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HRH The Duke of Kent visits the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection

07 July 2022

Earlier this week His Royal Highness (HRH) The Duke of Kent was given a unique insight into the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) during a visit to the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection, the UK’s largest display of RNLI historic lifeboats.

The Duke was shown three of the charity’s most iconic and significant lifeboats, which between them have saved more than 300 lives at sea, and a lifeguard feature to represent the RNLI Lifeguard Service’s contribution since 2001.

The tour of the four displays came as part of a private visit by HRH, who has been the RNLI’s President for over half a century.

During the visit, hosted by The Lady Colgrain, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Kent, The Duke met 21 of the charity’s volunteers and employees, including RNLI lifeguards and lifeboat crew, and heritage and water safety champions from across the South East of England.

Shortly after his arrival, The Duke presented Mrs Tina Smith, RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection Volunteer and former lifeboat crew, with a 20-year Long Service Award for operational service at Gravesend Lifeboat Station.

Image: HRH Duke of Kent with Tina Smith, RNLI

The highlight of HRH’s visit was an insight into four unique displays illustrating how the RNLI’s role in saving lives at sea has developed and evolved over nearly two centuries. The Duke was shown:

  • Watson class lifeboat Susan Ashley, the first lifeboat to have a superstructure made out of aluminium and one of thirteen 41ft Watson class boats designed for slipway launching. Susan Ashley saved 67 lives during her service at Sennen Cove in Cornwall and Barry Dock in Wales from 1948 to 1979.
  • E class lifeboat Olive Lara Deare, with powerful waterjets instead of propellers, used on the fast, busy waters of the Thames. Olive Laura Deare was on service from 2002 to 2012, predominately at Gravesend but also Tower and Chiswick Lifeboat Stations and saved 43 lives.
  • Liverpool class lifeboat Louisa Heartwell, the newest addition to the collection, which is currently being restored by RNLI Heritage volunteers. She was afloat for 120 years, saved 195 lives, and is a testament to the legendary Henry Blogg who was awarded multiple Gallantry Medals for bravery. Lifeboat Louisa Heartwell is one of the last remaining pulling and sailing Liverpool class lifeboats.

Finally, The Duke was shown a special feature demonstrating the work of the RNLI’s lifeguards who have been saving lives on UK beaches for more than twenty years. He was met there by two of the charity’s senior lifeguards from Hastings and two water safety representatives from Gravesend Lifeboat Station.

Before departing, HRH presented Volunteer Gallery Manager and Gravesend Lifeboat Station Thames Commander and Acting Station Manager, Ian Smith, with a signed certificate to commemorate his visit during The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Year which Ian received on behalf of the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection.

Image: HRH Duke of Kent with Ian Smith, RNLI

All RNLI volunteers and staff joined HRH for a group picture at the entrance of the museum, encompassing the RNLI’s ‘one crew’ ethos for the incredible contribution everyone has made to saving lives at sea for nearly 200 years.

Image: HRH Duke of Kent with RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection

Ian Smith said: ‘It has been an honour to have the charity’s President, The Duke of Kent, with us today. We have taken immense pleasure in giving him a tour of our museum and presenting some of the most iconic lifeboats which have served around the coastlines of the UK and Ireland.’

‘We would like to thank The Duke for visiting the gallery and meeting with our lifesavers who continue doing remarkable work in Kent, and across the South East and London.’

‘Our volunteers and employees representing a variety of roles are here today as ‘one crew’ to recognise our appreciation for The Duke’s generosity and long-lasting commitment to the RNLI’s lifesaving work.’

Image: HRH Duke of Kent with RNLI Volunteers

The Duke started his visit at Commissioner’s House, where he was welcomed by The Lady Colgrain, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Kent, and Mr Richard Morsley, Chief Executive of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust. Alongside them were Mr Eddie Donaldson OBE, RNLI Deputy Chair and Treasurer, and Mr Ian Smith, Volunteer Gallery Manager at RNLI Chatham Historic Lifeboat Collection and Gravesend Lifeboat Station Thames Commander and Acting Station Manager.

HRH The Duke of Kent has been President of the charity since 1969 after succeeding his parents.

Home to the UK’s largest collection of historic lifeboats from the RNLI, the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection features over 100 years of lifeboat history, and the changes that have happened over time to help continue the charity’s mission of saving lives at sea.

Image: HRH Duke of Kent with Ian Smith, RNLI

Housed in an 1848 covered slip, the museum has a carefully curated selection of 20 vessels in total, from the earliest 1897 pulling and sailing lifeboat to the inshore vessels funded by Blue Peter appeals and the Arun class all-weather lifeboat, preserving the RNLI’s long and fascinating history.

The RNLI celebrates its history through the archive and historic collections based at its Support Centre in Poole, Dorset, and at its six museums.

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