Whitby's 103-year-old lifeboat Robert & Ellen Robson to be pulled through streets - here's why

Whitby RNLI's 103-year-old rowing lifeboat is to be pulled through the streets by crew on Saturday September 25 as the first step in a major museum redevelopment.

By Duncan Atkins
Monday, 20th September 2021, 11:26 am

The historic lifeboat, currently on display in the museum on Pier Road, is housed in the RNLI's only remaining pulling carriage and will be pulled through Whitby by around 24 current lifesaving volunteers to a temporary home at Coates Marine while the renovations take place.

A Road Closure Order has been obtained for Pier Road to enable the boat to be moved against the normal traffic flow.

The lifeboat will be on display on the corner of Baxtergate and New Quay Road between 11am and 3.30pm on the day as part of a fundraising event, where current lifeboat crew will be on hand to talk about the charity’s work and accept donations.

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Whitby lifeboat museum curator Neil Williamson with shop manager Barrie Lazenby outside the museum where Robert & Ellen Robson is currently housed.

The Rubie class RNLI lifeboat Robert & Ellen Robson, built in 1918, served in Whitby from 1947-1955, her last service being a historic event for the RNLI as it was the last time a rowing lifeboat was ever used in operational service.

During her time on service at Whitby, the historic lifeboat was mainly launched to escort fishing vessels into the harbour in bad weather.

However, one of the more unusual services she was involved in was on October 5, 1949, when she was used to rescue 17 geology students from Aberdeen University who were cut off on the Black Nab.

Whitby's lifeboat museum, in the town's former lifeboat station building, is a flagship for the RNLI and visited by thousands every year.

Whitby Lifeboat museum curator in a modern day RNLI kit outside Whitby Museum and a photograph of Henry Freeman, the only survivor of the Whitby Lifeboat disaster of February 1861 as he was wearing an early cork lifejacket.

The museum will close from today (Sep 20), although the shop will remain open, to allow work to start to create an exciting new visitor experience within the museum, aiming to re-open early summer 2022.

Deputy launch authority for Whitby RNLI, and museum curator Neil Williamson, said it was an exciting project for the museum and its volunteers.

"The RNLI has a rich history of lifeboating in Whitby and the pulling of the old lifeboat will be quite a sight," said Neil, "as the boat has not moved from its current home since 2002, pulling it by hand as it would have been in the past feels like a nod to those who volunteered before us."

Stories of Whitby lifeboat and the gallantry of the crew will still be centre stage in the new design, while giving greater opportunity to showcase the unique models, artifacts and the amazing historic pulling lifeboat.

Historic image of the 'Robert & Ellen Robson' lifeboat being pulled out in 1953.

The redevelopment aims to bring the story of Whitby lifeboat and the wider lifesaving work of the RNLI to new audiences, making greater use of interactive, visual and emotive storytelling.

This story will highlight how volunteers in all roles play a key part in the work of the RNLI.

Michael Charlton, who is leading the project, said: "The redevelopment gives new opportunities to inform visitors about how to stay safe by promoting local key water safety messages in a fun and informative way.

"As a charity, it is important that the museum highlights how the RNLI is funded and how the public can be more involved and support, be that either via a simple donation or by leaving a legacy.

"Indeed, the redevelopment is only possible as it is being funded by a generous gift left in a will specifically for the museum as per the wishes of the donor."

As the project develops, the museum is planning further opportunities to contribute locally towards creating this special piece of history for Whitby.