Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Lifeboat "Louisa" - Lynmouth Station ... the story began on 1st April 1887

A reconstruction of the Lifeboat "Louisa" at Lynmouth

In 1869 the lifeboat station at Lynmouth, North Devon, opened "on the urgent representation of the local residents".  Its first lifeboat was Henry which was a gift from a lady from Yorkshire, in memory of her brother.  It was launched three times and saved six lives; interestingly it cost £234.  A year later a lifeboat house was built on the west side of the harbour, on land granted by the  Lord of the Manor, Robert Roe at a cost of £292.

On 1st April 1887 a new lifeboat was installed, the Louisa.  It was a 34 foot 3 inch self righting boat, with 10 round oars, a 10 foot sliding steel keel, 2 masts, standing lugs and jib with a No. 2 rig.  It was built by Messrs Woolfe & Son, no. W210, at a cost of £298. 14 s and 0d.  It was met by a donation from the Revd Thomas Littleton Wheeler of Worcester.

By 1894 it was off service for alterations, improvements and updates at the builders yard and five years later a roadway was made through the bolders on the beach, to enable the lifeboat to go out at all states of the tide.  This had to be widened and straightened many times to facilitate launches.

The Louisa was launched a total of 14 times between 1887 and 1906 and saved 24 lives, but one of the most remarkable launches in record was to the ship Forrest Hall on 12 January 1899, when the Lynmouth rescued 15.

To read the full story of the rescue, go to: - or read the summary below...

At 16, Andrew Richards's father was the youngest crew member of the original rescue mission. He was presented with a watch in recognition of his bravery and it is now a treasured family heirloom. Mr Richards said of his father: "I think he found it difficult to talk about it. He'd rather talk about the amusing aspects of it than the serious side."

The following extract taken from is from Tom Richards recordings:

"Post Office had a telephone message from Porlock saying that there was a ship in distress, blowing a gale. Maroons set up to call the crew down to the lifeboat house. It was impossible to launch the lifeboat. Dad, Jack Crowcombe and Mr. Peter went back to the PO to decide what to do. Decided to take the lifeboat over to Porlock. People had gathered outside the PO from curiosity; they thought it was foolish to launch from Porlock. A fellow was sent to Lynton for 18 horses, quite an industry up there, and they were tied up to the lifeboat. All the women and kids and men hauled the boat up Countisbury Hill; stopped for refreshments at the Blue Ball Pub at the top of the hill. Women were told to go home and the few men left carried on. Had to break down hedges to get the carriage through. Took 7 foot wide skids with them, pulled the lifeboat over the top of those. Terrible job getting down Porlock Hill. Took part of a woman’s garden wall down; still dark but when she realised it was a lifeboat, she helped them down to Porlock Weir. There they launched the lifeboat. Towed the carriage back to Lynmouth. Went alongside the Forest Hall schooner. Got aboard and helped the crew and landed up in Barry for the night. Sailed back next day; a steamer leaving Barry harbour gave them a tow back to Lynmouth. No lives lost. "

The Louisa was overhauled and stored on 10 August 1906, but was later found to be defective and was broken up on 31 October 1906.  The final lifeboat at the station was Richard Frederick Gainer, which saved 41 lives.  Sadly Lynmouth Station was closed in 1944 and the Lifeboat house was swept away in the great floods on 15 August 1952, when three former crew lost their lives.

So why was the lifeboat named "Louisa"? 
And who was the Revd Thomas Littleton Wheeler?

The Wheelers were an interesting Worcestershire family, including three generations of clergymen.  Allen Wheeler, from Kidderminster and Decima Green were married on 6 January 1769 and had two sons Allen born in 1775 and Thomas Littleton in 1777.   Allen was educated at Wadham College, Oxford achieving a BA in 1798 and was created a Minor Canon at Worcester Cathedral on 19 November 1799 and served there until 1855. He achieved a  BD in 1810 and was Headmaster at the College School (Kings) Worcester from 1820 to 1832.  In addition he was the Precentor at the Cathedral from 1820-1851 and was also Rector of Broadwas in 1821.  When he retired from the Cathedral in 1851, he became Vicar at Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire, until his death on Christmas Day, 1855.

At the East End of Worcester Cathedral a 3 light window commemorates Allen and his son Thomas Littleton Wheeler, who paid for the Louisa.

"To the Glory of God and in memory of Allen Wheeler BD born November 20 1775 and died December 25 1855, Minor Canon 1799-1851, Precentor 1820-1851.  And of Thomas Littleton Wheeler MA born February 22 1806, died April 8 1892 Minor Canon 1833-1877, Precentor 1854-1887."

Allen had married Sarah Harvard in June 1801 and had four children: Allen, Margaret Ann, George Augustus and Thomas Littleton and they were baptised at the Cathedral.

Thomas Littleton himself was Rector of Sedgeberrow in 1851 but by 1861 had moved to St Martins, Worcester.  It was in the 1861 census that Thomas and his wife Ann (Bate) had two visitors staying with them, Elizabeth Loscombe who was 30 and her sister Louisa Clifton Loscombe, who had been born in 1814, in Exmouth , Devon!!  These women had their own monies, and were listed as "fundholders"  and later settled in Worcester.  The women both lived in the College Yard Precinct (near the Cathedral) in 1881 and later in life, in the Bull Ring, St Johns, Worcester, where Louisa died in 1892, aged 78 ... , but was this the Louisa of lifeboat fame?

And to finish the story of the three generations of clergymen, Thomas Littleton had a son Thomas Littleton, who himself was a Canon!

With thanks to:
Barry Cox - Honorary Librarian
West Quay Road
BH15 1HZ
... for help researching the Louisa

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