In 1810 it was decided to place a lifeboat at Spurn Point, East Yorkshire. Spurn, the most south easterly point in Yorkshire, had proved to be an area that was in great need of some type of life-saving service, due to the swiftly flowing and dangerous river Humber. The first boat to be placed there was provided by Francis Constable of Burton Constable, under the administration of Hull Trinity House.
The actual lifeboat was of a design by Henry Greathead of South Shields. It was some 30ft long and was powered by 10 oars. Due to the isolated nature of Spurn a crew for the life boat had to be on hand at all times (a situation that has remained unchanged up to the present day) so a row of ten cottages was built to house them. The lifeboat was kept busy right from the start, being called out on a number of occasions. A notable call out was to the troop ship Thomas on June 8th 1821, when 26 soldiers and crew, and two women and a child were rescued.
The lifeboat crew’s income was subsidised from fishing and gravelling. This at times proved difficult and there was quite a turn-over of crew members, who found the somewhat isolated life at Spurn Point a bit too difficult.
A new row of cottages was built in 1858, due to the old ones being flooded at times.
A variety of lifeboats were used at Spurn, and often had to be replaced due to the damage they sustained whilst carrying out their life-saving duties.
In 1908 the Humber Conservancy Board took over the running of the lifeboat station from Hull Trinity House, but this only lasted a few years, and in 1911 the RNLI took over the station and has maintained it to the present day.
After a succession of rowing and sailing lifeboats, a motorised lifeboat was placed at Spurn in 1919 — a 40ft Watson class, named The Samuel Oakes’. A shed was later built, to house it.
The Second World War which started in 1939 brought added dangers and a great deal more work to the lifeboat. The coxswain at the time, Robert Cross, who had held the position since 1912, became one of the most decorated coxswains in the country, eventually being awarded the RNLI Gold medal twice, the Silver medal three times, the Bronze medal twice and the George Medal. Cross retired in 1944 at the age of 67 years with 31 years service, a remarkable achievement.
Over the next 20 or so years the lifeboat continued with its wonderful record of saving lives. Four of the lifeboats stationed at Spurn all carried the same name — City of Bradford — from 1923 to 1987, and were paid for by the City of Bradford and surrounding districts.
In 1975 a new coxswain by the name of Brian Bevan was appointed. He was to achieve an outstanding service rescue record. Over the winter period of 1978/79 in the space of just six weeks Coxn. Bevan carried out three rescues that won him the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. The three medals were presented to him at the RNLI’s award ceremony, a first in the history of the RNLI.He was later awarded the MBE.
The lifeboat used in the above rescue was an ‘Arun’ class type, a new breed of boat that certainly proved its worth in this and a number of other rescues. This later class of lifeboat was a far cry from the old pulling and sailing lifeboats with their open decks.
The lifeboat service continues to serve and rescue many people in distress. Over the 200-year period (although records are a bit sparse in the early part of the history of this station) it is estimated that 1,500 lives have been saved and 14,000 people brought safely to shore.
A truly outstanding service record.
This is a very condensed outline of the history of the Humber station, and there are many books available that record the history of the station in more depth. Many other gallant members of the crews in the past have served at Spurn, and carried out numerous acts of bravery.
In 2009 SKEALS decided that it could not let the chance to celebrate the 200-year anniversary pass without celebrating it in some way, so it was decided to put on an exhibition to reveal the history of this station that is right on our doorstep. Over a nine-month period the history of the station was researched, and much information and a great number of photographs were brought together (in excess of 130).
The exhibition was a two-day event held in the Easington Community Hall over the weekend of July 31st and 1st August 2010. It consisted of various displays of the boats, the coxswains, the crews, the rescues, the medal awards, life at Spurn Point, the families, the boat house, and many other aspects of Spurn included the coastguards, the postman who walked there six days a week for 35 years!, and some post cards from Spurn.
The present Superintendent Coxswain, Dave Steenvoorden, was invited to open the exhibition. In addition two folk singers, Andrew Wells and John Law, offered to sing a couple of songs, and they put on a good performance. A magnificent model of a Severn class lifeboat (the same type as the present Humber Lifeboat), kindly loaned by the Humber station, was on display, as was a continuous playing of the television series Safe and Sound, showing the Humber Lifeboat in action, filmed in the early 1980s. The old hand-rung call out bell, now used for christenings, was on display. A number of past crew visited the exhibition including Bob White, Syd Rollinson and Jack Essex, along with the now retired lifeboat doctor, Dr.Duncan Busfield, the ex H.M. Coastguard District officer George Cammish, and other coxswains, Fred Walkington from Bridlington and Les Robson from Flamborough.
An old kapok-type lifejacket alongside the modern inflatable jackets was there for comparison, shown modelled in the following picture by 2nd Coxn. Martyn Hagan ably assisted by crew member Steve Purvis.
On the Sunday we had a visit from Miss Vera Cross, the daughter of legendary Coxn. Robert Cross, now in her nineties. Vera was very pleased with what she saw, in particular the presentation of her father’s exploits. Overall we had in excess of 450 people visit the exhibition over the two-day event, and judging by some of the comments it appears to have been a success.
All monies raised from the exhibition, donations, refreshment and book sales (Click here to visit the Publications page) will be presented to the Humber Lifeboat Station at the end of the year. The following photograph was taken when SKEALS' members visited the lifeboat station following the writing of this article.
Mike Welton, November 2010