Charterhouse Lifeboat

On Friday, February 14th 2020 we gave an official welcome to Fishguard’s historic Charterhouse Lifeboat at its new home in Hancock’s Yard. The ceremony was conducted by the Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Sara Edwards, and was attended by local dignitaries including the Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council, Simon Hancock, and the Mayors of Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Neyland, Milford, Fishguard and Goodwick.

Charterhouse was a Fishguard self-righting lifeboat, one of the first to have been designed with an inboard auxiliary engine. She was built from mahogany strips over elm frames. In 1920, its crew received bravery awards for their part in the rescue of Hermina. She was retired in 1930 and used as a private motor yacht, Marion, until she was donated to charity in 2009. It came to the Society in 2020 and is being partly restored as a static exhibit.

  • Hull treatment
  • Start of repaint
  • Looking smart
  • Rescue of 'Hermina'
  • In service
  • Engine details

  • Charterhouse was the first of a batch of three RNLI lifeboats for Fishguard, Stronsay and Stromness; being designed from the drawing board to have an auxiliary petrol engine. It has the builder’s number TL1 carved on the stem. It is unknown if either the Stronsay or Stromness boats survive in any form. The Stronsay boat, TK99, is known to have been converted to a private motor vessel called Bempo in 1935, and in 2014 the hull (which was in very poor condition) was taken from Caernarfon to London by the Thames Ironworks Heritage trust; it seems the trust no longer exists. The fate of the Stromness boat, TL3, John  Ryburn is unknown.  
  • Before 1904 the Royal National Lifeboat Institution had been experimenting and developing the use of petrol engines to improve the seagoing qualities of their sailing and pulling (rowing) lifeboats.
  • Charterhouse School were raising money to fund a new lifeboat for Fishguard. Initial payment of £1000.
  • December 10th 1904. The Fishguard lifeboat committee met with representatives from Stronsay and Stromness to visit several lifeboat stations around the Welsh coast to decide on details for their proposed new motor boats.
  • 1905 First mention in the RNLI annual report of four proposed motor lifeboats for Stronsay, Stromness, Fishguard and Thurso (‘difficulties were foreseen’ at Thurso so this boat was delayed for a year and was then built for Broughty Ferry instead).
  • 1907 The annual report of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co. confirms that construction of four motor lifeboats is in progress.
  • 1908. The new lifeboats for Stronsay, Stromness and Fishguard were the first three to be designed and built to have an auxiliary petrol engine from the outset.
  • Fishguard’s Charterhouse Lifeboat, ON 563 (Official Number), and builder’s no. TL1 was completed by The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co. a cost of £2,564. Motor £266, Meissner propeller equipment £118.
  • 1909. Ten days of ‘severe’ sea and harbour trials in ‘very heavy weather’ were successfully completed.
  • October 14th 1909. ON 563 was sailed 583 miles round the south coast to be delivered to Fishguard. The journey took considerably longer than expected due to weather conditions and interest in the motor boat from other RNLI stations on route.
  • December 1909 the lifeboat was officially named cand entered service at Fishguard on the south west coast of Wales.
  • During her service she responded to 25 ‘shouts’ and saved 47 lives and one dog.
  • December 1920. Rescued the crew from the Schooner Hermina in the most dangerous of conditions and the crew of Charterhouse won medals for their bravery.
  • April 1921. The crew traveled to London to receive their gold, silver and bronze medals.
  • 1922 Charterhouse along with other lifeboats supplied with the newly invented line throwing gun.
  • By 1929 Charterhouse School had donated about £2,000
  • The RNLI accounts of 1929 included ‘on account’ payment for a replacement new lifeboat for Fishguard.
  • September 1930 Charterhouse was retired from service and was replaced by White Star.
  • 1931 she was sold by the RNLI for £145 to Sandwell Bros, Southampton and was converted into a private Motor Yacht named Marian.
  • 2009, no longer seaworthy, the owners donated the vessel to the Charterhouse Returns Trust who found space on the quay in Fishguard and commenced restoration work.
  • Renaming ceremony held at Fishguard to return Marian back to the original name.
  • 2020. Having lost the quayside space in Fishguard the Charterhouse Returns Trust transferred ownership to the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society in Pembroke Dock.
  • 2023, Ongoing conservation, restoration and preparation of Charterhouse for display continues in Pembroke Dock….

The other two motor lifeboats built alongside Charterhouse  were for Stronsay and Stromness, both on Orkney islands, and in December 1904 the RNLI arranged for representatives from the Orkney stations to meet with the Fishguard group in Wales for a tour to visit, inspect and try out a selection of different lifeboats to help them each decide just what their own needs were. Their trip started at Barry Docks, near Cardiff, and included Little Haven, two sites on the Llyn Peninsula and at least two on Anglesey. Subsequently, Fishguard chose a 40 foot ‘Self-Righter’, Stromness a 42 foot ‘Self-Righter’ and Stronsay a 43 foot ‘Watson’ design.

These would be the first three lifeboats the RNLI designed and built to have an auxiliary petrol engine and feature the tunnel to house the propeller. (By 1900 a few steam lifeboats had been built. These were steel hulls, not timber built and at least two used water jets rather than propellers. The others may have had tunnels.) It was planned that the petrol engines would be 24 BHP, 30 BHP and 40 BHP respectively although there is evidence that Charterhouse was actually fitted with a larger engine.

 The construction, common at the time, was all timber. The frames are Canadian elm and the skin is made of two layers of Honduras mahogany in strips about 150 mm wide. These are angled in opposing directions and laid diagonally. A layer of oiled calico forms a waterproof membrane between the two layers.

The term ‘Self Righting’ is self explanatory and is achieved by large buoyancy tanks. at each end and a cast iron keel that weighs two and a quarter tons.

The RNLI had previously experimented by adding motors to a few existing hulls and were aware of problems arising from placing a propeller right at the stern in the ‘conventional’ position. There were vulnerability and safety issues but in a rough sea the propeller could be out of the water as the boat pitched causing a loss of power and the engine to race. The solution was to move the propeller about two metres forward and house it inside a tunnel formed under the wooden hull. This is very clear to see within the hull of Charterhouse  and it seems that later boats were built with the propeller a little less forward than the position seen in her hull.

Although the original Tylor engine was removed many years ago the original drawings of the installation survive and show details such as a pair of ‘slipway tanks’ and the position of these is still clearly evident in the surviving hull. These allowed the engine to be run if the boat was out of the water by providing cooling water for the engine and the water-cooled silencer and exhaust, once in the sea then water was taken from two of the relieving tubes.

During her working life in Fishguard Charterhouse  was involved in several arduous rescues.  
Its first real test was aiding the St. David's lifeboat, 'Gem', in attending the ketch 'Democrat', which was in danger of hitting the rocks in Ramsey Sound.

The most notable rescue was that of 7 members of the crew of the Dutch schooner 'Hermina'; the Coxswain was awarded a gold medal, three silvers were awarded and the rest of the crew received bronze medals. We have full details of this rescue and the award ceremony. The Dutch Queen and government also made gifts of watches to all crew members in appreciation of their valiant work. One of these engraved watches is in our museum.