Penlee Lifeboat Station

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Penlee Lifeboat Station
RNLI lifeboat station
Penlee Lifeboat Station at Newlyn.jpg
The 1983-built crew facilities
Country United Kingdom
County Cornwall
Town Newlyn
Location Newlyn Harbour, TR18 5HW
 - coordinates 50°06′14″N 5°32′55″W / 50.1039°N 5.5487°W / 50.1039; -5.5487Coordinates: 50°06′14″N 5°32′55″W / 50.1039°N 5.5487°W / 50.1039; -5.5487
Founded At Penlee Point 1913
At Newlyn 1983
Owner Royal National Lifeboat Institution
Penlee Lifeboat Station is located in Cornwall
Penlee Lifeboat Station

Penlee Lifeboat Station is the base for Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) search and rescue operations for Mount's Bay in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The lifeboat station was opened at Penlee Point in Mousehole in 1913 but was moved to Newlyn in 1983. The station is remembered for the loss of the entire crew of the Solomon Browne on 19 December 1981.

Since 2003 it has operated a Severn-class all weather boat (ALB) and an Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat (ILB).


The first lifeboat in Cornwall was purchased for Penzance in 1803. Part of its cost was paid by Lloyd's of London but in 1812, it was sold without ever being used in service and was not replaced.[1] In 1824 a District Association was formed. It was part of the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck[2] and the next lifeboat in Mount's Bay was again stationed at Penzance from 1826 to 1828 by the recently formed Institution.[3] The boat was kept at several different places around the town until a boathouse was built in 1856, for £88, by the RNLI (as the Institution was now known). The boathouse cost £88 and was, at what is now the entrance to the railway station. Once tidal there is now a road and car park between the site and the water's edge. There was local controversy when the boat did not launch on several occasions in 1862, and as a consequence, there was a proposal to move the lifeboat to Newlyn which would have been unpopular with the residents of Penzance. As a compromise the lifeboat station moved to Wherrytown where a new timber lifeboat house was opened in 1867 at the bottom of Alexandra Road, near the Coastguard Station. A decision was made to move back to Penzance harbour and in 1884 a new boathouse built of Lamorna granite at a cost of £575–6s–6d. This was paid for by a £1000 gift from Henry Martn Harvey of Hexworthy, which also paid for a new lifeboat (Dora) and carriage. This was in use until 1917 and still stands at the bottom of Jennings Street.[4][5]

In 1908, the Penzance Lifeboat Elizabeth and Blanche was moved to Newlyn where it was kept under a tarpaulin beside the harbour. This arrangement lasted for five years until a new boathouse was built at Penlee Point south of Newlyn on the outskirts of Mousehole. This was elevated a little above the water and the lifeboat could be launched down a slipway into open water at all states of the tide. The old 'pulling and sailing' lifeboat was replaced by one with a motor in 1922. This station was in use until 1983 when a larger, faster lifeboat was moored at a berth in Newlyn harbour, although the station continues to be called 'Penlee'.

In 1991, a D-class (EA16) ILB was stationed on the opposite side of Mount's Bay at Marazion (although it was actually kept on St Michael's Mount). It proved difficult to find sufficient volunteer crews in this small village so in 2001 the station was closed and a larger B Class boat was added to the complement at Penlee,[1] with a new boathouse built to house it. The following year a new pontoon was built in Newlyn harbour so that crews could board the ALB more easily.[4]

Solomon Browne[edit]

The boathouse at Penlee Point

The Solomon Browne was a wooden 47-foot (14 m) long Watson-class lifeboat built in 1960 and stationed at Penlee for its entire 21 years of service. It had two engines[6] and was capable of 9 knots (17 km/h).[7]

On 19 December 1981 it was launched to go to the aid of the MV Union Star after its engines failed 8 miles (13 km) east of the Wolf Rock.[8] Winds were gusting at up to 90 knots (100 mph; 170 km/h) – hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort scale – and whipping up waves 60 feet (18 m) high.[9] On board was a crew of five and three members of the captain's family. A helicopter had been unable to rescue them and so the lifeboat with its crew of eight men went alongside. After several attempts four people managed to jump across;[10] the captain's family and one of the men were apparently safe. The lifeboat radioed that 'we’ve got four off'; that was the last ever heard from anyone on either vessel.[7]

Lifeboats were summoned from Sennen Cove, The Lizard and St Mary's to try to help their colleagues from Penlee. The Sennen Cove Lifeboat found it impossible to make headway round Land's End. The Lizard Lifeboat found a serious hole in its hull when it finally returned to its slipway after a fruitless search. Wreckage from the Solomon Browne was found along the shore, and the Union Star lay capsized onto the rocks west of Tater Du Lighthouse. Some, but not all, of the 16 bodies were eventually recovered.

Within a day of the disaster enough people from Mousehole had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew.[7] Coxswain Trevelyan Richards was posthumously awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's gold medal, while the remainder of the crew were all posthumously awarded bronze medals. The station itself was awarded a gold medal service plaque.[11] The disaster prompted a massive public appeal for the benefit of the village of Mousehole which raised over £3 million (£10.4 million as of 2015),[12] although there was an outcry when the government tried to tax the donations.[7]

Charlie Greenhaugh, one of the lifeboatmen who was killed, had turned on the Christmas lights in Mousehole just two nights before the disaster. After the storm the lights were left off but three days later his widow, Mary, asked for them to be repaired and lit again.[7] The village has been lit up each December since then, but on the anniversary of the disaster they are turned off at 8:00 pm for an hour as an act of remembrance.[10]

Other service awards[edit]

RNLI medals are not always awarded posthumously, but they are only awarded for exceptional courage and skill. Indeed, Trevelyan Richards had been awarded a bronze medal for a service that he led in January 1975. The Solomon Browne had been launched into a Force 12 hurricane when it was reported that the 13 crew members of the MV Lovat had abandoned ship 24 miles (39 km) south west of Lizard Point. A helicopter saved two people but the rest were drowned. The lifeboat had to drop the safety rails around its deck so that the bodies could be hauled out of the sea, all while the boat was rolling side-to-side 60˚ and the seas were washing across the boat. They were at sea for nearly eight hours.[7][12]

In 1936, Coxswain Frank Blewitt was awarded a bronze medal for rescuing the crew of nine from the SS Taycraig after it ran aground in Mount's Bay during a gale.[12] Coxswain Edwin Madron received a silver medal and Mechanic Johny Drew a bronze medal for another exceptional service in April 1947. They took the W and S out into 30 feet (9.1 m) seas to rescue eight people from HMS Warspite (03) which ran aground on the way to the breakers yard after it had been retired at the end of the Second World War.[13] Madron was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1957 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith, London.[citation needed]

On 16 December 1994, the Mabel Alice and the Sennen Cove Lifeboat were launched to the aid of the Julian Paul which was adrift in a storm the west of the Longships. The fishing boat's propeller had been fouled and she was towed back to Newlyn harbour. Neil Brockman, the Coxswain/Mechanic of the Penlee Lifeboat was awarded a bronze medal for his seamanship, leadership and meritorious conduct, as was Terry George, his counterpart from Sennen Cove.[13]


The old boathouse at Penlee Point is built into the cliffs below the Newlyn to Mousehole road. A single story building with a short slipway launched boats into Mount's Bay facing St Michael's Mount. Although no boat is stationed here, it is still maintained and a small memorial garden has been created on the north side of the boathouse where people can sit and remember the crew of the Solomon Browne.[4]

The station at Newlyn harbour comprises two buildings. The main one, which houses the crew facilities, workshop, and fund-raising gift shop,[14] is a single story masonry structure with a tile roof. The ALB berth is alongside a modern pontoon that is accessed by a metal truss walkway. A separate masonry and corrugated metal boathouse contains the ILB which is launched from a shallow slipway by its entrance.

Area of operation[edit]

The RNLI aims to reach any casualty up to 50 miles (80 km) from its stations, and within two hours in good weather. To do this Penlee's Severn-class lifeboat has an operating range of 250 nautical miles (460 km) and a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h).[15] Adjacent lifeboats are at The Lizard to the east, and Sennen Cove to the west.[16]

Current fleet[edit]

17-36 Ivan Ellen in Newlyn harbour

Former lifeboats[edit]

'ON' is the RNLI's sequential Official Number; 'Op. No.' is the operational number painted onto the boat.

Pulling and sailing lifeboats[edit]

ON Name Built At Penzance Class Comments
1803 1803–1812 North Country 27 feet (8.2 m) long,[1] the site of lifeboat house is now the entrance to the railway station carpark[5]
1825 1826–1828 Plenty 24 feet (7.3 m) long[1]
1853 1853–1856 Peake new lifeboat house built adjacent to the railway station in 1856[5]
1853 1856–1860 Peake [5][4]
Alexandra 1860 1860–1862 Peake moved to Wherrytown c.1862 after failure to launch to the aid of the Saint Prospere[5]
ON Name Built At Wherrytown Class Comments
Alexandra 1860 1862–1865 Peake c.1862
Richard Lewis 1865 1865–1884 Self–righting new timber lifeboat house opened in 1867[5]
ON Name Built At Penzance Class Comments
49 Dora 1884 1884–1895 Self–righting sold 1895 and broken up in Ireland 1980;[19] new lifeboat house opened in 1885 at Penzance Harbour[5]
378 Elizabeth and Blanche (1) 1895 1895–1899 Self–righting [5]
424 Elizabeth and Blanche (2) 1899 1899–1908 Watson to Newlyn in 1908[19]
341 Cape of Good Hope 1892 1908–1912 Self–righting Penzance became a reserve station[5]
386 Janet Hoyle 1912 1912–1917 Self–righting the lifeboat house at the bottom of Jennings Street is still extant.
ON Name Built At Newlyn Class Comments
424 Elizabeth and Blanche (2) 1899 1908–1913 Watson to Penlee in 1913[19]
ON Name Built At Penlee Class Comments
424 Elizabeth and Blanche (2) 1899 1913–1922 Watson first launch on 25 October 1913,[5] sold 1922 and last reported in use as a yacht at Falmouth in 1969[19]

Motor lifeboats[edit]

ON Op. No. Name Built At Penlee Class Comments
671 The Brothers 1922 1922–1931 45ft Watson single engine, transferred to Falmouth and sold in 1952; reported working as a dive support boat at Dover in 2007[20]
736 W and S 1930 1930–1960 45ft 6in Watson twin engines, reported being converted to a pleasure boat at Falmouth in 2008[21]
954 Solomon Browne 1960 1960–1981 47ft Watson wrecked in service[22]
987 70-001 Charles H. Barrett (Civil Service No. 35) 1965 1981 Clyde relief lifeboat[5]
866 Charles Henry Ashley 1949 1981–1982 46ft 9in Watson new to Porthdinllaen, transferred to Fowey, sold 1986 and last reported as pleasure boat Charles Ashley in 2008
926 Guy and Clare Hunter 1954 1982–1983 46ft 9in Watson previously at St Mary's and Fowey, transferred on to Padstow; sold in 1988 and reported working as a pleasure boat at Donaghadee in 2008[23]
ON Op. No. Name Built At Newlyn Class Comments
1085 52-24 Mabel Alice 1982 1983–2003 Arun sold in 2004 and reported working at Portishead in 2008[24]
1086 52-25 A.J.R. & L.G. Uridge 1983 2003–2003 Arun sold for further use as lifeboat Hebe at Kemi, Finland[16]
1265 17-36 Ivan Ellen 2003–present Severn [25]

Inshore lifeboats[edit]

Op. No. Name Built At Penlee Class Type
B-753[18] City of Bradford V 1999 2001–2002 B Atlantic 75

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Leach, Nicholas (2006) [2000]. Cornwall's Lifeboat Heritage. Chacewater: Twelveheads Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0-906294-43-6.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Leach4" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Leach4" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  2. ^ "Provincial Occurrences". New Monthly Magazine. July 1824. p. 322. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2006). p. 8.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d Leach, Nicholas (2006). pp. 41–42.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Corin, J; Farr, G (1983). Penlee Lifeboat. Penzance: Penlee & Penzance Branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. p. 120. ISBN 0-9508611-0-3.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Corin" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  6. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). Handbook 2009. Shrewsbury: Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society. pp. 24–25. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Kipling, Ray; Kipling, Susannah (2006). Never Turn Back. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 49–57. ISBN 0-7509-4307-6. 
  8. ^ Mitchell, Peter (2007-07-04). "The Penlee Lifeboat Disaster". Submerged. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  9. ^ "Lifeboat crew missing after mission". On this day. BBC. 1981-12-20. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  10. ^ a b "Solomon Browne history". BBC. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  11. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2006). pp. 32–33.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ a b c "Penlee History". RNLI. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  13. ^ a b "History". Penlee Lifeboat Station. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  14. ^ "Station History". RNLI. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  15. ^ Wake-Walker, Edward (2008). The Lifeboats Story. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 69–70. ISBN 978-0-7509-4858-6. 
  16. ^ a b Denton, Tony (2009). Handbook 2009. Shrewsbury: Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society. p. 68.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Handbook68" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  17. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). p. 35.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ a b Denton, Tony (2009). p. 44.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ a b c d Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 2–3.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 12–13.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 14–15.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 24–25.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 22–23.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 28–29.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "RNLI Penlee Lifeboat". RNLI. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 

External links[edit]