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Grimsby & Cleethorpes Lifeboats ~ A Brief History

A Brief History of the Lifeboats of Grimsby / Cleethorpes on the River Humber
Here’s the story of the first ever official lifeboat at Grimsby and Cleethorpes on the River Humber including a great old photograph which resonates with an old article . . .

Being on the East Coast of Lincolnshire, with Grimsby once being the largest fishing port in the world and Cleethorpes being a popular seaside resort for over a century, it’s easy to see why there’s a strong affiliation with lifeboats and the brave men who crew them.

In 1824 the British Isles had 39 operational lifeboats at various coastal locations, 25 of which were funded by the shipping insurance company Lloyds of London and the rest were bought and supported by local charitable and private subscriptions - enter Sir William Hillary.

Sir William Hillary appealed to the nation in 1824 for donations in order to set up a national network of lifeboats which would be on call 24 hours a day it was the beginning of what went on to become one of Britain’s most famous and well supported charities
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution or RNLI, the initial ups and downs of which are well documented elsewhere on the internet.

The Odd Fellows Lifeboat for Cleethorpes
Seen here on display in 1868 in Grimsby’s Old Market Place

In 1810 there was a lifeboat station at Spurn but this provided only a token measure of cover for the countless fishing smacks which bravely battled the storms of the North Sea.
It covered a very limited area as the lifeboats were powered by oars and the nature of calls meant they were needed in the worst of weather so it was often all the lifeboat crews could do to get home safely themselves - courage beyond imagining for a modern generation.

A series of losses around the Grimsby And Cleethorpes coastline increased demand for a dedicated station and eventually that call was answered and Cleethorpes was chosen to have its own Lifeboat Station.
A decision which has saved many lives and one which owes a large debt of thanks to some old friends of the site - The Cleethorpes Odd Fellows

In a quirk of fate The Manchester Unity Friendly Society (head office if you will for the Odd Fellows) were already discussing the possibility of donating a lifeboat to the RNLI but were undecided on the best location, various entreaties were sought until finally it was agreed that Cleethorpes was their favoured location and provision made for a donation of £520 to be paid to the RNLI for the purchase of a lifeboat and a further £620 for the building of a Lifeboat Station.

Little did they know that similar discussion were already taking place at the RNLI headquarters in London

The Cleethorpes Lifeboat Being Launched as Seen Today
I took this early one dramatic looking Sunday morning on Cleethorpes Sea Front

At the turn of 1868 the two groups came together and the Odd Fellows commissioned the whole thing through the RNLI on the terms mentioned above.
A boathouse was built near the Brighton Street Slipway and the building of a purpose built boat was commissioned and built by James Woolfe of Shadwell in London.

It was ‘State of the Art’ at the time and was of the ‘Self Righting’ design and drew great interest before even reaching Lincolnshire.
Crowds watched it being ‘Sea Trialled’ on the Thames, it then went on display at Crystal Palace before being given a Royal Audience when it went on display at Windsor as part of Prince Alfred’s birthday celebrations!

It was finally loaded onto a flat bed train carriage at Kings Cross bound for Grimsby.

On the 17th of August 1868 six huge horses were hitched to the lifeboat’s carriage and it made it’s way in procession to Cleethorpes accompanied by brass band and cheering crowds.
It’s worth pointing out that this enthusiasm would have been fuelled by the dark fact that such was was number of local fishermen lost at sea few families would not have suffered the loss of a close or distant relative to the sea.

50,000 people were said to have been there when the lifeboat was eased down the slipway, into the water and the vessel officially named Manchester Unity by a Miss Walker who was the daughter of the Grandmaster of the Oddfellows.

It saw the start of countless acts of absolute heroism from the Lifeboat Crew Members who risked their lives time and time again in order to save the lives of others.
They were heroes back in days when heroes truly did heroic and selfless deeds

So there we are, the story of the first lifeboat to be stationed in this area and the start of something which remains in place to this very day.

Spare a thought for the tremendous act of generosity bestowed on the town by the redoubtable Odd Fellows with a truly eye watering sum of money at the time.

Spare more than just a thought for those men who took that boat out on nights when most of us today wouldn’t even leave the house - the acts of sheer bravery witnessed by that boat are beyond our comfortable imaginings and at a time when heroes truly were heroes.

Respectfully yours,


  1. v said,

    June 10, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

    There are many aspects to this wonderful article Rod.

    Firstly, the selfless acts of these volunteers which continues today. Lifeboat men and mountain rescue teams, selfless volunteers .

    Next, the lives lost at sea lifeboat men and fishermen and the subsequent effect on families. There were no benefits then of course. Life was hard in a way that we will never comprehend.

    Thirdly, the impact of the Odd fellows upon local society.

    The ship itself was remarkable because of its self righting qualities . It was 33 ft long and 8.5 feet wide with 10 double banked oars .

    The local procession included 20 orphan boys on the boat, boys whose fathers had been lost at sea. A very thoughtful inclusion, I think.

  2. angry_mutant said,

    June 11, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

    It is a never ending source of amazement to me, in a island nation (the very prosperity of which has always depended on mercantile, fishing and passenger shipping), that such an essential safety service as this continues to be provided, not by the state, but by a charity…

  3. Rod said,

    June 11, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

    you’ve certainly hit the nail on the head - every aspect of this story is simply tremendous

  4. Rod said,

    June 11, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

    that certainly is a mystery, well I suspect governments will try and get away with whatever they can

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