It was easy enough to find as I turned right out of Temple tube station, but it wasn’t what I had expected. It was unlike any other Lifeboat station I had encountered. I was welcomed promptly by Andrew Stewart, the Visits Officer at Tower Lifeboat Station & soon experienced this entire station was afloat. And moving constantly, often vigorously. Andrew advised me to hold on to something as I walked around the station to the Training Room where Andrew offered me a welcome little British cuppa tea. I sat down, partly my choice, partly the effects of the river waves jolting me into my seat. The movement of the station was at times a little bit like being in a lifeboat out at sea. I glanced down at some information Andrew had given me. It said “The crew at Tower Lifeboat Station are ordinary people doing extraordinary things on a unique stretch of water” And that was why I was here. With one eye on my cup of tea braving the ‘stormy’ waters caused by all the passing traffic, the rest of my attention was on Andrew’s fascinating introduction.
One of the recommendations following the Marchioness disaster of 1989 in which 51 people lost their lives was for the RNLI to extend their coastal lifesaving skills to the tidal River Thames. Originally based near the Tower of London (hence its name Tower Lifeboat Station) it was relocated to what was previously known as the Waterloo Police Pier in 2006 & is now known as Lifeboat Pier. The Metropolitan Police sold this station to the RNLI for just £1 who then donated the £1 back to the RNLI who paid for the refurbishment of the pier. (Who says £1 doesn’t make a difference?) The £1 coin now has pride of place on the wall of the station, bobbing around on the Thames.
Tower Lifeboat Station has been the busiest lifeboat station in the British Isles since it began in 2002. It’s one of four lifeboat stations along approximately 60 miles of the tidal Thames. Last year Tower station launched no less than 492 times for reasons ranging from person in distress, injured or illness, to capsize, cut off by the tide or recovery of dead human body.
It’s a sad tale to hear that sometimes the crew can see the person jump from the bridge adjacent to the station or see the casualty in the water. With the crew on shift already kitted up & ready for action, they can be launched & arrive with the person in around 60-90 seconds. Their E-class water jet boat is fast tough & manoeuvrable. Sometimes this is fast enough to save a person’s life, but sometimes it’s not. Just one minute battling to survive the speed, depth (or lack of), the cold water, downward currents or traffic in the water is sometimes too long. Sometimes the person can not be saved, only the body recovered at some later time, date or place.
I asked Andrew when their last call out was. Just yesterday. Someone had raised the alarm because they had seen someone jump from the bridge next to the station. The lifeboat was launched in around 60 seconds but they couldn’t find anyone. Two hours later they were called out again to ‘something in the water’ – it was the recovery of the dead body of the person who had jumped from the bridge earlier. Often the currents can pull someone under water & keep them held underwater for some distance.
One of the ways that the station is particularly unique is that the crew do 12 hours shifts on site, rather than be paged to a call out, as with the coastal crews. This requires the station to have crew accommodation on site to allow them to get some rest while on shift. While I was chatting with Andrew, the crew invited me to interrupt their lunch, mid fajitas (which smelt delicious) to say hello. Four men & a women were on shift today, 7am to 7pm. Just ordinary people doing extraordinary work to save life along the tidal Thames. Another distinct difference I noticed was a lack of yellow wellies in their kit room. Andrew explained that as the crew live in their gear all day, ready for a launch, wellies would be very uncomfortable & unpractical. Instead, the crews here have extremely light steel toe & sole reinforced boots, similar to the police. I held a boot – it was as light as my shoe! But otherwise, the kit they use, including the lifejackets is similar to some of the kit used by some coastal crews.
The cost of running Tower Lifeboat Station in 2013 was £525,000 & as with everything RNLI, relies solely on donations for the skilled lifesaving work to continue. If you would like to make a difference with just £1, you can help me to raise £10,000 for the RNLI in three ways:
1. Donate by texting LBTT80 £1 to 70070, or
2. Donate directly to the RNLI via my Just Giving page here http://bit.ly/littleBritishthingsTour10KforRNLI, or
3. Join me at one of my little British things Tour Rohan store events where just £1 could win discount of Rohan clothing or free gifts in our RNLI Raffle. Here are the remaining events:
Rohan store Kingston-upon-Thames – Thursday 17th July 11-3
Rohan store Canterbury – Saturday 19th July 11-3
Rohan store Chichester – Wednesday 23rd July 11-3
Rohan store Wimborne – Wednesday 30th July 11-3
Find out more at Rohantime.com
My eyes needed a moment to adjust to the dark as I walked towards the noise of disorderly conversation over the bare floor boards. Oak I suspect. But also stone. And somewhat uneven. I had stepped into ‘Nellies’ (aka The White Horse, on Hengate in Beverley). I had stepped back in time, much time, to the 1600s, before the word refurbishment had been invented. And thankfully that thought has never crossed the minds of all who have owned her. And that includes Nellie herself. For Nellie’s is just as she always has been. I’d heard her described as Dickensian, but she was more Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn to me. In my imagination, I could hear the low conversations in the corners of the labyrinth of rooms that I wasn’t supposed to be hearing … It looks like a museum, it could be a museum, but it’s not. Nellie is a real, everyday pub. I followed the corridor around a corner to the hub of the pub banter & brovado at the bar. The ‘dark stuff’ is recommended. “Tis good for yer” one local tells me. “All alcohol is good for yer” the publican assures me. I half expect my half to be served in a tin tankard, but no the glass is definitely this century. It looked good. And it tasted even better. And I paid in pounds & pence, one pound & ten pence, rather than pieces of silver. I chose a seat in one of the larger rooms. There was only one other woman in there. She wore six inch stiletto heels & a floral skirt that was far too short. I seated myself on a bench at a table as unfinished as the floor boards. Rustic doesn’t even come close. The walls, in varying shades of amber, ranged from honey through to treacle, but I was told it’s nicotine from the days of smoking. Pictures decorated this living wallpaper. Lamps lit the rooms. At first I believed them to be imitation, but soon realised that they were real gas lamps fired via pipelines around the walls. All this bare wood & real gas lamps! And I could feel the heat. A regular tells me how the pub is really at its best in winter when the open fires, one in each room are also lit. I could imagine. And I could imagine a blast of icy cold air rushing in as ‘the law’ bursts in through the front door seeking out the undesirables. But then I remind myself that there is a beer garden out back & a car park … With love & gratitude, fledgling on fire xx
On the 18 January 1881, the Brig ‘Visitor’ ran ashore in Robin Hood’s Bay in a storm so violent that no local boat could be launched. The lifeboat station was alerted that the ship had sunk but the crew had abandoned the ship in their own lifeboat but due to the ferocious seas, were unable to reach the shore.
So the Whitby lifeboat was launched. Overland. The severity of the storm made access by sea impossible.
200 local men cleared the way ahead for 18 heavy horses heaving at the towlines to the lifeboat Robert Whitworth, through snowdrifts 7 feet deep, over a distance of 6 miles. On a road rising to 500 feet.
The lifeboat was launched into the sea from Robin Hood’s Bay just 2-3 gruelling hours after leaving Whitby.
The 1st attempt to save the crew failed as 6 of the lifeboat’s oars & the steering oar were destroyed by a thug of a wave. While the oars were being replaced, Henry Freeman found 9 volunteers to join the Robert Whitworth crew so there would be two men on each oar. The lifeboat launched a 2nd attempt, succeeding to rescue the men who were suffering from exhaustion & delirium.
… With love & gratitude, fledgling on fire xx
£577.00 has been raised since the start of my little British things Tour on 13 May 2014, please help to launch it nearer to my £10,000 target in aid of the RNLI – THANK YOU.
Why did no one tell me that smoked herrings were called kippers? I’ve been visiting one of my favourite coastlines, Northumber -land, all my life & I’ve never tasted Craster Kippers. Until now. The subtle aroma of the 16 hour smoulderings of whitewood shavings & oak sawdust lingered in the warm air without a whiff of fishy-ness. I pressed my nose hungrily against the window of the restaurant door of L.Robson & Sons, 4th generation of traditional fish smokers, waiting for it to open at noon. (It’s hungry work travelling on the top deck of the bus for an hour & a half from Berwick-upon-Tweed.) I didn’t need to see the menu, my order was easy. And when my little ‘silver darlings’ arrived, my waitress delivered her personal recommendation of how to eat them: 1. turn kippers over; 2. pull back wings of skin; 3. lift out bones. Magic! Their flavour was sublimely divine. Served with bread & butter, I even made a quick kipper buttie while no one was looking. Fuelled up, I was now ready to take on Dunstanburgh Castle for the first time against clear blue skies. Last time I’d attempted there was a biting wind charging off the north sea which I battled right up to the sanctuary of the castle door. Whatever the weather, my imagination spirals like a tower staircase as I make the short walk from Craster harbour along the coast with the castle ruins confronting me at all times. With each step, I add a little more detail to the story in my mind. I think it’s my favourite castle. Here’s the unembellished real version of events … A really long time ago, in 1313, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, arrogant & unpopular, was leader of the opposition to his cousin, King Edward II. They had a bit of a family fall out. You see, Earl Thomas’ supporters had arrested & executed the Kings favourite, Piers Gaveston the year before, for which Eddie never forgave Tom. (Understandably.) Earl Thomas began his castle immediately afterwards to show everyone he was just as important as the King, designing it to impress visitors from every angle. And to protect Earl Thomas of Lancaster from any hostile visitors. (I wonder if Earl Thomas of Lancaster played golf?) As I wandered on, putting all the shenanigans behind me, I’m sure I saw a dragon hiding in the dunes … With love & gratitude, fledgling on fire xx
My dream is to raise £10,000 for the RNLI. Please be part of my dream by donating towards my target – Thank you! http://bit.ly/littleBritishthingsTour10KforRNLI