Friday, April 15, 2005


A monument to sailors' bravery


Norwich Evening News
April 13, 2005

campaign launched to preserve a boat shed
It might just look like a pile of wood and bricks to the untrained eye but protectors of history are battling to preserve these four walls.

A campaign has been launched to preserve the boat shed used by Gorleston Volunteer Lifeboat Association in memory of sailors who rescued shipwreck victims before the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) existed.

For nearly 150 years the two-century-old shack in Gorleston's quayside formed the base from which companies called the Rangers, Storm and Young Flies regularly carried out dramatic rescue operations.

However, when the RNLI formed before the turn of the 20th century the companies continued to make a living from the waters by inshore fishing or ferrying passengers across the river as a shared concern with trustees.

Dennis Durrant, a Gorleston historian, said: "They were very brave men who in difficult times put their lives at stake every time they went out on a rescue operation."

At a time when shipwrecks were more common and devastating they were prepared to risk themselves.

He said one night, also prior to the formation of the RNLI, when the North Sea was particularly treacherous more than 300 lives were claimed."If an organisation like English Heritage were to list the building now it would make a marvellous memorial to the bravery of these men, said Mr Durrant".

He has already approached English Heritage in a bid to get the shed a Grade II listing but to no avail. An inspection carried out in 1992 deemed it unsuitable for listing because it had undergone some refurbishment.

Mr Durrant said: "A boathouse such as this would have had to undergo refurbishment to have even lasted so long. This seems an absurd argument against listing this building to me."

Stephen Brewster Daniels, who describes himself as a former Quay Rat and was secretary of the Rangers in the first half of the 20th century, agreed a listing would preserve this important feature of Norfolk's coast.

He said: "It would be a good idea to preserve it because these lifeboats were not like the ones that we know now."

Recalling the dramatic events February 14 1938, when as secretary of the Rangers vessel the Elizabeth Simpson, he managed to "cobble" together a rescue crew from the young lads around the quay he said the boathouse represented an important history of the area. He said: "While the Cromer and Gorleston RNLI coastguards argued over whose waters the troubled Tartary vessel was sailing in, our makeshift team of lifesavers jumped in the Elizabeth Simpson and rescued eight crew members and the captain's wife just moments before the ship blew up."

Mr Daniels has researched and written extensively on the Elizabeth Simpson – named after the Norwich woman who replaced the company's former boat she witnessed being destroyed during a rescue operation near Gorleston's South Pier.

Mr Daniels, who lives in Great Yarmouth, said: "The Rangers existed right up until 1945 but it was the war that put a stop to the company as many of the lads never came back."

He agreed the shed was worth preserving. However a spokeswoman for English Heritage said: "Gorleston Volunteer Lifeboat House was inspected in 1992 as part of a complete review of historic buildings in the Great Yarmouth Borough area re-considered for listing in 2003. "Although of local interest as a 19th century lifeboat house it was decided that it is not of high quality and that the original building is too altered to fulfil listing criteria.

"The original windows have also been blocked with brickwork. "The lifeboat house would only be re-assessed for listing if new historical evidence came to light proving its importance and significance on a national level."


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