The History of the Old Lifeboat House

Porthleven’s first RNLI station opened in 1863. It was a galvanised shed on the top road on Breageside on land leased from the Lord of the Manor of Methleigh for 60 years from 6 April 1863 at a rent of 10 shillings per annum. The lifeboat, the 30-foot Agar-Robartes, funded by T J Agar-Robartes MP, was kept on a special carriage which would be pulled by 4, 6 or even 7 horses to the launch site where the boat could be launched straight off the carriage. This could be in Porthleven or nearby coves such as Praa Sands. The Agar-Robartes was initially a 30-foot self-righting 6-oared boat with a crew of 9 costing £196. The boat was converted to a 10-oared boat needing a crew of 13 in 1866.

A new self-righting lifeboat, the Charles Henry Wright, arrived on 24 November 1882. The new boat was a 34-foot, 10-oared boat with a crew of 13. The boat cost £363 and was provided by a legacy a Mrs Eliza Wright of Southport and named in memory of her late son.

This new building was built at a cost of £1,481 on land leased for 99 years from Porthleven Harbour and Dock Company. It was opened in December 1894. When it was first built, it had solid wooden doors. The rough seas would smash these doors down so it was not long before the doors were replaced with iron gates (which did not present a solid barrier to the waves and allowed the sea to enter and then flow back out). The new building was intended to allow the boat to be launched at all states of the tide.

The lease on the old lifeboat house was surrendered in March 1898 and the shed was demolished. Two houses were built on the site. The stretch of road, then called Lifeboat Terrace, was renamed Claremont Terrace.

A new self-righting lifeboat, the John Francis White, arrived in 1900. She was a 35-foot boat with 10 oars and a crew of 13. The boat was funded by Mrs Mary Ann White from London in memory of her husband and cost £795.

A new lifeboat, built in 1902 at a cost of £822, arrived from the RNLI’s reserve fleet in 1926. The Dash was a 35-foot 10-oared 13-crew boat. It was known at the time that this lifeboat would have a short life-span at Porthleven because new lifeboats with motors at the Lizard and Penlee could cover the Porthleven area more efficiently. Dash had initially been based at Blyth in Northumberland,

Porthleven’s RNLI station was finally closed on 10 September 1929. During the station’s 66-year history, the 4 boats made 28 emergency launches and saved 50 lives. Anyone who has witnessed a full blown storm in Porthleven will marvel at the bravery of the early lifeboatmen who risked their lives every time they launched into the rough seas of Mounts Bay relying solely on their own courage and muscle power.

Tony Treglown, June 2014