The islands of Britain and Ireland have always been at the mercy of the sea. In the early 19th century, there was an average of 1,800 shipwrecks a year around our coasts, and this danger was an accepted part of life onboard.
Coastal communities often watched helplessly as vessels foundered.
Rescue services did exist in some places – there are records of a rescue boat stationed in Liverpool from 1730.
In Bamburgh, Northumberland, men from the local castle patrolled the shore on horseback, ready to go to sea in their ‘unimmergible’ coble – the first purpose-built lifeboat, designed by Lionel Lukin and patented in 1785.
A 1789 competition, run by a group of businessmen from Tyne and Wear, sought designs for rescue boats.
One of the entries, from William Wouldhave, was designed to selfright.
Boatbuilder Henry Greathead was asked to build a lifeboat combining the best features of Lukin’s and Wouldhave’s designs, and came up with a vessel called the Original.
Within 20 years, he had built more than 30 of these lifeboats, and they were saving lives around the UK and its islands, from St Andrews to St Peter Port.