By Eric Streeton
At a recent post card fair I found the card illustrated above. Written on the back in pencil were the words, “Lifeboat at Rye Sussex”. So my challenge to Rye’s Own readers is to help me positively identify the craft. These are my thoughts on it, but I may well stand to be corrected. It does not appear to be the Mary Stanford, could it be the boat that was on station before her, from 1900 to 1916? A 35ft self-righter, the John William Dudley. In Ted Carpenter’s book, Wrecks and Rescues of the Romney Marsh Coast there is an almost identical picture of the craft, named the John William Dudley. Now dear Readers am I on the right track or have I got it completely wrong? Some one out there knows the answer! I can be contacted through Rye’s Own, or by E-Mail at [email protected]
Edward Carpenter’s book gives a lot of information about all the lifeboats stationed at the Rye/Winchelsea/ Rye Harbour Lifeboat Station.
It appears that the John William Dudley pictured in his book is certainly the same boat as pictured on this page. The large man with the flat hat in the bows appears in both pictures and he could indeed be Coxswain James Morris Downer (Downey?) who was one of the heroes of a gallant rescue on 22nd. January 1906 who skilfully manoeuvred the John William Dudley alongside the stricken Ketch Lord Tennyson as she floundered with broken masts and her steering gone off the rocks under
Fairlight. Three crewmen and a dog were snatched to safety by the lifeboat men shortly before their ship was smashed to match wood in the vicious seas. Indeed the storm was so bad that Downer had to make for Hastings and it was two days before the weather eased enough to allow the John William Dudley to return to her station.
At this time the Station was known as Winchelsea but in 1910 it was decided that, because the boat was launched and manned by the men of Rye Harbour the name of the Lifeboat Station should be changed to Rye Harbour.
In 1916 the John William Dudley was replaced by the ill fated Mary Stanford, unlike the John William Dudley, not a self righter. She capsized in November 1928 with the loss of all seventeen of her crew. This terrible tragedy affected almost every home in the tiny village, the flower of her manhood was taken in one fell swoop.
Edward Carpenter tells us that records suggest that Rye possessed a lifeboat as far back as 1803. It is believed to have been designed and built by Henry Greathead and was probably stationed at Martello Tower No. 31 on the Winchelsea side and run by a local committee. There are no details of rescues or services. This station was closed in 1824. A second lifeboat was placed there in 1832, remaining until 1856. In that year the R.N.L.I. assumed responsibility for running the station and from 1862 it became know as Winchelsea Lifeboat Station. ~
March 2005 Issue of “Rye’s Own”
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