The Henry Frederick Swan
The lifeboat was built in 1917 at the Cowes yard of S E Saunders on the Isle of Wight. She cost £6,901 to construct, and was a gift from the widow of Henry Frederick Swan who had been prominent in Tyne shipbuilding circles and was also chairman of the Tynemouth branch of the RNLI for many years.
She replaced the previous Tynemouth lifeboat Henry Vernon, which had been transferred to Sunderland where she remained in service until 1935. The Henry Frederick Swan’s first recorded rescue was in the winter of 1920 when she went to the assistance of a steam trawler, the Current, that had run aground on the Black Middens. In subsequent years the lifeboat, housed at Clifford’s Fort at North Shields, was called out many times, but it was her last call-out of that era on the Tyne station that was also the most tragic. This was shortly before the Second World War when the Cullercoats lifeboat Richard Silver Oliver capsized while on exercise. Six of the 10 lifeboatmen aboard were lost.
The Henry Frederick Swan eventually passed into the reserve fleet in 1939, being replaced by the John Pyemont. In 1941, however, an air raid destroyed both the RNLI and Tyne Lifeboat Society boathouses at North Shields, together with the boats John Pyemont and James Young that were inside them. The Henry Frederick Swan consequently returned to service at Tynemouth and during the war assisted several vessels, including the submarine Tuna when she ran aground south of St Mary’s Island in 1943.
Eventually the old lifeboat was replaced in 1948 by the new Watson class Tynesider, and was subsequently acquired by local Sea Scouts, passing into private ownership and then to the North East Maritime Trust who bought her from an individual who had kept her at Lemington and transported her to a temporary storage site at Tyne Dock courtesy of Port of Tyne.
The restoration of the lifeboat started with its transportation from Tyne Dock to its present location in the NEMT’s premises in Wapping Street in South Shields. The lifeboat had to be lifted by crane onto a transporter lorry for the journey.
Due to the length of the lifeboat and the transporter, it was not possible to deliver it to the riverside entrance of the NEMT premises so the lifeboat had to be lifted, swung and then lowered onto a cradle in the side road alongside the building. The crane then lifted the lifeboat over the top of the building before being positioned at the riverside entrance.
With careful handling, the lifeboat was pulled inside and now stands in its present position. The first job was to lift her up to a suitable height and chocks inserted so that any work on the underside of the hull could be carried out safely.
The vessel was subsequently stripped down and a detailed survey undertaken by boat builder Fred Crowell who prepared a work schedule.
Restoration is now expected to be complete by Summer 2015 and it is hoped that before too long, Henry Frederick Swan will make her way out of the Tyne piers once again, accompanied by the current Tynemouth lifeboat Spirit of Northumberland.
Find out more about the North East Maritime Trust.