Burnham-On-Sea Lifeboat History
The first craft to be used for the sole purpose of lifesaving in the Parret estuary and Bridgwater Bay areas was donated by Bridgwater Corporation in 1836 after stark heroism as displayed in the copy of a plaque set out below. Not much is known of this 1st craft except that it was first stored near the Low (Wooden) Lighthouse but later moved to a launching cradle near Burnham Railway Station from whence it ran along the pier railway lines to the water. This same way of launching continued until the lifeboat services were suspended in 1930 after rail services to the pier had ceased for some years and it had become impossible to find crew. This rail line link was first used by the Somerset Central Railway after the Highbridge to Burnham link opened in 1858 for cross channel passengers on steamers such as the Waverley. One such steamer came to grief at Stert Point.
The Second Lifeboat (Name Not Known) Mid-1800s
It is recorded in the book Somerset Harbours by Graham Farr from where some of the this information came that there is some evidence of a second boat being provided in 1847 and in 1848 providing its first service by helping to re-float the stranded Industry from Gore Sands, but any source for this is not recorded.
The Third Lifeboat - The Cheltenham 1866 to 1887
Launched at Cheltenham in 1886, the boat was paid for by the town of Cheltenham Spa to become Burnham's first Royal National Lifeboat and was named after its birthplace. It was some 35 feet long, a standard self-righter, with ten oars and carrying a crew of twelve.
It appears that The Cheltenham may not have had a Coxswain during its first four years of existence, after which Richard Cox took on the duty in 1870 until its replacement. On the Friday before the 12th July 1876, the Cheltenham was taken out from her recently erected boathouse and launched by her 12-man crew under the supervision of Richard for nearly four hours. They pulled the craft about the bay and upstream as far as Combwich watched by many spectators for the shoreline along the rivers Parret, Brue and Steart peninsular. The boat was reported to have behaved admirably and those who saw the event were thought to have had no difficulty in perceiving that she was also efficiently manned.
The following are the occasions when The Cheltenham was called upon:
17 - The Barque "STORM" of Padstow - Stood By
Major Heneage Wheeler, a regular contributor to local papers on many subjects of local history in the 20th century, writing on one occasion recalled, "Relying solely on memory at this long distant date, my list (of crew members) would include: Richard Cox owner of The Fanny (A Holiday Pleasure Boat); 'Long' Fred Cox (a 1st Cousin) and possible his father (Arthur Cox Trinity House Pilot); Captain 'Dicky' Hunt and at least one of his sons; Manley (Not identified); Captain 'Tich' King; and possibly Jack King; Joe Thomas; Gabriel Pople; Albert Harding; Jimmy Dunn; 'Ranker' Counsel; and Clapp the Pilot. To this might possibly be added Parsons (Customs); Clatworthy (Pilot); and Lee (VD)."
The Fourth Lifeboat - John Godfrey Morris 1887 to early 1900s
The Fifth Lifeboat - Philip Beach (Early 1900s)
Burnham's call-out board tells us that this boat was active in the early 1900s. It rescued three people from a ketch called the 'Galley' on December 13th, 1911 and on March 28th, 1916 it rescued two people from the 'Marie Eugenie'.
items survive to commemorate Burnham's Lifeboat services:
Details on this page come from the memories of the living relatives of Richard Cox, Graham Farr's book, and the photograph collection and records of Roy Louis D Cox.
Commemorative Plaque in the Sea Wall
"In commemoration of the humane and intrepid conduct of Charles Hunt, Master of the Fame of this port, Frederick Rees and David Davies, his crew who on the 1st March 1836 after making a most hazardous but unsuccessful attempt to save the lives of the crew of the Margaret and being afterwards joined by James Sharwood and Frederick Coombs, volunteers of equal merit unappalled by intense darkness a tremendous gale and a raging sea, embarked from this beach in a small boat to the rescue of the Master and greater part of the crew of the Moss Rose of Bridgwater which lay wrecked on the Gore Sand, where they must have undoubtedly perished had not the perilous and laudable endeavours of the above named persons through daring assistance happily prevented it. This tablet is erected by subscription as a testimony of public applause and as a stimulus to others on like unfortunate occasions to follow the example of those brave deliverers and to do likewise."
All the above service references are but a very few of a very many incidents that have taken place over the years, the only safety measures before 1836 being provided by the lighthouses, the lights atop St Andrew's church tower and one on the promenade. Before that, a candle in the window of a local fisherman's home to guide him home and the whitewashing of the seaward side of both Berrow and Burnham's church towers.
One unsubstantiated story relates that when the building that existed at the end of Stert point was inhabited, a light was placed in the upper floor window as a shipping guide.
One final reference to lifeboats exists only in the memory of those still living; the Lifeboat Pavilion Café. This existed where the Ritz cinema now stands although the reason why it should have been thus has been long forgotten.
Above: A photograph of the original Burnham BARB rescue boat used in the 1990s and early 2000s.
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