The Last Days of the Caroline Richardson

On April 3rd 1893 a steel hulled tubular lifeboat was transferred to Rhyl, from Pwllheli.  This boat was provided out of a legacy from the late Mr H.T. Richardson (the co-designer) and was christened the “Caroline Richardson”.  She had proved unsuitable at Pwllheli and unfortunately also proved unsuitable at Rhyl, where she was never launched on service. So, a new wooden hulled, tubular lifeboat was built.  She was built of mahogany by the boatyard of Thames Ironworks at a cost of £548 and like her predecessor was called the “Caroline Richardson”.  She was sent to station on May 25th 1897 and was 34′ x 8’9″ and rowed 12 oars.  She remained in service at Rhyl until 1939, when she was replaced by the “Gordon Warren”.*

What happened to the Caroline Richardson?  This very interesting article was given to the club a few years ago by Mr C. F. Williams, and we reproduce it below:

The Last Days of Caroline Richardson

The first I heard of Caroline Richardson was in the summer of 1948, when I was 10.  My father, Thomas Charles Williams, bought the boat for £60.  In those days many men earned less than £6 a week, so that gives an idea of the comparative price he paid.  I do not know who sold the boat to him.  From 1866** to ? it had been the Rhyl Lifeboat and when it came out of commission, it remained on the Foryd harbour at Rhyl.

When I first saw the boat it was lying on the south bank of the River Clwyd alongside the Foryd Bridge.  The level of the bank has since been raised, but at that time it was tidal, mainly sand and hard mud.  On the same side further up river were the remains of the old bridge.  Some of its stones were still in the river, forming the salmon pool, where men used to catch fish with a net. One would hold the end of the net on the bank while the other end was slowly drawn around by a second man in a small rowing boat.  Some years later the river was cleared of the stones and the pool disappeared.  Also, the whole of the bank from the Foryd bridge to the railway bridge was fenced off so that there is no longer free access to the river.

It was a strange looking wooden craft of tubular construction.  It reminded me of two bananas joined at either end, with a slated deck down the middle.   When it was afloat you could see the water a couple of feet below the deck.  I suppose it would have been classed as a catamaran.  The tubes were doubled layered mahogany (I think), each one divided into possibly six watertight compartments.  At the top of each compartment was a wooden inspection hatch bedded in putty and secured with brass screws.  At the bottom of each compartment was a brass drain plug.  My father examined a number of compartments and they were watertight.  Running along either side of the boat just above water level was a gunwale of solid timber, which protected the boat and was handy to step on.

There were permanent bench-type seats across the boat where the lifeboat men sat side by side to row.  It didn’t have an engine but used to have a collapsible mast and sail, but these had gone.  The rudder was of galvanised plate, about 5cms. thick.  It was very open, no cabin or protection, so they must have been very hardy when they went to sea in bad weather.

The whole boat was in remarkably good condition.  Even a ten year old could tell it was well constructed, of good materials.  When my father bought the boat it was still in its lifeboat colours although the paint was fading and peeling.  He obtained various paints mixed them together into an odd shade of green/peacock-blue and painted the hull the one colour.  I always thought it was a strange colour for a boat, and rightly or wrongly assumed he had done this because it was not long after the war and paint might have been expensive or not that easy to obtain.  In those days, things often seemed to be painted in drab colours, lots of brown and dark greens.

The previous Autumn, 1947, my father had rented premises to open a second-hand furniture shop at what had been known as the Riverside Cafe, Rhuddlan (now re-built as the Town and Country Restaurant) next to the Marsh Hotel and only down the road from the River Clwyd.  About 100yards downstream from the old road bridge that crosses the river in front of Rhuddlan Castle was a natural island mainly of pebbles that dried out at low tide.  It hardly exists now having been dredged some years later, but in 1948 it was accessible from the river bank near the church, if you wore wellingtons.  He decide this was a good place for a mooring.

So, one high tide that summer of 1948, my father, my half-sister Marjorie, her husband Bruce Smith (who was a Head Keeper at London Zoo) and their two sons Tom (13) and Geoffrey (11) and I, took the boat from the Foryd, Rhyl to Rhuddlan.  As I recall, we drifted with the tide until we passed under the railway bridge, and then the 3 adults stayed on board whilst the 3 boys walked along the bank pulling a long rope attached to the boat.  The water was over the bank in places and there were various dykes to get across.  We got very wet, but the day was warm and we enjoyed ourselves.  When we reached Rhuddlan, it was tied to the wall by the old road bridge not far from the church.  And that was where it remained for a while until the mooring was laid on the island lower down the river.  My father did not mind the local boys using it as a diving platform because the weather was hot and they kept the timbers wet.

That Autumn/Winter, he made a cabin about 8 feet long by 4 feet 6inches wide and 5 feet high.  Within, he cut some of the slatted decking and inserted a shallow, oblong box that housed a 35 horse-power Ford engine that had been marine-ised.  This was at an angle, as was the drive shaft which was suspended for about 10 or 12 feet down the centre of the boat to the propeller, all of which operated through universal joints and bearings attached to steel supports.  He had the joints and bearings made by someone who worked in an engineering shop at the Rhyl Gas Works.  Otherwise he did the work himself, sometimes assisted (or hindered ?) by me.

By the summer of 1949 the boat was back in the Rhyl harbour.  One high tide, my father, an old friend Mr. Webb of Bedford Street, and I took the boat out to sea using the engine.  We did not go very far-say to the end perch and back.  Progress was very slow especially returning back to harbour against the current.  My father was disappointed.  He thought the boat was under-powered.  And that to my knowledge was the last voyage the boat ever made.  It was moored once again on the bank by the Foryd Bridge.

He seemed to feel that nothing much could be done engine wise to improve the performance of the boat.  These days a couple of powerful outboard motors would have driven it, but perhaps they were not readily available in those days.  Anyway, he decided to make the boat into a monohull.  He planned to bring the two halves together and provide it with a keel, to make it into a traditional boat and the the engine would be powerful enough.

What happened next was a feat for one man to undertake on his own yet something that could be classed as an act of vandalism.  In the summer of 1949, the cabin and engine were removed.  Then, with a hand saw, he sliced the boat from bow to stern, each tube being cut lengthways into two long slices. The deck was cut into sections convenient for removal.
Then the whole lot was taken by road to Fairlea, Towyn Way East, Towyn, a bungalow with 2 acres of land, plus a chalet and various store sheds-all long since gone except for the bungalow.  He did this with his small lorry (an Austin 6 which he converted from a saloon car a few years earlier) and an 8 foot 2 wheeled trailer that he made for his furniture business.  It took several journeys, each time with one end of a slice of boat fastened to the lorry and the other end tied to the trailer, which was not attached to the lorry because of the length of the boat.  I think he did this on his own, but do not know how.  He was a strong, exceptionally fit 64 year old.  In the process I know he broke a small hydrolic jack normally used when changing the wheel on the lorry.

The various pieces remained up the field on supports for a couple of years or so by which time his fortunes had changed dramatically.  Firstly,  he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage that affected the right side of his body and entailed his being in hospital for a month.  Although he regained the use of his limbs he was never again his former self.  Then his second hand furniture business dwindled and eventually his money ran out.  He did not have a pension or other benefits at that time but managed to get by with what he had plus various seasonal employment, including making gantries for Jack Hughes’ pleasure boat.

During the winter of 1952 or thereabouts, he gave up the idea of rebuilding the boat with a single hull.  Had he been in his prime and had enough money, he probably would have finished it.  He had the necessary wood working skills which were probably learnt from his father, Moses Williams, who used to have a coach building business in Rhyl.

Anyhow, he needed living money to keep his family and started to salvage what he could from the boat.  There were various fittings but in particular there were a lot of brass screws and copper rivets to be had by burning chunks of the timber and raking the ashes.  He took these by bicycle to Rifkin’s Scrap Metal Merchants, off Vale Road, Rhyl.  The proceeds kept the family going for a number of months.

A year or two later someone came to enquire after the lifeboat and whoever it was went away a disappointed man.  In the Rhyl Lifeboat Station there is a reference to the boat having been used for fire wood, which was not strictly true.  Having said that, it was a sad end for a vessel that was almost unique.  The pity is that it was not used for some other purpose or better still restored to its former glory and kept in a museum.  That is what would have happened these days.  But it wasn’t to be.

May 2006

(The club has lost touch with Mr Williams, but we would be very pleased to hear from him)

For more information about Rhyl Lifeboats:

*Information taken from “”The History of the Rhyl Lifeboats” by Jeff Morris

**1897 according to “The History of Rhyl Lifeboats”, Jeff Morris


1 Comment

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One response to “The Last Days of the Caroline Richardson

  1. jane white

    My father Mr C.F.Williams can be contacted on 01745823613 re:Rhyls lifeboat Caroline Richardson.

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