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29 October 2014

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You are in: North Yorkshire > Places > Places features > Home sweet home!

Whitby lifeboat station

Whitby's new lifeboat station

Home sweet home!

After two years work and more than £1,000,000 of investment, Whitby lifeboat has a new berth. The town's state of the art lifeboat station is one of the RNLI's most up to date facilities in the country.

It's been a long time coming, but the crew of Whitby lifeboat say they're "delighted" with their new home. It replaces what they describe as their "old tin shed!"

Mike Russell, Coxwain, Whitby lifeboat

Mike Russell, Coxwain, Whitby lifeboat

The new station became operational in August 2007 and is the base for both the town's lifeboats. The 'D-class' inshore lifeboat is kept inside the lifeboat station, whilst the offshore 'Trent' class boat - The George and Mary Webb - is moored outside in the harbour. Coxwain Mike Russell believes the new building will greatly enhance Whitby's role as one of the busiest lifeboat stations in the north of England.

"It's fantastic" says Mike Russell "it's light years ahead of what we had before. We can get straight on the boat now without having to climbing up and down ladders in bad weather. It also means its much easier to get anyone ashore who's been rescued."

Changing room at Whitby lifeboat station

Lifeboat station changing room

Although it's the crew and the lifeboat which are directly responsible for saving the lives of sailors in distress, Mike Russell believes the new building will also make an important difference.

The old lifeboat station was built around 1914 and had been showing signs of its age for some years. The new building has changing and showering facilities, meeting and lecture rooms as well as communications facilities for calling out the crew in an emergency.

View of Whitby lifeboat station's changing room

Equipment in the changing room

Among the new innovations are special lighting circuits designed to help crew members during night time call outs. These red lights are automatically switched on when the crew is paged, so the building is already operational when people arrive. They give crew members enough light to work in and mean their eyes don't need to become re-accustomed to the dark when they go back outside.

The lifeboat station has been built on more or less the same site as the "tin shed" it replaced. One of the most costly aspects has been creating the new platform which the station stands on, above the water in the harbour.

Bearing in mind the location of the lifeboat station - at the heart of one of the most famous and picturesque harbours in the UK - one of the key design priorities was for it to blend in with its surroundings.

Whitby lifeboat station

Whitby lifeboat station

The large, solid oak, doors help retain the impression of old style lifeboat stations where boats were launched from slipways. These doors are much bigger than they need to be. The top half is purely cosmetic, they don't open, but help create the overall look of the building. Three quarters of the station is made of stone from a nearby quarry, the rest is brick with a pantile roof so it is in keeping with nearby buildings.

Whitby lifeboat has a long and illustrious history and is actually older than the RNLI (the first lifeboat station in the town was established in 1802). Coxwain, Mike Russell, is immensely proud of this heritage and has made sure it is reflected in the new building.

RNLI logo

RNLI logo

Inside, lining the staircase will be a photo gallery of former Coxwains. Mike Russell  has managed to get hold of photographs of virtually all the Coxwains from around 1850 to the present day. He says being part of the lifeboat crew is something which "runs in the family" for many people, with several members of the current crew having had fathers, grandfathers, uncles and great uncles who were on the crew before them. "It can be quite emotive" he says "it's there and it always will be I hope."

Mike Russell also seized the opportunity to mark the lives of former crew members. On the north wall of the new lifeboat station - looking out to sea - is a specially commissioned statue of Henry Freeman, one of the town's most famous lifeboatmen.

 Freeman was part of the lifeboat crew for more than forty years and was the sole survivor of the 1861 lifeboat disaster which claimed the lives of the other 12 men on his boat. It was his first day on the crew and he was saved by the experimental cork life jacket he had been given to wear. Freeman was made famous by the work of nineteenth century photographer Frank Sutcliffe.

Richard Sefton with his sculpture of Henry Freeman

Sculptor Richard Sefton

The bronze bust was the idea of Mike Russell, who enlisted the help of friend and sculptor Richard Sefton. He says the bust of Henry Freeman has given him more pleasure than any other piece he has worked on.

"It has been wonderful to work on a real man like Henry Freeman, who was obviously a great character. It has been a joy to do this for the RNLI volunteers at Whitby. I am full of admiration for the work they do."

Whitby lifeboat on exercise

Whitby lifeboat on exercise

The powerful Trent class offshore lifeboat has a range of around 250 nautical miles, so could be called upon to operate up or down a huge stretch of the east coast as well as a considerable distance out to sea. It has two engines, which produce a total of around 1700 horsepower. They give the boat a top speed of approximately 25 knots per hour and it can carry enough fuel for around 10 hours at sea.

The Duchess of Kent gets a warm welcome

Courtesy of the RNLI

The new lifeboat station was officially opened on September 7th 2007 by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, who has a long affiliation with the RNLI at Whitby and has named the lifeboat station's last three lifeboats. She arrived on board Whitby's offshore lifeboat.

Duchess of Kent names Whitby's inshore lifeboat

Courtesy of the RNLI

After unveiling a commemorative plaque and the bronze bust of Henry Freeman, the Duchess named the new inshore lifeboat. It was bought with the proceeds of a legacy from long-time RNLI supporter Miss Olive Stone and carries her name 'OEM Stone III'. Miss Stone, a former headmistress, bought two RNLI lifeboats before her death in 2001, one for the RNLI's relief fleet and Whitby's previous D-class inshore lifeboat.

last updated: 08/04/2008 at 17:14
created: 04/09/2007

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