Lifeboats and Lifeboatmen

For introductory information see Lifeboat House.

Burnham’s first lifeboat after the RNLI took over the service in 1866 was the ‘Cheltenham’, so named because it was provided from money raised in that town.


The Cheltenham (1866-1887).

Extract  from lengthy report in Cheltenham Western Gazette 26th Oct 1866:

Photo above courtesy of Ann Popham. See comment at bottom of page from Bryan Hughes re current location of this board.

Additional information about the Cheltenham can be found here.

Image used with kind permission of  of Bob & June Thomas, date unknown.


The John Godfrey Morris

This boat replaced the Cheltenham in 1887

Above: John Godfrey Morris & Crew on launch rails 1898


Above: Is this the Cheltenham or the John Godfrey Morris?

Landing the John Godfrey Morris.

Additional information about the John Godfrey Morris can be found here.

The Philip Beach (1902 – 30)

The Philip Beach and crew.
Launching the Philip Beach.
The Hopwood on launcher (substituted for Philip Beach during overhaul 1926-7).

The Hopwood on launcher (substituted for Philip Beach during overhaul 1926-7)

Log of the Philip Beach below shows use of Hopwood as substitute.

Boat launcher, note mooring piles on jetty still in place, so pre-1909.

Lifeboat Cox Hunt (with pipe). Date unknown. See headstone below.

Hopwood on the tide.

Article from Burnham Gazette in 1914:

Speaking to Ivor Punnet in the Burnham & Highbridge Weekly News in 1991, Harry Farthing, of a well known local beach trading family recalled:

“There used to be a mast near the Queens Hotel [in front of the Customs House] and when the lifeboat was needed a maroon was fired from this post to call out the crew. As soon as I heard the maroon explode I would jump out of bed, dress and rush down to the lifeboat, which was housed in what is now the Scout hut.Lots of other people would come running as well and everyone would grab ropes tied to the boat and haul it along a railed track to the top of the slipway down to the beach. There the crew would climb aboard using two wide ladders, one each side of the boat. One line of oarsmen had blue oars, the other white ones and they held these erect while the boat was released and allowed to run down the slip into the sea. As they went sown they used to give a wild cry and I have never forgotten that scene. The huge breaking seas, howling wind, drenching rain and this defiant cry from the lifeboat crew.”

“When the boat returned it was turned round on a special trolley and hauled back up the slip. Then the boat and all the equipment was washed down by the crew with tap water to remove all traces of salt. If at all possible I always waited until the boat returned, as did many others, though it was often a long, wet and cold wait. And when they were all ashore the cox’n would give me two shiny half crowns and say “well done, young Harry. Years ago this was a bad stretch of water and a lot of bad storms came from the south west. Because there was a lot of sea trade, we had a Customs House in Burnham then and they used to hoist a storm cone on the front to warn of an impending gale. I remember a retired sea captain gave a weather glass [barometer] to Burnham, which used to be in South Street, and one to Highbridge to help local sailors”

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute has kindly provided us with scans of pension records for the Burnham Station showing the paid crew members during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Log of the Philip Beach below shows closure of service in 1930. Remarks column shows distribution of certifications to crew.

Memorials to two of Burnham’s lifeboatmen in the Westfield Rd Cemetery.

The inscription above reads: In Memoriam, Richard Cox of Burnham. For 20 years valued and trusted as coxwain of the National Lifeboat. Respected in life lamented in death. Died January 29th 1890 aged 44 years. The waters roar and be troubled but God is our refuge and strength. This stone is erected by subscriptions from friends and neighbours. Also of Julia Emma, wife of the above, who died April 5th 1907 aged 59 years.

Photos courtesy of Des Parsons.


Information Required

The photo below is from the Glyn Luxon archive but has no information attached. It has some very clear images of lifeboatmen but we do not know the date or which lifeboat this is.

If anyone recognises a forebear in this photograph, or has any information about family members who were in the early lifeboat services, please let us know  via comments below.

Hayley Whiting at the RNLI museum has now sent us the following information :

John Godfrey Morris was a 34ft 1.3/4″ self righting boat, with 10 round oars, and 2 masts. Hopwood also had sails and 2 masts but 12 oars. The photo looks to me like there are 6 oars in view on the right so I’d say this was Hopwood.

8 thoughts on “Lifeboats and Lifeboatmen”

  1. Hi, my Great Grandfather George Thomas was bosuns mate with the John Godfrey Morris, and was other boats serving the Burnham on sea area.

    1. Hello Tim and thank you for your posting.
      Are the photos with George in new to you ? Do you have any other of him with the lifeboat or any other boats?
      Thanks and please let us know if you have any other news worthy information about his work.

  2. Nicholas Leach, an authority on Lifeboats & Lifeboat stations and the author of several books, has informed me that the two service boards are now to be found, side by side, on a wall inside the current Lifeboat station at Burnham. He has also provided me with a photo to confirm.
    Thank you for your help and I trust that this news is of help to the group as well.

  3. Hi
    Can anyone please advise where the ‘blue’ lifeboat service board is located these days?
    I am aware that the ‘black’ service board is now back with the local RNLI branch and my interest is wholly focused on location of the ‘blue’ one.
    Regards to John Strickland who might remember me from his ROF days as EHS manager.
    Thanks in anticipation.

    1. Thanks for your question Bryan. I do not know the answer myself but have put out a query to some people who might, and will update if the information is forthcoming.

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