RNLI Commemorates 200 Years Of ‘Saving Lives At Sea’

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is celebrating two hundred years of ‘saving lives at sea’.

The RNLI was the vision of Sir William Henry, who lived on the Isle of Man. He met with a group of influential men including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Liberal MP for Southwark Thomas Wilson, and the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce in London on 4 March 1824 to discuss forming the life-saving charity.

The notes taken at that very first meeting set out what the charity would become.

RNLI archivist Hayley Whiting says: “The minutes tell us what they wanted the charity to be and 200 years later we’re still holding strong to those. It’s saving everyone, saving lives at sea.

“It’s a volunteer organisation with volunteer crew and that it’s supported by charitable donations which since 1824 we have been. It’s a really significant event – a key part of our history that we’re celebrating.”

Three years later, on 2 January 1992, four lifeboat stations were opened on the Thames – at Teddington, Chiswick, Tower Pier on the Victoria Embankment, and at Gravesend.

Janet Kelly ran the Tower Pier station for 14 years. She remembers that it was sheer good luck that the RNLI were able to buy the Tower Pier, “The Thames Division – which is part of the Metropolitan Police – they didn’t want their Waterloo Police pier by Waterloo Bridge. The police were very generous and allowed the RNLI to buy the pier for a token sum of a pound.

“For us in the middle of London to be there was priceless. We couldn’t ask for a better spot to put a lifeboat station in,” she added.

Tower Pier is the busiest lifeboat station in the country. It has had almost 10,500 callouts since it launched and almost four hundred lives have been saved by the crews based there.

The RNLI’s CEO Mark Dowie thinks Sir William Henry would be impressed with the charity today: “They would be very proud indeed of where we have come. They would also recognise huge elements of the RNLI today and what they thought about all those years ago.”

To mark two hundred years since its creation, a service of thanksgiving is being held in Westminster Abbey, with a congregation made up of representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities around the UK and Ireland.