The History of the Torbay Lifeboat Stations
A station was established at Brixham in 1866. The Torquay Station was established in 1876 and was closed in 1923 when a motor lifeboat was placed at Brixham. In 1924 the Brixham station was renamed Torbay.
A fleet of merchant ships were caught in Tor Bay when the wind moved suddenly to north-east increasing to hurricane strength and accompanied by heavy sleet on 10/11 January 1866, causing the loss of approximately 40 out of 60-70 ships that were sheltering there, and the tragic loss of nearly 100 lives. As a result the RNLI established a lifeboat station in Brixham in 1866 and Torquay 1876
BRIXHAM and TORQUAY
1866 Brixham Lifeboat house constructed at a cost of £175 near Bolton Cross (Town Centre).
1872 New Brixham lifeboat house erected near corner of the breakwater at a cost of £396.
1873 Original lifeboat house was sold for £50 to ground landlords who intended to give it to the Council for a fire station.
1876 Torquay lifeboat house constructed at a cost of £336.
1881 On 14 October the Torquay lifeboat was returning from Brixham after a service to the fishing boat Black Cat whilst a gale was at its height when the lifeboat was caught by heavy squall and capsized. All the crew regained the lifeboat.
1883 Torquay lifeboat house threatened by encroachment of the sea.
1884 Torquay lifeboat house lengthened to take a new lifeboat.
1889 Vellum voted to Rev R F Elrington on resigning after 24 years as honorary secretary.
1896 Water and gas supplied to Torquay lifeboat house.
1908 Grant of £200 to Robert Northway for injury to left arm on service 8 December 1907. His arm was considered useless.
1913 Electric light service provided for Brixham lifeboat house.
1915 Second Coxswain William Pillar was awarded the Albert Medal by His Majesty King George V for the rescue of 71 survivors of HMS Formidable during a hurricane in the Channel on New Year’s Day 1915, and to achieve this he gybed his fishing smack Provident three times to establish contact with the pinnace in which the men were displaying signals of distress.
1920 On 28 January the lifeboat capsized whilst out on service to a condemned German destroyer in a whole easterly gale. The lifeboat was struck on the starboard bilge by an exceptionally heavy sea but quickly recovered herself and all the crew scrambled back into her without loss of life.
1923 Torquay Lifeboat Station closed on 31st March. (The station, on The Ladies Bathing Beach – Beacon Cove was demolished in 1975)
The Torquay lifeboats were launched 26 times and rescued 19 lives from 1876-1923.
1924 Brixham Lifeboat Station renamed as TORBAY Lifeboat Station
1936 Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain W A Mogridge for a service on 30 December 1935. A wireless message was intercepted from an American steamer that a vessel, the trawler Satanicle, was in distress 15 miles east of Start Point. A whole south south westerly gale was blowing with a heavy confused sea and an abnormally strong tide was running. A message was sent to the American vessel asking her to use her searchlight as a guide to the lifeboat. Three members of the crew of the Satanicle had been rescued by another vessel and, with great difficulty the last member of the crew, the skipper was rescued by the lifeboat.
1937 Bronze Medal Clasp awarded to Coxswain W A Mogridge for the gallant and dangerous service to the steamer English Trader which ran ashore on Checkstone Ledge at the entrance to Dartmouth Harbour to 23 January 1937. The lifeboat had stood by all night, the wind had increased to a gale from the south south east, the heavy swell had lifted the English Trader, swung round her stern and was pounding her bows heavily on the rocks: seas 15 feet high were breaking over the steamer and the Captain thought she could last no longer. The lifeboat closed at once and the work of the 52 men aboard was extremely hazardous.
1939 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain W A Mogridge, for the rescue of the crew of two of the open motor crabber Channel Pride which was overtaken by a sudden gale off Coombe Point, Dartmouth, on 9 December 1938. A gorse fire was started on the cliff top to guide the lifeboat to the position of the crabber which had no lights near the Redlap Cliffs. It was a hazardous rescue carried out with great daring.
1940 Member of the crew, F R Tucker, was out on service on 29 January and escorted the Belgian fishing vessel ‘Jan Denye’ to Brixham in gale force East South East Winds. It was the first night of wartime ‘blackout’. Crewman Tucker was subjected to extreme exposure during this service. He died in March 1940.
1940 Silver Medal Clasp awarded to Coxswain W A Morgridge and Bronze Medals awarded to Second Coxswain W Pillar, Mechanic R T Harris and Bowman F Sanders for the rescue on 16 December 1939 of seven people from the schooner Henrietta which had been carried out by the strong spring tides and an east north easterly gale to the edge of the dangerous reef the Skerries south of Dartmouth.
1945 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain F C Sanders and the Bronze Second-Service Clasp to Mechanic R T Harris for the rescue of 19 men from the Tug Empire Alfred and Yard Craft No 345 on 17 December 1944.
1952 Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain H O Thomas for the rescue of 11 people from the Tug Trieste on 30 January 1952. A whole gale was blowing from south south west with frequent squalls of rain and sleet and a heavy sea running. The tug was found off the mouth of the River Exe about a mile from Start Point riding to a sea anchor; she was yawing violently and five men were below the prostrate with seasickness.
1957 Before the alarm rocket, an ancient hand bell used to be rung to summon the lifeboat crew. This bell was originally used by the fish salesmen in Brixham fish market to summon would be buyers ready for auction. The fishermen understood that a furious ringing of the hand bell meant that they were required for the lifeboat service.
1958 On 25 July the new lifeboat Princess Alexandra of Kent was named by HRH Princess Alexandra; the daughter of HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, the President of the Institution. At the ceremony a glass tankard, inscribed with the signatures of the lifeboat crew, was presented to Princess Alexandra by the daughter of the Honorary Secretary.
1960 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain H O Thomas, Bronze Third-Service Clasp to Motor Mechanic R T Harris and Vellum thanks to Second Coxswain A Bartlett, Bowman J Fry, Assistant mechanic J W Harris and crew members D W O Thomas, K H Thomas, P V Easton; for the service on 7 December 1959, when a man was rescued from a lighter which had broken adrift from a Dutch tug.
1964 D class lifeboat sent to station in April.
1965 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain Harold Coyde and a Bronze Fourth-Service Clasp to Motor Mechanic R T Harris for attempting to rescue two men from the motor vessel Northwind which went aground on 22 December 1964 in an easterly gale and heavy confused sea. The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to the other eight members of the crew.
1966 A Centenary Vellum was presented to the Torbay station by Lady Egremont, President of the Ladies Lifeboat Guild at a ceremony held at the inner harbour Brixham, to mark the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Torbay station previously known as Brixham.
1969 In July the Hatch type boat 18.03 was sent to station for evaluation trials.
1970 D class lifeboat withdrawn in October and 18.03 became the station inshore lifeboat.
1974 Silver Medal awarded to Motor Mechanic Barry Pike in recognition of his courage and determination when on 5 October 1973 he leapt from the inshore lifeboat into a very rough sea in an attempt to rescue a woman and, although ashore completely exhausted, he re-entered the sea several times to bring the woman’s body ashore. Coxswain Kenneth Gibbs, who was the Helmsman of the ILB on this occasion and was accorded the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum. The Ralph Glister award for the most meritorious service performed by the crew of an ILB was awarded to Motor Mechanic Barry Pike for this service.
Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain Kenneth Gibbs in recognition of his courage and excellent seamanship when the lifeboat rescued the crew of one of the fishing boat Petit Michel in difficulties 38 miles south-east-by-east of Torbay on 16/17 December 1973 in a west-north-westerly gale and a very rough sea.
1975 Hatch type boat 18.03 withdrawn and replaced by an 18ft McLachlan lifeboat.
1976 Bronze Medal awarded to crew member John Dew in recognition of his courage and determination when he swam ashore from the lifeboat with a line and then swam alongside six adults, eight children and a dog making seven trips in all to escort them to the lifeboat after being stranded on a beach when their speedboat was wrecked on 23 August 1976.
1977 Gold Medal awarded to Acting Coxswain Keith William Bower, Bronze Medals to Mechanic Stephen James Bower, Assistant Mechanic William John Hunkin, crew members Michael Mills, Nicholas Davies, Richard Brown, and Bronze Second-Service Clasp to crew member John Dew for a service on 6 December 1976, when the lifeboat Edward Bridges (Civil Service No 37) rescued the crew of 10 of the motor vessel Lyrma of Panama. The Lyrma was in distress seven and a half miles east south east of Start Point in a southerly storm and very high seas.
1978 Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain George Edward Dyer in recognition of his courage and skill when the lifeboat rescued the crew of three of the pilot cutter Leslie H, which had a steering failure one mile south-east of Berry Head in an east south easterly storm and a very rough sea on 19 February 1978. The lifeboat was hit by a freak wave of 30 to 35 feet during this service which nearly capsized her. One of the lifeboat crew members was washed out of the lifeboat and was recovered. The lifeboat crew each received a framed medal service certificate.
1979 Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain Arthur Curnow in recognition of his courage, skill and seamanship when the lifeboat rescued the crew of six of the trawler Fairway which had broken down and was drifting in Lyme Bay in a south easterly storm and heavy seas on 2 December 1978.
A Framed Letter of Appreciation signed by the Chairman of the Institution awarded to Coxswain Arthur Curnow, Acting Assistant Mechanic Brian Caunter and crew member Michael Kingston for the rescue of three men stranded on rocks on 14 August.
1987 An 18ft McLachlan lifeboat withdrawn and replaced by D class lifeboat D-354 “Alfred George Martin” on 19 January.
1988 On 29 April Torbay Lifeboat Station was granted the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Torbay.
1990 The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to Coxswain Curnow in recognition of the skill and high standard of seamanship displayed by him when the lifeboat took off an injured crew member by stretcher from the fishing vessel Carhelmar, whose beam trawl had fouled the seabed, 14.5 miles east of Berry Head in a south westerly gale gusting to Force 9, very high seas and darkness on the night of 22 January.
Work carried out on boathouse in order to accommodate the D class lifeboat and crew facilities.
1992 A collective Framed Letter of Appreciation signed by the Chairman of the Institution was awarded to Coxswain David Hurford, Second Coxswain Richard Morphett, Emergency Mechanic Stephen Bower, crew members Dr Raymond Foster, Cyril Yeoman, Nigel Crang and Mr Ernest Fradd in recognition of their fine display of teamwork when the lifeboat Edward Bridges (Civil Service No 37) rescued the sole occupant of the fishing vessel Julie Ann, which sank at New Ridge on 15 March.
1992 Ex-Coxswain Arthur L V Curnow awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
1994 Gold Medal plaque situated in the wheelhouse of the lifeboat Edward Bridges (Civil Service No 37) was removed when the lifeboat was taken out of service and placed in the boathouse on 29 June. This plaque was in recognition of the gold medal awarded to Keith Bower for the service on 6 December 1976 when the lifeboat rescued the crew of 10 of the motor vessel Lyrma.
1995 A Framed Letter of Appreciation signed by the Chairman of the Institution awarded to crew member Nigel Crang in recognition of his courage when from the inshore lifeboat he entered the water and swam, in breaking seas, inside a cave at Hollicombe Head to rescue two people cut off by the tide on 8 August 1994.
1996 New D class lifeboat (D504 “Spirit of the RPC”) placed on service on 26 September.
1998 A Framed Letter of Appreciation signed by the Chairman of the Institution was awarded to Coxswain David Hurford for his leadership, initiative and superb seamanship when the lifeboat Marie Winstone launched on 1 January to the 17,134 GRT tanker Santa Anna which had dragged her anchor and was aground on Thatcher Rock, to the north of the lifeboat station in a southerly Force 8-9 Gale with moderate visibility and frequent heavy rain squalls. Darkness had fallen and driving rain and spray from 16 feet seas reduced visibility even further and the lifeboat’s deck lights failed. As the lifeboat could not tow a vessel of this size it was decided to pass a line to the Santa Anna and then transfer it to the more powerful trawler Marbella which was approaching together with two pilot vessels. The lifeboat passed a towline to a pilot which had a wire from the Marbella on board. As both vessels had heavy towing gear attached the towlines were successfully joined together. The Coastguard tug Far Minara arrived and the Marbella’s towline was let go. The lifeboat was taken close up to the tanker to pass the tow from the tug which could not get close in the shallow water and the Santa Anna was towed clear of the rocks and taken to safe anchorage.
1999 The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was awarded to Helmsman Nigel Crang and crew member Simon James and a formal letter of appreciation signed by the Chairman of the Institution was presented to crew member Nick O’Brien for the rescue of three teenage boys cut off by the tide in a cove at Roundham Head on 19 April. The Deputy Divisional Inspector’s report stated that the rescue was conducted on the very edge of D-class operating conditions, in rough seas and heavy swell.
2001 The new station Severn class lifeboat ON1255 Alec and Christina Dykes was placed on service on 31 October. ON1076 Marie Winstone was stood down from service.
2002 Following the visit on 24 October 2001 by the Coast Review delegation, led by Admiral Sir Jock Slater, it was agreed by the Search and Rescue Committee on 6 February 2002 and resolved by the Executive Committee at their meeting on 10 April 2002 that there be no change to the lifeboat cover provided at Torbay Lifeboat Station.
2003 Visit by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.
2005 The new class of lifeboat IB1, D-651 “John William Hirst” was placed on service on Tuesday 4 October. D-504 has been withdrawn.
2006 Following the visit on 14th October 2006 by the Coast Review delegation, led by Admiral John Tolhurst, it was agreed by the Trustee Committee in March 2007 that there be no change to the lifeboat cover provided at Torbay Lifeboat Station
2007 Boathouse internal upgrade and layouts completed in May at a cost of £69,000 to improve crew changing facilities and improve training and meeting areas.
2007 A dedicated pontoon mooring was established in November at a final cost of £609,450 for the Station Severn Class Lifeboat.
2008 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain Mark Criddle, and the Thanks of the Institution on Vellum was accorded to all of his crew; Second Coxswain Roger Good, Deputy Second Coxswain John Ashford, Mechanic Mathew Tyler, Second Mechanic Nigel Coulton, Crew Members Darryll Farley and Dr Alexander Rowe in recognition of their courage, skill and determination when the lifeboat saved the lives of eight of the crew of the freighter Ice Prince on the night of 13 January 2008. The disabled freighter had a list of 45 degrees, was pitching and rolling severely in south westerly force 9 winds and four metre seas. The lifeboat made approximately 50 approaches to the freighter to save the men, one at a time. Captain Kevin Balls and the crew of coastguard rescue helicopter India Juliet were accorded a collective Thanks on Vellum for saving the lives of the other 12 crew members.
2008 The Torbay Lifeboat Crew won the national Pride of Britain Emergency Services Award hosted by GMTV, ITV and the Co-operative Society – the award was presented by the Prime Minister the Rt Hon Gordon Brown.
2008 Coxswain Mark Criddle awarded ‘The Emile Robin Award’ by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Royal Benevolent Society for an outstanding sea rescue. He also received the James Michael Bower Endowment Fund award.
2008 Coxswain Mark Criddle awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
2010 ‘Alec and Christina Dykes’ – ON1255 – RNLI 17-28 refitted at the South Boats, Cowes, Isle of Wight.
2010 Following a visit by the Coast Review delegation it was agreed by the Trustee Committee that there should be no change to the lifeboat cover provided at Torbay Lifeboat Station.
2011 The Thanks of the Institution on Vellum was awarded to Nigel Crang Helmsman of the Inshore Lifeboat ‘John William Hirst’ together with framed letters of thanks signed by the Chairman to crew members John Heale and Will Bower for the rescue of two from the foundering yacht ‘Blithe Spirit’ at Corbyn Head, Torquay. In addition a letter of recognition signed by the Operations Director to Richard Fowler 2nd Coxswain of the All Weather Lifeboat ‘Alec and Christina Dykes’ which gave support during the rescue sequence.
2012 Crewman Ryan Bradfield and Coxswain Mark Criddle were awarded a framed letter of thanks signed by the Chairman for the recovery of a person from the sea at Pier Point, Torquay. Crewman Bradfield entered the sea in storm conditions to recover the person whilst Coxswain Criddle managed the lifeboat in close proximity to the promenade and harbour pier structures in storm conditions. The crew received a signed letter from the Chief Executive in recognition for their contribution to this difficult recovery.
2015 Seaflex Pontoon System removed in October to be replaced by a piled pontoon system
2015 The IB1 D Class lifeboat D-651 was withdrawn from service on 25 November and replaced by an identical craft D-788 to be named the ‘Leslie and Mary Daws’. This is a normal life cycle replacement with the naming ceremony occurring on 12 August 2016 during the annual Lifeboat Week and Station 150th Anniversary celebrations.
2016 Revised pontoon arrangements completed in May
2016 Lifeboat Management Group Chairman David E Ham appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2016 Birthday Honours List. Citation – Volunteer, Torbay Lifeboat, RNLI, For services to maritime safety.
2016 A Torbay Civic Society ‘Blue Plaque’ donated by David and Barbara Smithson, Brixham Lifeboat Guild Members, was unveiled by the High Sheriff of Devon (Mrs Angela Gilbert) on 3rd October celebrating 150 years to the day of the arrival on the first lifeboat ‘City of Exeter’ in 1866. The Plaque is affixed to the station building.
2017 Following a visit by the Coast Review delegation it was agreed by the Trustee Committee that there should be no change to the lifeboat cover provided at Torbay Lifeboat Station.
2017 All Weather Lifeboat ON1255 – RNLI 17-28 (Alec & Christina Dykes) refit at South Yard IoW including revised electronics and replacement of the original Caterpillar engines with MTU Units delivering up to 1600 hp each. She returned to station in February 2018
2018 – Brixham Guild and Paignton Branch merged to form the Torbay Lifeboat Fundraisers (TLF) under the Chairmanship of Mrs Lynn Spillett.
2018 Torbay Lifeboat Station Coxswain Mark John Criddle appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queens 2018 Birthday Honours List. Citation – Volunteer, Torbay Lifeboat, RNLI, For services to maritime safety.
The Torquay lifeboats were launched 26 times and rescued 19 lives between 1876-1923.
The men of Torbay have been awarded 27 medals, one Gold, seven Silver and 19 Bronze. The last was voted in 2008. (For more detail see the ‘Awards’ page)
Letters of Thanks from Italian Government for rescue of three from SS Libert in February 1926.
Letter of Thanks from Netherlands Government for service to motor vessel Zeehound in January 1936.
The French Government in 1936 awarded Silver Medals to the Coxswain and Second Coxswain, and Bronze Medals to the crew for the service to motor trawler Satanicle on 30 December 1935.
Letter of Thanks from Belgian Marine Department for the rescue of two from motor fishing boat De Moeuv in October 1944. The Queen of the Netherlands awarded the Silver Medal of Humane Assistance to Coxswain H O Thomas and the Bronze Medal of the Humane Assistance to each of the crew members following the rescue of a man from a lighter which broke adrift from a Dutch tug on 7 December 1959.