How Selsey RNLI celebrated 150 years of lifeboats in 2011

Ten years ago, Selsey RNLI lifeboat station celebrated its 150th anniversary with a fitting tribute to how it all began.

Friday, 4th June 2021, 3:48 pm

The inauguration of the station’s first lifeboat, called Friend, was re-enacted in June 2011 with a renovated lifeboat from a similar era being pulled around the town by four heavy horses, 150 years to the day after the Friend originally arrived.

Hundreds of people lined the streets to watch as the Queen Victoria lifeboat, which was in service from 1887 to 1902 on the Isle of Wight, was pulled around the town for three hours in the re-enactment. It was even manned by volunteers in period dress, who collected £1,589.37 for the station, with a further £465 raised by Seal Hotel through serving a hog roast.

The original lifeboat Friend was sent to Chichester by train on June 4, 1861, and spent the day at The Cross in the city centre, where volunteers raised money to pay for a shelter to keep it in at Selsey. The following day, it was pulled by four heavy horses all the way to the site of the lifeboat station.

The Queen Victoria lifeboat being pulled through the streets of Selsey in 2011 in celebration of the station’s 150 anniversary. picture: RNLI / Roger Browell

Instead of stationing Queen Victoria at The Cross for the re-enactment, it was instead put on show at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at the Heavy Horse and Working Animals Show, where RNLI volunteers were busy fundraising, just as their counterparts were 150 years before them.

Roger Browell, spokesman for Selsey RNLI, said: “The sun could have shone, but apart from that it was great. We could not have picked a better way to celebrate it, because it absolutely replicated what happened 150 years ago to the day, apart from having the boat at The Cross in Chichester, the compromise being the Weald and Downland Museum.

“It was absolutely brilliant. We set off about midday to go through the streets and quite a lot of people were around, the boys were well fuelled and it took probably three hours.”

When Friend was built it cost £240 and eight shillings, and the volunteers raised a further £194 at The Cross for the boathouse.

The crew of Selsey’s Tyne class lifeboat City of London during a display in July 2005. Picture: Bill Shimmin

For the re-enactment, the Queen Victoria vessel was used as it is almost identical to how Friend would have looked. It has been used all over the country in RNLI celebrations and helped raise £100,000 overall.

It was just a rotting frame when Martin Woodward, chairman of the Isle of Wight Historic Lifeboat Trust, found it on the island in 1989. Its restoration was completed in 1998.

Mr Woodward said: “It reminds people how amazing these old boys were in the old days.”

In its first 150 years, the Selsey RNLI station had 1,871 call outs and saved 584 lives. There were three different boat houses and 11 boats in that time.

The dedication of the D class lifeboat by Father Andy Wilkes in October 2018. Picture: Kate Shemilt

The most recent was the inshore lifeboat D827 Flt Lt John Buckley RAF, which was launched at a naming ceremony on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The boat, named after former RAF equipment officer John Buckley, arrived in the 50th anniversary year of the station operating D class lifeboats.

Selsey launched its current Shannon class lifeboat Denise and Eric in June 2017. Prior to that, it was operating the Tyne class lifeboat Voluntary Worker, which had replaced a similar boat, City of London, in 2005 after 22 years’ exemplary service by the latter.