Lifeboat history brought to life by local author

Lifeboat Trial Launch in 1931 SUS-160728-065132001

Lifeboat Trial Launch in 1931 SUS-160728-065132001

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Local author and historian Steve Peak has just completed a comprehensive and fascinating history of the Cyril and Lilian Bishop Lifeboat which was brought back to Hastings from France last month.

The Cyril and Lilian Bishop was the Hastings Lifeboat for 19 years between April 29 1931 and March 1950 and saved at least 34 lives off the coast of Hastings and Bexhill.

The boat was used in the Dunkirk evacuations in 1940, saving many more lives.

Built in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, it was the first lifeboat used locally that had an engine.

Steve writes: “As the boat approached the Old Town on 29 April 1931, two maroons were fired and a large crowd gathered to welcome her as she ran onto the beach at 12.30pm.

“Coxswain Curtis told the Hastings Observer ‘The Cyril and Lilian Bishop is a fine craft, and a smart one - every inch a boat. She handled very well and is quick on the helm. The motor ran beautifully.’

“A trial launch was made on 30 April, including a trip to Fairlight for signalling tests with the Coastguard station on Fairlight Head.

“The Cyril and Lilian Bishop was an undoubted improvement on her predecessor.

“Her engine enabled her to launch in more severe weather, as it provided more power to drive the boat out through the surf.

“With an engine, the boat was also much less likely to be pushed to leeward along the shore by the wind while launching, thus making launching safer and easier, and enabling more use to be made of the harbour for launches.

“Once afloat, the motor lifeboat was much more versatile, as she could travel longer distances faster, could head straight into the wind if necessary, and involved much less hard work for the crew.

“This greatly improved efficiency was to help overcome many of the old problems that had bedevilled the earlier lifeboats.

“The Cyril and Lilian Bishop did bring some problems, however. Her increased weight meant that the rear wheels on her launching carriage had to be replaced straightaway by tracks to stop the carriage sinking into the beach.

“Also, more help was needed for low water launches, with 30-40 people, sometimes having to go right into the sea, and being entitled to a small payment.

“This, plus the generally greater expenses of a motor vessel, helped to increase the running costs of the new boat to roughly £400 a year.

“The smaller crew - usually nine - made a financial saving, but overall the new lifeboat gave the local RNLI committee much more fundraising to carry out.

“A glimpse of the future was seen in late July 1931 when an experimental caterpillar tractor replaced human power in two low-water trial launches. These were the first tractor-assisted launches on the south coast, but Hastings was to continue with hand-launching until 1963.”

Steve is the author of Fishermen of Hastings, which records 200 years of the local fishing industry. You can read the full text of the book at www.hastingschronicle.net.

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