Public interest in the creation of lifeboats was initially aroused towards the end of the 18th century, following the wreck of the “Adventure” off South Shields in County Durham. Through the efforts of Sir William Hillary, T. Wilson and G. Hibbert, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute was formed in 1824.
As an Institute dedicated to rescue and saving lives at sea, it has historically and still continues to rely on voluntary subscriptions.
An important element of the lifeboat was that it would be self-righting (if capsized, it was designed to right itself). The first of this type of vessel was built in 1849 with design elements created separately by Henry Greathead and William Woodhave.
Looking to events closer to home, in 1838, a silver medal was awarded to Lt E.B. Westbrook RN for saving three men from the rigging of the sloop “Anne” that ran aground and sank in Chichester Harbour on November 30, 1837. It became increasingly evident that some thought was needed regarding the establishment of a local lifeboat service.
In 1861 the lifeboat station was first established at Selsey, costing £19 to erect. At this time Selsey was described as being a poor fishing village, supported by Chichester. The lifeboat service was established for the “protection of the crew of vessels which get stranded on the Ower’s Bank, and other shoals in the neighbourhood of Selsey Bill”. Its first boat, a double-banked 35 foot long boat with 12 oars, had cost £180. First exhibited in Chichester, it was later drawn on its own carriage to Selsey.
Selsey had two lifeboats between 1894 and 1896, the larger “Lucy Newbon” for the outer shoals and the smaller “John & Henry Skynner” for inshore work. Trials showed that the larger boat could do both types of work, so the smaller boat was subsequently withdrawn.
In 1908, 57 people were brought ashore from the Southampton steamer “Queen” which had been on a day trip to Brighton when the weather deteriorated.
In 1920 a new lifeboat house and slipway was constructed at a cost of £200. During the Second World War, the lifeboat, then a Watson-class lifeboat “Canadian Pacific”, was launched at least 50 times including to rescue five downed pilots. Squadron-Leader John Peel commanding the 145 Squadron at Tangmere was himself rescued on July 11, 1940. By the 1950s, due to coastal erosion, the lifeboat house and slipway needed to be replaced.
Reconstructing the lifeboat station commenced in 1958 and was completed at a cost of £75,000 in 1960. It was opened on July 18 by the Duke of Richmond. Over the years, the lifeboat house and slipway has been utilised by several film and TV crews in the production of adverts including Timex watches and Fisherman’s Friend, as well as being used in TV shows and films such as the 2008 Sherlock Homes movie.
On the night of September 9, 1983, a crew of six from the yacht “Enchantress” of Hamble, which ran aground off Selsey Bill, were rescued by crew from the Selsey lifeboat station. Between 1984 and 2005, the lifeboat stationed at Selsey was called “City of London”. In recognition of this, on July 12, 1985, ten lifeboat men and committee members were admitted to the freedom of the ‘City of London’ in a ceremony at the Guildhall, London.
In 2010, the Selsey lifeboat was recognised by the RNLI trustees as having completed 150 years of service and over that time had earned eight medals; five silver and three bronze.
A decision to replace the lifeboat station was made in 2015 after a Shannon class lifeboat was allocated to Selsey. The Shannon type of lifeboat is launched from the beach, unlike the previous lifeboats assigned to the lifeboat station. Construction of the new onshore boathouse started in in April, 2017, around 3,000 people came to witness the last launch from the boathouse and slipway; it was then demolished in June/July of the same year. After extensive training the station’s new lifeboat ‘Denise and Eric’ was placed on service in July, 2017, and was officially named on September 21, 2017.
Between 1960 and 2017, there had been 972 launches which saved the lives of at least 350 people.
All images courtesy of Selsey RNLI.
By Pat Saunders, Volunteer and Amy Roberts, Collections Officer The Novium Museum