The Thomas Kirk Wright launches in May 1940
The Thomas Kirk Wright launches from the old lifeboat station at Fisherman's Dock, May 1940

History of Poole Lifeboat Station

Lifeboats at Poole have been launching into one of the largest natural harbours in the world for over 140 years and the crews have been presented with 22 awards for gallantry. Today, the station has both an inshore lifeboat, launched from a floating boathouse, and an all-weather lifeboat.

Please note that additional information on one of Poole's past lifeboats, the Thomas Kirk Wright, can be found in the Museum and Shop section of this website, and you can also view photos of historical interest in the Museum album of our Gallery.

1824 The first ever Gold Medal was awarded to Captain Charles Howe Freemantle RN for his attempt to rescue the crew from a Swedish brigantine at Christchurch on 8 March 1824. This was awarded by the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (RNIPLS).

Silver Medals were awarded to George Barnes and Stephen Curtis for rescuing two crew from the Hero, which went aground off Christchurch Head on 23 November 1824.
1825 A Silver Medal was awarded to Lieut J Elwin RN for rescuing two crew from the ship Lark, which was driven ashore at Flag Head, Branksea Island, near Lymington [sic].
1826 Studland Bay A lifeboat station was established in Studland Bay to cover Poole Bay. The 20ft lifeboat cost £100 and was built by Pellew Plenty of Newbury. She was kept on a carriage in a boathouse 30 yards from high water mark. She had no name.
1837 Thomas Cook rescued two men from a canoe in January – he received a sovereign for this rescue.
1848 The lifeboat at Studland had never been used to save life and was 'decayed and unfit'.
1853 A Silver Medal was awarded to Lieutenant T Parsons RN for the rescue by Coastguard galley of eight people from the barque William Glen Anderson, which was wrecked during a heavy gale on 27 December 1852 at Boscombe.
1854 The Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (RNIPLS) changed its name to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
1865 The RNLI established Poole Lifeboat Station on 19 January.

Manley Wood A boathouse was built at North Haven Point by local builders Dunford and Saunders for £252. The 32ft lifeboat Manley Wood was a gift of an anonymous lady and was built by Forrest of Limehouse. She cost £210. She was the 139th lifeboat in the country.

Next door to the boathouse were the stables of Colonel Waugh, the owner of Brownsea Island. The horses kept in the stables could be used to pull the lifeboat when she had to be launched to the seaward side of Sandbanks, Bournemouth or Christchurch.

Every time the first Poole lifeboat launched, the crew had to be taken by coach from the Antelope Hotel in the High Street in Poole to Sandbanks where the lifeboat house had been built.
1866 First service launch of Manley Wood on 11 February 1866.

Assistant Inspector visited the station and attended a public meeting for the enquiry into the loss of life which took place from a shipwreck off Poole Bar on the 16 January (not sure why Manley Wood didn't launch).
1868 Silver Medals were awarded to The Right Hon The Viscount Bury MP and Mr Charles Pride for their gallant conduct in going off in an open boat on 6 October 1868 and saving, at the risk of their lives, one man from the fishing boat Alarm, which had capsized on Christchurch Bar.
1879 Arranged to pay £5 for the services of a tug each time it was required by the lifeboat to tow the lifeboat to the scene of a service. The tug Royal Albert was 'employed'.

(Précis Life-Boat Book G page 235:

Feb 7 Inspector ... saw Mr G V Pewsey, the part owner of the steam tug, who agreed to accept £5 each time the Lifeboat required the services of the tug')

Manley Wood was renamed Joseph and Mary. She had no further service launches.
1880 New, 34ft lifeboat built by Woolfe of Shadwell. Known as Joseph and Mary until her official naming in 1882.
1882 Boy's Own The new lifeboat was named Boy's Own No. 2.

The lifeboat house was moved to a new site (leased by the Corporation) on Poole Quay at Fisherman's Dock. The new boathouse cost £165.

The boat came out of boathouse on a carriage on the land side and was launched down the corporation slipway next to the boathouse.

A Silver Medal was awarded to Coxswain Richard Stokes for 'gallant services' over 15 years. He retired in March.
1884 Poole memorial Crew Member James Hughes was tragically killed when he fell in front of the main wheels of the carriage whilst getting out of the lifeboat after an exercise on 9 October. The Committee of Management voted £50 to a local fund in aid of his dependants.
1887 A flagstaff was erected to answer signals from the sand hills at the entrance of the harbour.
1888 Gas service was provided to the boathouse with a lamp outside to facilitate hauling up. The tender for the work amounted to £9 Os 9d.
1890 31 March: It was reported that a socket sound signal had been fired and did not explode until within 20 or 30 feet of the ground and that it set the heath (which happened to be very dry) on fire.
1892 Socket sound signals were discontinued and a mortar was supplied to assemble the crew for a call out.
1895 Poole and Swanage lifeboats launched to the barque Brilliant that had gone aground on Hook Sands on 12 January. Coxswain William Brown of Swanage lifeboat tragically lost his life when he was washed out of the lifeboat as a series of large waves swamped it. Poole crew continued with the service and rescued 10 men in a blinding snowstorm.
1896 Boy's Own No. 2 was sold.
1897 Reserve lifeboat was sent to the station on 23 January.

In March the lifeboat crew were asked to trial one of the early 38' Watson class lifeboats. The crew liked her so much and asked if they could keep her. As she was not suitable for carriage launching, alterations had to be made to the boathouse so the boat could be launched into the sea.

A new slipway was built in line with the boathouse and cost £135 to build. The Corporation slipway, originally used by the lifeboat, was often blocked by fishing boats that used the slipway to launch and service their own boats.

The naming and dedication of the new City Masonic Club lifeboat took place on 26 August 1897. The fund for the new lifeboat raised £650.
1899 A Head Launcher was appointed for the first time to take charge of the boathouse when the boat was afloat. He was employed at £1 per annum and 4/- when the boat was afloat.
1899 A Certificate of Service was presented to Coxswain John Hughes on his resignation as Coxswain after 17 years of service at the age of 63.
1906 Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum were awarded to Coxswain Superintendent Richard Wills and Crew Members Thomas Wills, John Wills, Richard Cartridge and Henry Russell for rescuing two men from a capsized fishing vessel off Christchurch. They were also granted 30/- each.
1910 A new 37½ft lifeboat arrived at the station. It was named Harmar on 4 June.

YouTube Harmar on exercise
1912 The Post Office connected the Coxswain's house by telephone to the Post Office at Poole.
1914 As the station was situated across the road from the gas works, a mortar – provided in 1892 to summon the crew – was replaced by socket distress signals. The mortar may have been mistaken by the locals as an explosion at the gas works!
1915 Members of the crew had been called up for War service but sufficient men were available should the lifeboat be required.
1917 Lifeboat station renamed Poole and Bournemouth Lifeboat Station
1919 The lifeboat was launched on service 8 January to the assistance of an ex-German submarine manned by a Japanese crew. Its crew of 28 were rescued.

Pathe U-boat on Poole Quay
1938 On 1 June the Harmar launched for the last time to the yacht Zaire. This was the last launch of the sailing lifeboat era at Poole lifeboat station.
1939 TKW naming ceremony The station's first motor lifeboat, Thomas Kirk Wright, arrived at the station on 12 January.

The lifeboat's first launch was on 22 January to the motor launch Snapper.

The naming ceremony took place on 17 June 1939. She was provided from part of a legacy of TH Kirk Wright of Bournemouth.
1940 The Poole lifeboat Thomas Kirk Wright was one of the Dunkirk Little Ships and was one of 19 lifeboats that went to Dunkirk on 30 May 1940 to rescue the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from the beaches.

She sailed from Poole to Dover with lifeboat crew to join the rescue flotilla. The crew were then asked to return to Poole as there were many naval ratings to do the boathandling. Manned by naval ratings she made three trips to Dunkirk and was used to ferry French and Allied troops from the beaches to waiting warships. She came under fire from German troops and was hit several times but no serious damage was done.

Please visit our Museum and History section for further information.

1953 Poole and Bournemouth lifeboat station became known as Poole lifeboat station.
1959 The lifeboat launched to a capsized sailing dinghy Stormwind on 2 January and rescued a boy; his father and brother drowned. The widow gave the dinghy, trailer and gear to the RNLI to dispose of. The sale realised £60.
1962 Thomas Kirk Wright was taken away from Poole for a refit at Cowes but she was found to be unsuitable for further lifeboat service. She was bought by Paul Neate, who was a deputy launching authority at Poole lifeboat station, and, with the help of his son, she was taken care of for 12 years.

A Liverpool class lifeboat, Bassett Green, replaced Thomas Kirk Wright. She was the first lifeboat at Poole to have a radio, MF and VHF, although few other boats at that time had VHF to speak to them. She was kept afloat just off the lifeboat house and boarded by means of a small boat.
1963 A 12' rubber inflatable rowing dinghy was provided for carrying by the lifeboat when necessary.
1964 An inshore lifeboat station was established alongside the all-weather lifeboat. The inshore rescue boat, a D class, was originally provided as a Summer-season-only lifeboat. She was housed in the lifeboat house at Fisherman's Dock and was launched using a four-wheeled trolley down the slipway.
1965 A Centenary Vellum was awarded to the station on 24 June. The inshore lifeboat became an all-year-round lifeboat, daytime only.

Click here to read an account published by Andrew Hawkes, former crew member at Poole, to mark the centenary:

One Hundred Years of Life-Saving At Sea: The Story of the Life-Boat Service at Poole

1967 An experimental Hatch class lifeboat (18-03) was sent to the station but was withdrawn a year later.
1969 A Dell Quay Dory (17-003) (A-502) was sent to the station in June and the D class lifeboat was withdrawn from service.

The Bassett Green was found to be unfit for lifeboat duty - electrolysis of the copper fastenings in her hull. She was replaced by a succession of relief (temporary) lifeboats, the first being George Elmy, another Liverpool class lifeboat.
1974 The lifeboat station moved to Poole Harbour Yacht Club at Lilliput Marina. It was thought to be quicker for the crew to get to Lilliput by road than to reach there from Poole Quay by boat.

A new Waveney class lifeboat was placed on service at the station in November. She was one of the first Fast Afloat Boats with a top speed of 15 knots. As the crew were not experienced in fast lifeboats there was no one suitable to become the Coxswain and so Frank Ide, from Dover lifeboat station, became Coxswain/Mechanic at Poole.

The lifeboat station at Fisherman's Dock became a lifeboat museum to display the Thomas Kirk Wright. The owner had given this lifeboat to the National Maritime Museum and she is still housed at the Old Lifeboat museum on the Quay.
1975 The new Waveney class lifeboat was named Augustine Courtauld in May.
1982 Coxswain and crew received a letter of thanks from the RNLI for a rescue to the motor cruiser Trois Lion.
1983 A Brede class lifeboat (ON-1089) Inner Wheel replaced the Waveney class lifeboat on 16 November. The cost of this lifeboat was met by an appeal organised by the Association of Inner Wheel Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland, together with other gifts and legacies. Augustine Courtauld became the station lifeboat for Alderney.
1985 The Dell Quay Dory was withdrawn in January and replaced by an A class Boston Whaler lifeboat, Sam & Iris Coles.
1986 Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum were awarded to Crew Members David Coles, Steven Vince and Raymond Collin in recognition of their physical exertions, grim determination and ingenuity when struggling through waist-deep mud to rescue a boy and a girl from marshland in Poole Harbour during the night of 1 July. You can read more about this rescue in this news release from 1986.

1987 Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 6 February 1987 – search for missing fishermen.
1988 Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 12 July 1988 – yacht Greyling.

Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 12 August 1988 – Maid of the Harbour collision with Marines landing craft.

Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 18 November 1988 – yacht Pallas.
1989 The lifeboat station was relocated from Salterns Marina to the Town Quay adjacent to Poole Bridge. On 16 July the two lifeboats were moved from Lilliput to the Quay.

Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 7 August 1989 – coastal tanker Whitdale.

The duty DLA, Jim Kellaway, was paged by the Coastguard on 21 December with a report that a car had gone into the water off the Quay. Jim launched both the Inner Wheel and the ILB. At the same time, he collected his own diving equipment and made his way quickly to the position and entered the water. He found the car but was unable to get in because all the doors were locked. He returned to the surface and obtained a small crowbar from the lifeboat and went down again to the car where he was able to get a woman out of the car and bring her to the surface. Unfortunately, after being in the water for 30 minutes, the woman did not recover.

Jim Kellaway received an award from the Royal Humane Society and a Letter of Appreciation from the RNLI.
1990 The yacht Mouette was reported to have steering failure off Old Harry Rock on 18 May with three people on board. It made progress into Poole but by dark the yacht had not arrived. The lifeboat made her way to the last known position of the yacht but could find no trace of her. After some time searching the Swanage lifeboat was launched to help. Both lifeboats started to search downwind (force 6 easterly and increasing, very rough sea) and down tide along with a helicopter. After a long search the yacht was spotted 5.5 miles SW of St Aldhelm's Head. The helicopter lowered a man aboard and established that this was the missing yacht. By this time Poole lifeboat had arrived and placed a crew member onboard to pass a tow rope. The tow was secured and started the long tow home. The tow parted three times due to the heavy swell and breaking seas but was reconnected each time. Eventually the yacht was brought into Poole Harbour.

Letter of Appreciation from the Chief of Operations.

A two-storey extension to the Police building on Poole Quay was constructed. Facilities include a fuel and oil store, general purpose store, an office and crew facilities. The extension was officially opened by the Mayor of Poole on 27 July. The cost of the building and the design costs were partially funded by Poole Council and the Borough Architects Department.

On 19 September the yacht Sherpa was in difficulties in Poole Bay, dismasted and with a fouled anchor. A crew member was put onboard to clear the rigging and attempt to clear the anchor. The anchor was let go and a tow passed over. The yacht was towed back to Poole.

Crew member Andrew Hawkes and Coxswain Steve Vince – Letter of Appreciation from the Chief of Operations, RNLI.
1991 The old lifeboat station situated at Fisherman's Dock on the Town Quay, which was used as an RNLI museum, was surrendered to the council.

Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 30 May 1991 – yacht Triumph.
1992 Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 18 December 1992 – sailboarder.
1993 Letter of Appreciation from the Director – 13 April 1993 – yacht Bavarian Lady and 8 lives saved.

A Borough of Poole Civic Award was presented to the lifeboat crews for their outstanding courage during a service on 20 June when two speedboats collided.

Letter of Appreciation from the Operations Director (August 1993) and a second letter from the Staff Officer Operations (Training) to Paul Savage after the successful resuscitation at the 1993 Open Days.

Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 23 September – speedboat aground near Giggers Island – occupant stuck in mud in fog.
1994 The A class Boston Whaler lifeboat was withdrawn and replaced by a B class Atlantic 21 lifeboat, which was kept in a newly-built floating boathouse. The floating boathouse cost £109,000.

Relief Brede class lifeboat Foresters Future and ILB launched to Purbeck Gem, the local ferry, carrying 114 passengers on 30 July. Had gone aground in darkness and thick fog in the narrow channel leading from the River Frome. One person, who was intoxicated, had fallen overboard and was very cold.

The Coxswain ordered that the bar should close on the ferry. The lifeboat then took the intoxicated man, and other anxious persons, to Ridge Wharf. Lifeboat then returned to Poole Quay and collected blankets and escorted another vessel through the fog to take off the remaining people. Lifeboat took off 48 people and landed them at the Royal Marines base. Purbeck Gem had by then refloated and was able to get back to Poole Quay.

Letter of Appreciation from Director of RNLI to Steve Vince.
Letter of thanks from HM Coastguard.
1995 Framed Letters of Thanks, signed by the Chairman, were presented to Coxswain Steve Vince and Crew Members Robert Doak and Geoffrey Langley for the service on 29 June 1994 to the yacht Bloodhound. Before taking the yacht in tow, Crew Members Robert Doak and Geoffrey Langley transferred to the casualty and brought it under control.

The new B class Atlantic 75 lifeboat B-710 Friendly Forester II was placed on service on Wednesday 26 April. This lifeboat was provided by a generous gift from the Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society in memory of Nora Gladys Green. The lifeboat was named on 15 August.
1996 Letter of Appreciation from the Director to Crew Members Paul Singleton, Paul Savage and Mark Phillips after the successful rescue and resuscitation of a drowned lady off Bournemouth Beach – 30 July 1996.

Letter of Appreciation from Chief of Operations – 6 November 1996 – yacht Lady Porsch.
1999 RNLI's 175th anniversary.
Freedom of the Borough of Poole.

Letters of Appreciation from the Chief of Operations 2 August 1999 to crews of inshore and intermediate lifeboats for the service to the yacht Lord Trenchard.

Letter of Appreciation from Chairman of the Medical and Survival Committee to Crew Members Anne Millman and Paul Savage for the service to the yacht Lord Trenchard.
2001 Framed Letters of Thanks, signed by the Chairman of the RNLI, Mr Peter Nicholson, were awarded to Helmsman Gavin Mc Guinness and Crew Members Anne Millman and Paul Savage for a service on 5 May 2001.

Second Coxswain Mark Cole received an individual Letter of Appreciation and the crew of the Brede class lifeboat received a collective Letter of Appreciation.

It had been a busy afternoon when both lifeboats were called to the Poole Chain Ferry where four dinghies, taking part in a race, had been caught by a strong ebb tide and pinned against the ferry's side. Helmsman Mc Guinness placed the inshore lifeboat alongside the ferry whilst the two crew members struggled to recover a man from the sea. Both the man and the lifeboat were in danger of being sucked under the ferry. The Brede class intermediate lifeboat passed a line to the inshore lifeboat, which enabled it to be towed free and the man was recovered from the sea.

The Tyne class lifeboat ON-1131 City of Sheffield was placed on service at the station on 5 September. This changed the station from an intermediate to an all-weather lifeboat station.
2004 The Poole Lifeboat Museum and gift shop had to close its doors due to health and safety regulations.

The Poole lifeboat fundraising group was formed. Its aim is to raise money locally to fund the running of Poole lifeboat station and to get the museum (the old lifeboat station at the east end of the quay) reopened. They meet monthly at the station and have close links with the crew.

Long service presentation On 6 August, Coxswain Jonathan Clark and Senior Helmsman Paul Singleton were both awarded long service medals for serving over 20 years each as volunteer lifeboat crew.
2006 Poole Old Lifeboat Museum At the end of May the old lifeboat station museum reopened its doors to the public. The museum is unchanged since it was the operational station in 1974.

It tells the history of Poole's lifeboat crews and boats and you can view the Thomas Kirk Wright, the first motorised lifeboat to be on station at Poole and it was also a Dunkirk little ship.
2007 On 19 January retired Second Coxswain John Clark was awarded a Poole Achievement Award as part of the year of the volunteer. He was a member of the crew for nearly 20 years and has raised funds at the Old Lifeboat Station and is also involved with several other charities locally.

On 6 July, Senior Helmsman Paul 'Flipper' Singleton was awarded a BBC Community Champion award at an awards ceremony hosted by BBC South Today's Sally Taylor. Esther Rantzen handed out the awards.
2008 The B class Atlantic 85 lifeboat B-826 Sgt Bob Martin (Civil Service No. 50) was placed on service at the station on 4 December. The sleek new craft replaced Friendly Forester II, which had been on service at Poole since April 1995 and was often the busiest inshore lifeboat in the country.
2009 B-826 6 June saw the naming ceremony and dedication of the Atlantic 85 lifeboat. The lifeboat was named after Sgt Bob Martin, who was ex-Durham Light Infantry and a long-term supporter of the RNLI at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

Click here to read more about the naming ceremony.

On 3 September, RNLI lifeboat crews and supporters observed a minute's silence at 12.20pm when the new RNLI memorial was unveiled outside Headquarters in Poole. The silence was a sign of respect and gratitude to the many people connected with the charity who have lost their lives helping to save others at sea.

Nearly 125 years ago, James Hughes, a crew member at Poole lifeboat station, tragically died when he fell under the launching carriage during a lifeboat exercise on 9 October 1884. James is one of over 85 in the RNLI's South division and one of a total of 778 people commemorated on the new RNLI memorial from all corners of the UK and RoI.

Click here to read more about the RNLI memorial unveiling ceremony.
2010 A commemoration service was held on 29 May at the Old Lifeboat Museum on Poole Quay for the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation. In May and June 1940, Poole Lifeboat Station's first motor lifeboat Thomas Kirk Wright was one of 19 lifeboats that was requisitioned to evacuate troops from the Dunkirk area.

Click here to read more about the Dunkirk memorial service.
2012 In March, Second Coxswain Paul Singleton was awarded his 30-year Long Service Badge, awarded in recognition of the dedication and commitment and continuous service on the lifeboat. Paul's 30 years have seen him carry out a staggering 1,162 services, saving 108 people. Paul retired from the inshore lifeboat in 2011 but continues as part of the all-weather lifeboat crew.

The RNLI announced on 5 April that its Trustees have accepted the recommendations of its Operations Committee to remove the Tyne class all-weather lifeboat and instead introduce a D class inshore lifeboat at Poole Lifeboat Station. Poole's 18-knot Tyne class lifeboat City of Sheffield will be withdrawn in 2015 when a new 25-knot Shannon class all-weather lifeboat is introduced at its flank station Swanage.

In June, volunteer RNLI crews at Poole Lifeboat Station became the first in the South Division to receive new state-of-the-art lifejackets for both the inshore and all-weather lifeboats as part of their all-important personal protective equipment (PPE).

In July, the station crew and the families of two Poole Lifeboat Station volunteers were very proud as Coxswain Jonathan Clark and Crew Member Emma Knight carried the Olympic torch as part of the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay – Jonathan carrying it through Winterborne Whitechurch on Thursday 12 July and Emma in Swanage on Friday 13 July.

In August, Poole lifeboat crew received a Letter of Appreciation from the RNLI's Operations Director Michael Vlasto for their actions on the evening of 17 May 2012. Both lifeboats launched to reports of a person in the water in the Wareham Channel and the ILB arrived on scene first and immediately recovered a man into the lifeboat before commencing CPR. Despite everyone's best efforts, the crew were unable to save the man. Michael said: 'Everyone acted in the finest traditions of the RNLI and gave their very best.'
2013 In February, 20 volunteer crew members and station personnel of Poole RNLI Lifeboat Station were presented with Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medals by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset Mrs Anthony Pitt-Rivers on behalf of HM The Queen.

In April, Paul Taylor was presented with his 20 years' Long Service Badge by Lifeboat Operations Manager Rod Brown.

June saw the launch of Poole Lifeboat Station's @PooleLifeboats Twitter account.

In October, it was with great sadness that we shared the news that Paul Singleton passed away. Affectionately known as Flipper, Paul had been a huge part of Poole lifeboat crew since 1982. In over 30 years he served as Crew, Senior Helmsman and Second Coxswain on three inshore and three all-weather lifeboats and carried out over 1,600 shouts and saved 108 people.

On 12 December 2013, the Tyne class lifeboat City of Sheffield celebrated 25 years of saving lives at sea. She has launched 776 times, rescuing over 870 people and saving over 100 lives. Included in these, in her 13 years while at Poole, she has launched 487 times, rescuing over 540 people. The people of Poole, Whitby, Ramsgate, Hartlepool and Sennen Cove are all grateful for her service over the last 25 years.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number CHY 2678 in the Republic of Ireland | RNLI (Trading) Ltd - 01073377, RNLI (Sales) Ltd - 2202240, RNLI (Enterprises) Ltd - 1784500 and RNLI College Ltd - 7705470 are all companies registered at West Quay Road, Poole BH15 1HZ. Images & copyright © RNLI 2013.