VIDEO: Rescued! But the Louise Stephens lifeboat is not coming home to Yarmouth
BRAVE little lifeboat the Louise Stephens has been saved for generations to come after a maritime museum co-ordinated a rescue mission to prevent her from being sunk.
John Parr, chairman of the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum, parted with thousands of pounds to capture the legendary vessel when he discovered she would be scuttled if a buyer could not be found.
The former Great Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat, famed for the heroic part she played in the evacuation of Dunkirk, will now become a permanent exhibit at the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum in Cheshire, once she has sailed hundreds of miles from her mooring on the Isle of Islay off the western coast of Scotland.
But news she will not return to Norfolk has been met with mixed emotions from some maritime enthusiasts who longed to see her chugging through the waters near Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.
However, Mr Parr has offered assurances that they will do everything they can to celebrate the little ship’s Norfolk history once she is in place at the Hoylake museum.
He said: “This year we have already purchased two lifeboats and we are always looking to add more. So when one of our committee members said ‘have you heard about this wonderful Dunkirk veteran?’ we knew we had to follow it up immediately.
“The fact that this was the lifeboat where a wartime coxswain won silver and bronze medals is very special because those awards are not given out lightly.
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“What is even more remarkable is the fact that the Louise Stephens played a vital part in one of the most famous rescues of all time.
“She was a member of a fleet of Norfolk lifeboats which saved 119 lives from Happisburgh Sands when a number of boats ran aground.
“This rescue has a great resonance for me personally because it is a story I heard about time and time again as a boy.
“Once the Louise Stephens is at the museum we will continue to do justice to her history, including her Dunkirk connection, so lifeboat enthusiasts and school children can enjoy her for years to come.
“We have got some imaginative and experienced people in our committee, so we hope we can deliver a unique historical experience for all our visitors who come to see the lifeboat – we would especially welcome visitors from Norfolk.
“The Mercury should be congratulated for bringing the story of the Louise Stephens to our attention so we had the chance to save her.”
The Hoylake Lifeboat Museum is based in a former Victorian lifeboat station in Hoylake in Wirral, Cheshire.
As well as providing a new home for the Louise Stephens, it also houses a collection of lifeboats spanning decades of maritime history – including a 110-year-old vessel from Liverpool.
It is believed the Louise Stephens cost the museum a sum close to �4,000, which it hopes to recover through future fundraising.
The next challenge the museum faces is navigating the vessel to its new home in England.
The proposed route will see the boat departing from Port Ellen on the Isle Islay towards Belfast, then across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, before embarking on the last leg of the journey to Liverpool where she will be transferred on land to the Hoylake museum.
Mr Parr is already in the process of recruiting a crew to complete the job and hopes to have the Louise Stephens in place by January next year.
Richard Basey, commodore for the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, is one of many people who hoped to see the Louise Stephens returned to Norfolk.
He had offered to re-home the vessel in Lowestoft, but struggled to find the funds to buy her.
“Initially, my reaction was one of disappointment because it is not coming back to its home in Norfolk,” he said.
“But I am also very pleased and relieved that it is going to a museum with a proven track record for looking after former lifeboats.
“I have invited Mr Parr to join the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships so we can keep track of the Louise Stephens at her new home in Hoylake.”
Robert Queen, who sold the Louise Stephens on behalf of his father-in-law, said: “The fact that the boat will now be going to a lifeboat museum means a lot to my father-in-law. We wanted her to go to the right people.”
The former RNLI lifeboat the Louise Stephens was launched 311 times and rescued 177 lives during a tenure in Yarmouth and Gorleston.
Hoylake Lifeboat Museum is appealing for donations in a bid to raise �400,000 to renovate the museum.
If you would like to send your Louise Stephens’ story to the museum, contact John Parr on 0151 6254311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
See the map below to discover where the Hoylake museum is on the map.
Click on the video to see a video about the Hoylake museum, or click on the links on the top right hand corner of the page to read the history of the Louise Stephens and see more pictures of the lifeboat.