Barrow Civic and Local History Society welcomed guest speaker Mike Cumming, Chairman of Barrow RNLI to the October monthly meeting.
He began by explaining that the organisation was founded in 1824 by Sir William Hillary, who had witnessed the tragic loss of many lives at sea off the coast of the Isle of Man. The invention of cork lifejackets in 1854 provided lifeboats crews with better protection during rescues and lifejackets have become a vital part of the equipment ever since.
Barrow’s links with the sea meant that establishing a lifeboat here was only a matter of time. Prominent members of the town formed the first committee and in 1864 the first lifeboat house was built at Roa Island. The building is now used as the Bosun’s Locker Café and nearby can be seen the slope where the first lifeboat was launched.
Several lifeboat stations at Roa Island have been built over the years. The lifeboat was actually transferred from Roa Island to a new slipway in Barrow Harbour in 1892, but it proved too difficult to operate from there. In 1898 it was decided to move the lifeboat back to Roa Island, where it has been ever since. A particularly high tide in November 1911 reached the rafters of the lifeboat station and a new boathouse was later built. The current lifeboat house opened in 2001 and was later adapted in 2007 to accommodate a new lifeboat.
It was interesting to see photographs of the various lifeboats that have been used at Barrow, from the very first one “Commercial Traveller William Birkett”, which had been modified to become a lifeboat in 1864.Other lifeboats followed and one of those, the “Herbert Leigh” is now on display outside the Dock Museum. There are two lifeboats based now at Barrow: one of them is the Tamar class, all weather lifeboat “Grace Dixon” and the other is the D-Class Inshore lifeboat “Vision of Tamworth.”
Mike Cumming emphasised the vital role played by the RNLI when he gave details of the numbers of lives saved at sea by the various Barrow lifeboats. He gave a first-hand insight into how the crew and everyone involved at Barrow Lifeboat Station keep people safe at sea. The charity relies very much on the support of the public through legacies, donations and volunteers. Educating the public with the “Respect the Water” campaign is an important part of the RNLI’s work, both nationally and locally.