On the Sunday the 1st of June the former lifeboat Whitby lifeboat “William Riley” was officially unveiled to the public for the first time, after undergoing an almost complete restoration. After Saturday’s wonderful weather it was quite a disappointment to wake on the Sunday after a night of continuing rain. Despite the onslaught of non stop rain, around 100 people turned up to see the remarkable transformation of the William Riley of Birmingham and Leamington, which served in the town between 1909 and 1931 and was housed first at the Upgang lifeboat station before being transferred to Whitby. The lifeboat did not have a very illustrious career with 31 launches, saving 10 lives. It was though involved in one of the worst services undertaken by the RNLI that of the hospital ship Rohilla lost in 1914 with a loss of 84 lives. One of six lifeboats involved, the William Riley was taken overland to the Abbey Plain at a point adjacent to the wrecked vessel and manually lowered down a 200 foot perpendicular cliff face something that would be a truly amazing feat today even with all our technological advances.
The occasion started with the Treasurer of the Whitby Historic Lifeboat Trust (WHLT), who gave a monologue about the former lifeboat and the momentous occasion when it was lowered down the cliff during the Rohilla tragedy thereby securing its unique place in Whitby's lifeboat heritage. The ex chairman then gave a short talk congratulating those involved in the restoration project albeit singling out just one volunteer. During the two and a half year project there have been a lot of volunteers who have given their time freely, many of which deserved mention, sadly the ex chairman chose to name just one? Two individuals who instantly spring to mind are Tim Hicking and Mike Coates, Tim has been one of the most committed volunteers contributing right from the very beginning through to the end even after the troubles whilst Mike deserves special mention for his fine craftsmanship. His traditional woodworking skills were paramount in plugging many of the boats gaping holes, the calibre of his double planking work is second to none! It has been a demanding project taking the boat from almost certain destruction to a boat worthy of its place in Whitby's maritime heritage. The pace of the restoration has been frenetic and at times unstoppable, that is not to say it has not been an easy task. All those involved in the project from the start to its eventual completion are to be congratulated for their input little or large, it is a job well done. As a founding member of the charity and a trustee for the best part of the restoration I am pleased that I was able to play my own part in the restoration and see the William Riley as an integral part of the Rohilla story.
After a short speech by John Watson the HLF representative the century old lifeboat was officially unveiled by Maureen Goodwill, the wife of MP Robert Goodwill, which marked the culmination of two and a half year's of work. The boat was blessed by Canon David Smith and the guests were then invited to view the boat themselves. The unveiling of the William Riley received interest in the newspapers, I enjoyed a front page photograph in our local newspaper, the Whitby Gazette, whilst the "Yorkshire Post" contained a very pleasing piece, a partial copy of which can be found here. If you would like to see the piece in its full context please feel free to download it here, but please note it is a 7 mb file and may take sometime if you are on a dial up connection.
The trust responsible for over seeing the restoration reported costs of more than £20,000 which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). To conclude the brief dedication the boat was blessed by Canon David Smith. Afterwards the boat was transferred down to the marina were it was launched into the river Esk, some of those that had taken part in the project were given the opportunity to be amongst the first to row the boat. Seeing the satisfaction on Tim Hicking's face was extremely pleasing as he had put so much into the work.
It was a shame that the weather was so poor on the day as the boat looked so very different to its state when initially found, it was a sad way for the boat' introduction to the unitiated. The National Sea Cadets have already expressed an interest in using the boat as part of the Duke of Ediinburgh award scheme.
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