Morecambe Fishermen’s Lifeboat, ‘Sir William Priestley’, 1934

Sir William Priestley

The Morecambe Fishermen’s Association provided their own lifeboats. The first was ‘Gyakhan’, a large rowing boat built in 1895, the year following the capsizing of the Bay Boat ‘Matchless’ with the loss of 25 passengers. ‘Gyakhan’ was followed by the ‘Rescue’ in 1907, which was sailed powered. In 1934 the ‘Rescue’ in turn was replaced by the ‘Sir William Priestley’.

The ‘Sir William Priestley’, built by Crossfields of Arnside in 1934 was 27 ft. long with 9.5 ft. beam and 3.5 ft draft, gaff rig with Thorneycroft ‘Handy Billy’ engine. Lady Priestley donated the money in memory of her husband, a Bradford mill owner, MP and supporter of the RNLI. Sir William had been involved in fundraising for the Spurn Head lifeboat ‘City of Bradford II’.

Morecambe was popular with holidaymakers from Bradford and was often known as ‘Bradford by the Sea’. At her launch in 1934, she was paraded up the Promenade from Morecambe to Heysham watched by 20,000 people. The launch was attended by Lord Mayors of Bradford & Leeds and the Mayor of Morecambe.

Six or more replicas have been made of the ‘Sir William Priestley’ in glass fibre using a mould taken from the original wood boat in 1979 by Eric Bergqvist, a boatbuilder from Lym, Cheshire. ‘Sir William Priestley’ was retired from service in 1987 due to age and as most rescues were carried out by the RNLI, who set up a lifeboat station in Morecambe in 1966. She rests in Lancaster Maritime Museum awaiting restoration.

‘Sir William Priestley’ on display, Morecambe Promenade, 1934

During the course her career ‘Sir William Priestley’ helped swimmers in difficulty, people cut off by the tide, broken-down speedboats and capsized dinghies. She also took part in many perilous rescue missions of vessels in distress on the Bay, sometimes in atrocious weather.

Replicas of ‘Sir William Priestley’

By 1983 around eight hulls are thought to have been taken from the mould. A Morecambe fisherman buys the first hull and names the boat ‘Linda’ after his wife. The boat is fitted out by the fisherman in his back garden. The following year, ‘Venture’ is built as a fishing boat from a mould, for use off the Wirral coast and  ‘Beryl’ (originally ‘Drifter’) is made from a hull as a yacht. Her first owner lived in London and kept the boat on the Medway.

In 1985 Eric Bergqvist races ‘Freda’ in the Liverpool Nobby Race. ‘Freda’ is named after his wife. ‘Freda’ is open decked and in 1989 Classic Yachts of Southampton buy Eric Berqvist’s ‘Freda’ and another hull with the view to producing a ‘Freda’ class yacht based on the design of the ‘Sir William Priestley’. Classic Yachts fit out ‘Freda’ as a prototype for the class and display her at Southampton Boat Show. Only ‘Freda’ is built and  sails on the Solent.

In 1990 ‘Minx’ was bought as a bare hull and fitted out by her first owner as a yacht for use in the Bristol Channel area. Launched 1993 her ownership passed to Paul Jolley, who sails her in the south west of England.

‘Minx’ races with the South West Gaffers, 2017 Photo: Immanuel Craig

There are thought to be at least two other boats taken from the mould: ‘Lucy’ on the River Wyre near Fleetwood and ‘Jean’ on the East Coast. The Nobby Owners Association owns a hull.

contributed by Alasdair Simpson, North West Area Archive
archive images courtesy of the Keith Willacy Collection/ Morecambe Bay Partnership