Friends of Layton Cemetery
Friends of Stanley Park
Winter Gardens Trust Link not working
The North West Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Report –
Chapter 4 includes Fylde Coast
Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team: Air Crash over Blackpool 1942
Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team: Bombers in the Marsh
Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team: Freckleton Air Disaster
Wyre Archaeology
The Fylde & WyreAntiquarian Blog