“The sea ran mountains high, and the breaking water was fearful”. Coxswain William Clarkson Lytham, Lytham Lifeboat Charles Biggs.
The tracks and lanes are still icy up here in Longridge. I want to get out on my bike, so opt for the hopefully snow free and safer Fylde Coast, there have been more than enough ‘accidents’ in my posts of late.
Has everybody had the same idea? The roadside car parks are all full and a mass of mainly dog walkers throng the promenade. And bracing is the word that comes to mind. The bracing was in the arctic breeze from the south, and it was in a southerly direction that I started. It will be easier on the return is once more my reasoning.
I’m always focused when pursuing a mission, and I’m on a mission today. I’ve been reading about the wreck of the sailing ship Mexico on the sands of the Ribble Estuary on the 9th December 1886. Worth a read here.
Basically the Mexico out of Liverpool became stranded on Ainsdale sands in a violent storm. Lifeboats from Southport, Lytham and St. Annes were launched. Those from Southport, Eliza Fernley, and St. Annes, Laura Janet. were both wrecked in the storm with the loss of 27 local men, (2 had survived from the Southport boat) . The Lytham boat, Charles Biggs, however rescued the 12 crew of the Mexico and rowed them to safety. An heroic effort but the single biggest loss of life in the whole history of the RNLI.
There are a series of related monuments and memorials scattered around the Ribble Estuary towns, Lytham, St. Annes and Southport. I’m only concerned with the first two today. Despite all my cycling exploits on this stretch of coast I have previously been unaware of this important history. How often must we go about with our eyes closed?
First up is probably the most prominent, the St Annes lifeboat monument, depicting a lifeboatman, on the South Promenade, It is almost hidden behind walls in the ornamental St. Annes Promenade Park, next to the public conveniences, no wonder I’ve passed it by in the past. A William Birnie Rhind designed it in 1887. A colossal statue carved in sandstone with the names of the 13 lost from the St. Annes lifeboat, Laura Janet, The attached notice encapsulates the story.
Up a main road, and I was at St. Annes Parish Church. Commissioned by Lady Clifton in the early 1870s, one of Paley and Austin’s, and named in memory of her aunt who was called Anne. (the Clifton family from Lytham Hall were prominent in the area for centuries) It was built as a chapel of ease to the then parish church of St Cuthbert in Lytham. Here are buried five from the Laura Janet boat. It is heartening that the Laura Janet Memorial has had a recent refurbishment funded by the local Civic Society. I found it in a forest of elaborate memorials, a sandstone Celtic Cross inscribed with the names of the men. The Church, Lychgate and Memorial are all grade II listed. Notice the pebble detail in the walls, a common architectural feature in St. Annes and Lytham.
Winding back through side streets I find the original St. Annes Lifeboat House, on East Bank Road, now a funeral parlour but with a blue plaque to commemorate the disaster, and an unusual weather vane. It seems odd that this boathouse was so far inland whilst the new one is on the shore.
After a pleasant cycle down the promenade I was at the site of the original Lytham Lifeboat House on the edge of the estuary. In the summer months it is open as a museum to the lifeboatmen. It was from here that on that fateful day in 1886 that the Lytham boat, Charles Biggs, rescued the 12 crew members of the Mexico.
On the marsh shore are a couple of anchors caught up in a trawl net by a fishing boat in the 1980s. The larger one is of the type lost from the Mexico. The other dates back to the late C18th used by warships from the time of Admiral Nelson.
Time to find the memorial in the graveyard of St. Cuthbert’s Church a few blocks inland. From the promenade I made my way through Lowther Park (more of that another time). The church dating from 1835 stands alongside a busy road, but the graveyard is peace and quiet. The Laura Janet Memorial was easy to spot, being the tallest around. A Gothic pinnacled tabernacle. Plaques told of the crew and where they are buried.
Whilst I was hereabouts I discovered the Witch Wood – but again I will leave that for another time. All that remained was to cycle back up the promenade, thankfully with the wind behind me, to where I had parked on North Promenade.
The RNLI is a charity saving lives at sea and deserving our support. How much of the infrastructure of Britain now relies on dedicated volunteers and funding raised by the public?
THE CREW OF THE ST. ANNES LIFEBOAT LAURA JANET.
William Johnson, 35 (Coxswain)
Charles Tims, 43 (2nd Coxswain)
Oliver Hodson, 39 (Bowman)
James Bonney, 21
Nicholas Parkinson, 22
Richard Fisher, 45
James Johnson, 45
John P Wignall 22
Reuben Tims, 30
Thomas Parkinson 28,
Thomas Bonney, 35
James Dobson, 23
James Harrison, 19
THE CREW OF THE SOUTHPORT LIFEBOAT ELIZA FERNLEY.
Charles Hodge (Coxswain)
Ralph Peters (2nd Coxswain)
The Southport crew have their own memorial and burials in Southport across those treacherous sands. Next time I visit there I will be on the lookout.