Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Potted History of the Fleetwood Coastguard: Part One

This is the rear of the coastguard cottages on the corner of Abbots Walk in Fleetwood. It’s a bit of an odd photograph to start off with, I must admit, seeing as a view of the front of said cottages would be considerably more picturesque. However, just stick with us, and all will be revealed.


The coastguard cottages, you see, as pleasant as they are, weren’t actually built for ornamentation. Originally they served a far more practical purpose.
The coastguard itself was first introduced to Fleetwood in 1858, under the enthusiastic guidance of Captain Edward Wasey of the Royal Navy. Within four years these cottages had been built to house the grand total of one officer and six members of the crew.
You might be wondering why they built them so far from the lifeboat house? Surely every second counts in dangerous marine rescues? Well, the truth is, back in those days the lifeboat house didn’t exist. Neither for that matter did the Edwardian seafront gardens or the Mount Hotel that now separate Abbots Walk from the beach. In fact, at high tide, the sea reached as far as the front walls of the coastguard cottages, which is why the cottages themselves are built on a hummock.
The coastguard’s boats, on the other hand, were kept at the rear of the cottages (see, we told you all would be revealed) although exactly whereabouts we couldn’t honestly say. (We’re copying most of this from a Bill Curtis book and then altering the words slightly to make it sound as though we know what we’re talking about, so don’t blame us.)
What a lot of people don’t realise is, way back when, there was a stream running between Abbots Walk and the Mount. This was handy, because the crew, in times of necessity, could float their boats along said stream and out to sea…or more precisely, Morecambe Bay.
Unfortunately we don’t seem to have a map anywhere showing this stream, which is a bit odd in its own right, but we’re not going to argue with Bill Curtis (mainly because she’s not around to argue back any more, but also because she’s generally right about these things and, other than it not appearing on any old maps, we’ve no particular reason to doubt her research). Instead we’ve scanned in this early map of Fleetwood (Birling Terrace being, of course, our row of coastguard cottages…er…we think) and added a blue line to represent the course of the stream, approximately placed using a combination of guesswork and randomly stabbing in the dark.


(Complaints about inaccuracies etc. to the usual address please: i.e. the dustbin opposite the Ferryboat House, Fleetwood.)
In 1859, just one year after the coastguard had been established in the town, the indomitable Captain Wasey applied for a proper R.N.L.I. lifeboat, which was kept in a specially built boathouse on the beach opposite the North Euston hotel.


Yes, all right…that’s not the original lifeboat house. The original, apparently, was further up the beach where the pier now stands -- or rather did stand until a couple of months ago -- but we haven’t got any photographs of it, so this’ll have to do.
Captain Wasey’s request for an R.N.L.I. boat was a reasonable one to make. Despite the fact that it didn’t even have a name (at least, if it did, we haven’t been able to find out what it was, although no doubt somebody out there will be quick enough off the mark to inform us if they know different) before it’s retirement it had managed to save thirty-two lives. Not bad for a mere three years active service, after which, unfortunately, it was fatally damaged during the dramatic rescue of the William Henry, a schooner from Liverpool.
Rescuing ships in distress is an incredibly difficult task when you don’t have a boat yourself, so up stepped Miss Mary Wasey (the good captain’s daughter) with three hundred and forty quid of her own money (and that was a heck of lot of dosh back in those days) to finance a new, larger lifeboat with all the trimmings. (It was self-righting for a start, which always helps when you’re dealing with violent storms.)
This new boat was named the Edward Wasey for obvious reasons.
Now, I could be wrong about this, and again if I am I’ve no doubt that somebody out there will want to tell me all about it, but I reckon this is a photograph of said new and improved bionic lifeboat. It looks about right, thirty-two feet in length by seven feet across, with its own launching carriage and latest mod cons and what have you. However, in lieu of enthusiastic complaints I’m not going to put my hand on my heart and swear to that.


At which point, in the full knowledge that there’s still an awful lot of ground (or water) to cover with this potted history, it might be best if we abandon the article at this point for some well earned refreshments.
To be continued in a few days time.

15 comments:

John said...

Brian,
I notice in the first photo that there be red bricks built upon large old stones... any clues there? Was this an aesthetic choice, or was this building built upon an older foundation, or as you've mentioned in past posts, built from what was at hand?

Just curious, JOHN :0)

32 lives? No wonder a life boat was needed! Either that, or swimming lessons.

RVB said...

The bricks are remarkably pretty; they cultivate a nice atmosphere.

Brian Hughes said...

John,

They're those old sandstone blocks again, aren't they? To be honest, I hadn't noticed until you mentioned them. I suspect they came from the same place as the other incongruous sandstone blocks scattered around the back alleys of Fleetwood. The only trouble is, I've no idea where that was.

Reuben,

Only when they're not being carried around purposefully by one of the local kids, or as we prefer to think of them, the Codhead Youth.

Jayne said...

Lovely brickwork!
And they say tradies have no imagination...!

RVB said...

Codhead youth? Sounds rather fishy.

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

It's a heap of bricks like 97 per cent of Fleetwood...or possibly my normally 20/20 aesthetic judgement is becoming impared.

Reuben,

They tend to smell a bit fishy as well.

John said...

Note to all,

Has anyone else had problems accessing this site? I'm having a deuced time of it, and am lucky to get in at all.

Puzzled in Jersey :0)

Jayne said...

Dear Puzzled in Jersey-
Haven't had trouble accessing this blog but other blogs have been giving me the run around past few days.
Perhaps standing on our heads, whistling 'Rule, Britannia' and reporting Google to the RSPCA will stop its mucking about.

Yours,
Permanently Confused in Melbourne

Brian Hughes said...

"I'm having a deuced time of it, and am lucky to get in at all."

John, the latter half of that sentence is debateable.

Jayne,


"Perhaps standing on our heads, whistling 'Rule, Britannia' and reporting Google to the RSPCA will stop its mucking about."

I tried that, but all I got was an answer machine in Bangladesh and the offer of a free one-way flight to the 'Taj Motel Timeshare Pressure Group Exposition'.

Yours, Confused Imperpetuity.

Jayne said...

Why do I suddenly have visions of Peter Sellers in The Party saying "birdie num nums"...?

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I'm not sure. Perhaps somebody's been spiking your eggnog.

Jayne said...

The hen is yet to lay the egg with which I shall ever sup of eggnog after the Horror Homemade Batch of '87. *shudder*

Brian Hughes said...

That was before the discovery in '88 that the hen was, in fact, a cockeral?

Jayne said...

*shriek*

WV is "fling" - something I shall do with any glass not containing lemonade this festive season :P

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Nope I've read that five times now and I still don't understand it. Too early in the morning for me I think...or senility creeping in...possibly both.