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RLNI Lifeboat Station

June 3, 2017
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The Lifeboat station at Tenby in Pembrokeshire has been through many transformations over its 165-year history. Due to its location and spectacular coastal views, it is not just one of the busiest lifeboat stations in the UK but also attracts tourists and is heavily photographed.

First established in 1852 by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariner’s Royal Benevolent Society and taken over by the RNLI in 1854, the first lifeboat house opened on Castle Beach in 1862.

By 1905, dragging the increasingly large and heavy boats to and from the sea and the harbour became untenable. RNLI architect W T Douglas designed a new lifeboat station which would be situated on the North side of Castle Hill with a timber frame roller slipway to enable launching of the boat directly into the water. This meant the boat could be launched in all weather and tide conditions. During construction, a timekeeper employed by the contractor was killed after falling through some cross timbers. The structure consisted of a timber frame clad in corrugated iron sheets with a curved roof and a basic crew room. The boathouse was positioned on “foreshore” land. This is land that is underwater at high tide and above water at low tide and is owned by the Crown Estate so had to be leased by the RNLI.

In 1923, the station received its first motorised lifeboat the “John R Webb” and, in 1952, the station was awarded an RNLI Vellum for 100 years of service.

Since 1972, the station has been a dual boat station with the inshore D class lifeboat housed on the North side of the harbour.

The structure had been extended several times to house larger lifeboats and the timber frame and slipway reinforced with steel in 1980. Further adaptations including a new boarding platform, exhaust extractor system and larger capacity fuel tank were made in 1986 to receive the Tyne class lifeboat “RFA Sir Galahad”.

In 2002, the RNLI secured an extended lease from the Crown Estate and submitted plans to build a new lifeboat station slightly to the east of the existing structure on the site of the old Victorian pier. The new station would be designed to hold the next generation of computerised Tamar class lifeboats and would provide much-needed updated accommodation for the crew. There would also be a merchandise shop and viewing platforms to enable members of the public to watch the launching of the lifeboat and take in the stunning coastal views. But it was not all to be ‘plain sailing’.

The original plan was to demolish the existing station; however, being over 100 years old, it was a Grade II listed building and the demolition was blocked. Nevertheless, Dean and Dyball were contracted to project manage the new build at an estimated cost of £5.5 million. This was not to be an easy undertaking as restrictions on access via the road meant that the majority of the build had to take place from the sea. Only concrete was permitted to be transported by road through the town. An ex-NATO amphibious vehicle was modified to carry materials to the site by sea. Steels were transported using this amphibious vehicle and then lifted and positioned using a tower crane on a jacked up barge. The construction company were commended in the industry for their ingenuity in getting the build completed, not least whilst also being exposed to the elements and tides.

Work was completed in March 2005 and shortly afterwards the station becomes the first in the UK to permanently house a Tamar class computerised lifeboat, the “Haydn Miller”. The final cost listed on the RNLI website was £6.5 million.

So what became of the 1905 Grade II listed lifeboat station? Was it left to fall into wrack and ruin in the shadow of its shiny new replacement like many other listed stations? Thankfully not. In 2011, the building was sold to Tim and Philomena O’Donovan who planned to turn the building into a home, and the build featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. The residents of this beautiful home can now enjoy watching the Hayden Miller and crew launch and continue to make history.