©Picture Courtesy of Cheltenham Library

 On October 10th 1866 the RNLI Lifeboat "Cheltenham" was launched, right here, on Pittville Lake!  She was a fine 32ft 10 oar-powered 'pulling' vessel and was destined to serve as a Lifeboat at Burnham-on-Sea for the next 21 years.  The funding came entirely from the people of Cheltenham by voluntary subscription. The Lifeboat  had to be transported from London to Cheltenham for the naming ceremony, and this was achieved by rail through the kindness of the Great Western, Bristol and Exeter Railway Companies, who  later continued the journey to Burnham-on-Sea.

The main leaders of the appeal fund were the Reverend W Hodgeson, Captain A W Young, R.N. and Mr Witchel the bookseller.  Through their "benevolent exertions" the Lifeboat was paid for by donations from the people of Cheltenham and named on the behalf of the Borough by Lady Charlotte Shreiber.

The boat was at Burnham for 21 years and was launched on service 14 times and saved 21 lives. Later this article below was published in the "Cheltenham Examiner" on the 11th August 1880, page 4, col.5:-"

We are now and again pleasantly reminded by the record of lives saved, of the charitable gift by the people of Cheltenham some fifteen years ago, to the Lifeboat Institution.  The boat subscribed for by the town and so auspiciously christened "Cheltenham" by Lady Charlotte Shreiber, has done useful work in the county of Somersetshire, at Burnham, and during the storm that raged along the coast on Saturday, it did work that should rejoice the heart, especially of every subscriber to it.  At Burnham, the report tells us, most exciting scenes were taking place in the efforts to save life.  Vessels which had put off during the day had to anchor off the pier , but were unable to hold their anchorage when the hurricane reached its height at 8 o'clock in the evening.  Messrs Sully and Co's schooner Brune of Bridgewater, Captain Cook, dragged her anchors and was driven before the gale to Highbridge-hill, where she foundered, and the crew, with the Captain and two pilots, took to the rigging.  With much difficulty the Burnham Lifeboat "Cheltenham" was launched and rowed to the wreck.  It succeeded in rescuing the crew, who were very much exhausted.  Some of them had been in the rigging three hours before the lifeboat reached them, and their rescue, in a gale such as experienced nautical men had declared they had not seen in the Bristol Channel for 30 or 40 years, should make Cheltenham proud of its boat and of the crew who manned it." 

These events of the 19th Century laid the foundations for the continuing success of the Cheltenham Branch of the RNLI.  Staffed entirely by volunteers, the Branch's activities have enabled it to become one of the foremost "inland" Branches in the South West Region, and contribute in no small measure to maintaining the effectiveness and professionalism of the RNLI operations nation-wide. 

We are often asked 'Why does the RNLI have an interest in Cheltenham, which couldn't be farther from the sea?' The historical connection outlined above is the answer, and of course, in the recent past, RNLI operations were a significant part of the Floods rescue operation in Tewkesbury and surrounding areas.

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