Lowestoft is one of the oldest lifeboat stations in the British Isles. It was founded in 1801, 23 years before the lifeboat service itself was established. The first lifeboat at Lowestoft was built by Henry Greathead who, 12 years before, had built for South Shields the first lifeboat of all, the famous Original. Six years later Lowestoft took her place in the history of the lifeboats by having the first sailing lifeboat. This lifeboat was built for the Suffolk Humane Society by Sparham of Lowestoft, under the superintendence of Lional Lukin a London coachbuilder, and was named Frances Anne (Greathead’s had all been rowing boats). The Frances Anne was the first of the great fleet of sailing lifeboats that served on our coasts for over 140 years. It was not until December 1948 that the last of them was replaced by a motor lifeboat. The Frances Anne served until 1850. She rescued some 300 lives. Then, five years later, the station came under the control of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
A second lifeboat station was established in 1870 but it was closed in 1912.
Three names stand out in those 150 years of Lowestoft’s lifeboat records. The first was Robert Hook. He was coxswain for 30 years, dying in 1911 at the age of 83, and he twice won the Institution’s Silver Medal for gallantry. The second was John Swan, who was coxswain from 1911 to 1924 when he retired at the age of 72. He won the Institution’s Gold Medal (the VC of The RNLI), it’s Silver Medal twice and the medal of the Order of the British Empire. The third was Albert Spurgeon, who succeeded Swan as coxswain in 1924 and retired in 1947. He won the Institution’s Silver Medal and twice won the Bronze Medal.
The Lowestoft lifeboat Michael Stephens was among the 19 of the Institution’s boats, which went over to Dunkirk in 1940 to help in bringing off the British Expeditionary Force, her crew was officers and men of the Navy. The Michael Stephens worked in Dunkirk Harbour itself, carrying men through the crowded darkness to the ships outside. She was twice rammed by motor torpedo boats but she went on with her work and returned to Dover under her own power.
Gold Medal awarded to Lieut R B Matthews RN, for the rescue of the master and six men by Manby Mortar Apparatus from the vessel Lord Duncan on 12 October 1827. Lieut Matthews had now been instrumental in saving 31 lives since he had been in the Coastguard.
Silver Medal awarded to Lieut J C Evison RN for the rescue by Manby Mortar Apparatus and boat of the master, mate and a seaman from the Sloop William and Ann on 8 January 1834.
Silver Medal to Lieut R Joachim RN for rescuing the crew of three from the sloop Janet and the crew of six from the sloop Venus on 18 February 1836. The crews of 15 other vessels stranded between Lowestoft and Kessingland were saved by Manby Apparatus.
Silver Medal to Mr F Stannard, master of the schooner Glenmoriston, for rescuing the Master of the schooner William and Mary on 12 May 1853. The William and Mary had run into an anchored vessel, stoved her bow and sunk. Two men had been able to board the billyboy Lily, with which they had been in contact, but two drowned.
Station came under control of Institution.
Silver Second-Service clasp awarded to Lieut Joachim for rescuing the crew of eight from the brig Dronningen of Norway which ran aground in an easterly gale on Holm Sand on 7/8 October 1854.
Silver Third-Service clasp to Captain Joachim RN for when with a crew of 19, he manned the lifeboat and rescued the master and seven men of the brig Tennant, which was driven onto Newcombe Sands on 5 January 1857.
Silver Medals awarded to Coxswain N Colby, R Hook, F Smith, J Butcher, W Rose, A Mewse, T Liffen and R Butcher for their general gallant services in saving life and also for rescuing in a heavy gale the crew of 14 from the steamer Shamrock on 1 November 1859.
Silver Fourth-Service clasp to Captain R Joachim RN, when the lifeboat rescued the crew of seven from the pilot cutter Whim and then rescued the crew of 11 from the lugger Saucy Lass in a heavy gale near Holm Sand on 14 November 1861.
Silver Second-Service clasp to Coxswain R Hook for rescuing the crew of 10 from the Norwegian vessel Expedite on 13 November 1872. The Expedite had gone ashore on Holm Sand in a gale and had dismasted. This was an extremely dangerous rescue as the lifeboat had to approach the wreck among her fallen masts and yards in heavy seas.
Silver Medal awarded to Mr G Hall, master of the fishing boat Trial for going along a hawser from the shore at great risk and bringing safely to land one of the crew of the schooner Prosper which had stranded off Lowestoft during a heavy north east gale on 28 October 1882. The Master and two of the crew had managed to reach land by means of the hawser but the other man was unable to do so, being totally incapacitated by illness.
Gas service provided.
Silver Medals from the Austrian Government were presented in August to the men who had manned the lifeboat in January 1866 and rescued the crew of the brig Osip of Fiume. The delay in recognition by the Austrian Government was the result of wars between Austria and Prussia and Austria and Italy, and her subsequent defeat. For more information see The Story of Lowestoft Lifeboats Part 1 by Jack Mitchley.
Water service provided.
Co-operation of harbour tug to tow lifeboat £1 10 0d in summer, £2 5 0d in winter.
Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain J Swan in recognition of his gallant services in rescuing the crew of nine hands of the minesweeper HMS Condor which was totally wrecked off the Newcombe Sands in a very heavy sea on 22 November 1914.
Silver Second-Service clasp to Coxswain J T Swan and Bronze Medal to Second Coxswain George Ayers in recognition of the rescue of nine from HM Sloop Pomona which was wrecked in a whole gale and very heavy sea on 30 September 1918. Two of the crew were over 70, 12 over 60 and the remaining four over 50.
Gold Medal awarded to Coxswain J Swan, Silver Medal to Motor Mechanic R Scott Bronze Second-Service clasp to G Ayers and Bronze Medals J Rose, H Allerton, J Ayers, W Butcher, C Mewse, A Spurgeon and F Swan for rescuing 24 men and a black kitten when on service to the steamer Hopelyn wrecked on North Scroby Sands on 19/21 October 1922. Also awarded for this service, Gold Medal to Coxswain W Fleming, Gorleston lifeboat and Bronze Medals to his crew of 15. Commander E S Carver, Divisional Inspector received a Silver Medal.
Silver Medal to Coxswain A Spurgeon for the rescue of the crew of three of the sailing smack Lily of Devon, on 21 November 1927. This rescue was carried out with great promptness and courage in the face of the greatest danger.
Bronze Second-Service clasp awarded to Coxswain Albert Spurgeon for the rescue of the crew of 10 from HM Minesweeper 106 on 30 September 1943. As the lifeboat moved out of the harbour lit by a searchlight, the light was switched off and for the first moment of darkness Coxswain Spurgeon was blind. In that moment the boat struck the pier and he was flung against the binnacle and his jaw cut open. Not until nine hours later was he able to go to hospital where he had eight stitches put in his jaw. He was at that time a man of 63 (he won a Bronze Medal as a crewman at the Hopelyn service in 1922).
A 150th Anniversary Vellum awarded.
Bronze Medals awarded to Coxswain/Mechanic Thomas Victor Knott and Second Coxswain Peter Gibbons, when the lifeboat saved the yacht Sarina and her crew of four. The yacht was dragging her anchor cable in heavy surf towards the shore half a mile north of Benacre Ness in a north easterly gale and a very rough sea on 13 April 1974.
Bronze Second-Service clasp awarded to Coxswain/Mechanic Thomas Victor Knott in recognition of his courage and determination when he put out in the pilot cutter Vivid with his son Michael as Coxswain and, during the rescue of three of the crew of the tug Burkis which had capsized near Ness Buoy one mile east of Lowestoft harbour, entered the sea with disregard for his own safety and made two attempts to save a fourth member of the tug’s crew in a light north easterly breeze and a slight sea on 16 August 1976. Michael Knott was awarded a Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution.
Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution awarded to Second Coxswain John W Catchpole in recognition of his commendable actions when the lifeboat landed the crew of five from the Panamanian Coaster Avenir in a strong north easterly breeze and very rough seas on 16 April.
A new Tyne class lifeboat, ON1132 Spirit of Lowestoft was placed on service Nov 1987. The lifeboat was funded by the Lowestoft appeal and other gifts and legacies.
Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain John Catchpole in recognition of the courage and seamanship displayed by him when the lifeboat rescued the crew of five of the coaster Medina D which had run aground and was sinking on the south side of the Corton Channel in a strong east-south-easterly gale and heavy breaking seas on 19 October 1988. The Maud Smith award for 1988 was also made to Coxswain Catchpole for this service.
A Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution was awarded to Coxswain J Catchpole in recognition of his skill and seamanship, when the crew of two from the trimaran Vidam were rescued and the craft saved in a north easterly Force 7 Near Gale and very rough seas at Holm Sands on 5 July 1989. Second Coxswain/Mechanic S Coleman was also awarded a Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution for the risk he took in jumping on board the casualty, without any concern for his own safety, and securing a tow.
Bronze Medal awarded to coxswain and sole crew member Shane Gordon Coleman of the Lowestoft Pilot boat, (also Second Coxswain/Mechanic of the Lowestoft lifeboat) in recognition of the high standard of seamanship, determination and gallantry displayed by him when he rescued the crew of three from the tug Impulsion, which was sinking in a position about half a mile west of the West Holm buoy in storm force south-westerly winds following a collision with a coaster on the night of 26 January 1990.
A Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution was awarded to Second Coxswain/Mechanic Shane G Coleman in recognition of the courage he displayed when the crew of two from the yacht Haura were rescued and the craft was saved on 4 July. The yacht was out of control on the edge of Newcombe Sand in a south-south-westerly gale and rough breaking seas when he was transferred to the Haura and assisted a crew member from the Southwold lifeboat with lowering the yacht’s sails and securing a tow.
Bronze Second-Service clasp awarded to Coxswain John Catchpole and the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum accorded to Second Coxswain/Mechanic Shane Coleman when three people were rescued from the yacht Red House Lugger and the vessel saved after being in difficulties 30 miles south east of Lowestoft in rough seas, an estimated 20 foot swell and storm force winds on the 29 August 1996.
New shore facility completed November.
Bicentenary Vellum awarded to the station in celebration of 200 years of service.
The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to Coxswain/Mechanic John Fox in recognition of the courage, professionalism, determination and boat handling displayed when the lifeboat under his command saved the lives of three men. The men were the crew of a fast rescue craft from the MV Putford Apollo, which was hard aground on a breakwater at Ness Point during the evening of 13 November 2009. The service was conducted close to a rocky breakwater in rough seas and force 7 south easterly winds.
The new Shannon class lifeboat ON1312 Patsy Knight was placed on service on 2 October. This lifeboat was funded by the generous legacy of Mrs Patsy Knight together with another legacy. Lifeboat ON-1132 Spirit of Lowestoft has been withdrawn.
Thirty-nine medals have been awarded, two Gold, 21 Silver and 16 Bronze, the last being voted in 1997.