Ilfracombe’s Early Lifeboats

The first suggestion for a lifeboat at Ilfracombe, made in 1815, is also to be found in the Customs Records. However as the Commissioners for Customs were in no way responsible for lifeboats, the recommendation of the local customs collector was disregarded.

A lifeboat station was established at Ilfracombe in 1828, and the RNLI contributed to the cost of a pilot gig, fitted up for life-saving according to the Palmer plan, a design by George Palmer who was Deputy Chairman of the RNLI. This plan included a system of detachable air cases fitted under thwarts (cross-seats), with lifelines and a cork-filled canvas whale (or fender) around the outside of the boat. The boat was housed in a building which originally stood in Hiern’s Lane, now the site of The Builders Centre store-yard. The existence of the building is confirmed on an old map of the Ilfracombe Harbour area dated 1852.

This lifeboat was replaced in 1850 with a lifeboat funded by the Ilfracombe Lifeboat Association, managed by one William Huxtable. According to local tradition, she was named Lady Franklin after the wife of the explorer, Sir John Franklin. She (i.e. the boat) was 32 feet long, rowed by twelve oars, and built by Whites of Cowes, at a cost of £144. As yet, no service records have been discovered for either of these early lifeboats.