The History of the Lifeboat "Alfred Corry"
In the spring of 1892 it was discovered that the current Southwold No.1 lifeboat, "Coal Exchange "ex" Harriett 11 was showing signs of structural weakness, having been in service since 31st December 1855, so the RNLI agreed to provide a new boat.
There were no standard lifeboats in those days, so when a new lifeboat was to be built, the RNLI first discussed with the local life boatmen the type, dimensions and shape of boat to be provided, also her sail plan, ballasting arrangements etc., before an order was placed with the builders. The specification called for “a boat with a full bow for launching from an open beach, a hull shape to make her fast and safe and dry when sailing off the wind”. She would be clinker built the same as the local fishing and working boats.
At this time the Coxswain-Superintendent of the Southwold lifeboats was John Cragie, and the second Coxswain was Samuel May, and they were chiefly responsible for the boat's specifications which were as follows;
Improved Norfolk and Suffolk Type, non self righting, Sailing and Rowing, Length 44 ft 01 ins, Beam 13 ft (plus width of "wale" making total 15 ft 02 ins) Water ballast in 4 tanks (Total weight approx 5tons), Relieving Tubes 18, Scuppers 8 Masts 2, Dipping lug on foremast, standing lug on mizzen, (i.e. the same rig as on the Beach Yawls & fishing punts), and 14 Oars.(As built.. 16), Weight of Boat (without gear, ballast or crew) 8.3 tons.
The boat was built by Beeching Bros. of Great Yarmouth, and cost a total of £490.7s.4d. The RNLI provided this money from a legacy left to them by the late Mr. A. J. Corry of Putney, and hence the boat was named "Alfred Corry”. Mr. Corry had no connection with Southwold.
The formal naming and handing over ceremony took place on the beach at the Southwold lifeboat station on Easter Monday, April 3rd 1883, after which she served as the Southwold No.1 boat for 25 years, during which time she was launched 41 times on service, and saved 47 lives.
Her first Coxswain, John Cragie, retired, aged 70, in 1898, and was succeeded by Sam May, who remained her coxswain for the next 20 years, retiring a few months before the boat left the service in 1918. Her Coxswain for the last few months was Charles Jarvis.
In 1908, following the rebuilding of the harbour piers which had taken place in 1906, the beach in the vicinity of the lifeboat sheds became 'bad for launching” and so a slip was built for her in the harbour downstream of the chain ferry. 'From there she was worked down the harbour and hauled off to seaward, by means of a warp laid out to anchor off the south harbour pier.
In 1913, after the boat had been in service for 20 years, the Secretary, Major E. R. Cooper, had a model made of the boat, to be placed in Southwold Church. The model still hangs there today over the North aisle.
In August 1918, following much hard work during the Great War, it was found that the boat, though basically sound, she was in need of considerable repair, which would cost about £500, a large sum in those days.
As the RNLI was hoping to start building motor lifeboats, it was not considered worth while spending such an amount on a 25 year old boat, so she was condemned and sold out of the service. In the event 'she was replaced 'temporarily" by a similar sailing lifeboat of about the same age, the "Bolton" which remained at Southwold for the next eight year until replaced by the motor lifeboat "Mary Scott" in 1926!
In September 1918 she left Southwold for Lowestoft where she was stripped out at J. Chambers' yard and sold for £40 to Lord Albemarle on 7th March 1919. Here she was converted to a ketch rigged yacht and named "Alba", and the second phase of her life began, as a "Gentleman's Yacht", complete with paid hands. At first she had no auxiliary engine, but one was fitted about 1921. Soon after that the Earl sold her, and a succession of owners followed, using her as a cruising yacht, mainly on the South and East coasts. In 1939 she was laid up in a mud berth at West Mersea, Essex, for the duration of the war, re-emerging, still as a well found yacht at the end of hostilities. Yet another new owner bought her at this time, and after refitting, she had the distinction of being the first British yacht to enter Ostend after the War.
In 1949 the third phase of her life began when she had another name change, this time becoming Thorfinn" and became principally a houseboat in such places as Ipswich, Burnham-on-Crouch, Rochester, and finally Maldon Essex. but as she got older she began to suffer from the neglect that dogs old boats when used in this manner.
By 1976, abandoned by her then owner, she appeared ready to join the fleet of derelict "tore-outs" on the banks of the River Blackwater, but once more she changed hands, this time being bought by John Cragie and Family, being the Great Grandson of her first Coxswain, and the fourth phase was about to begin.
In November 1976 she was towed, a derelict hulk, to the boatyard of Ian Brown Ltd., at Rowhedge, Essex, where a programme of restoration was set in motion.
After 4 years of hard work she re-emerged as a fully seaworthy vessel, proudly bearing her original name of "Alfred Corry". Externally she still retained to a great extent the yacht appearance of the previous 60 plus years, her internal layout, however, had been altered, a 108 HP diesel engine fitted, and though still carrying her ketch rig, the sail area had been reduced considerably to allow handling by a smaller complement. In September 1980 she set off on her first cruise, and made for Southwold, entering the Harbour for the first time after sixty two years, Amazingly, among the crowd at the Harbour as she arrived was the son of her last Coxswain, Charles Jarvis, who, as a boy had been taken by his father for the trip from Southwold to Lowestoft when the old boat had been taken out of service, and now stepping aboard as she returned "62 years later.
During the following years the boat cruised the South and East coasts, together with some voyages to the near Continent, and, though based in Essex for most of this time, calling frequently at Southwold. At the same time a constant programme of improvement and maintenance was carried out, but as her 100th birthday approached, and the cost of caring for such a boat spiralled, it became apparent that the efforts of one family alone, also growing older, could not ensure the boat's future, and a fifth phase would have to be found if she was to survive. After looking at a number of alternatives, it was finally decided that the best option to ensure the boat's future was, despite the fact that she was still basically sound, to retire her from active seagoing, restore her to her original lifeboat form, and install her in her own Museum in Southwold, where she belonged. To this end the boat was presented by the Cragie family to Southwold.
We were extremely fortunate to find that the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich had her original plans on negative in their archives and we were able to obtain a copy of them from the Curator of Ship Technology who was also able to supply copies of drawings of various details of construction of parts of contemporary boats.
A Charitable Trust was set up to care for the boat, the first stage of the restoration being carried out at the Boatbuilding Training Centre at Lowestoft, namely the removal of the "yacht" keel which had been added in 1919. At the same time a steel cradle was constructed and assembled under the boat, to support her during transport, and during the restoration which would follow. After this on Friday 12th August 1994, she returned to Southwold by road and was installed in the Southwold Chandlery Boatshed at the Harbour. The next phase took place, namely the stripping out of the hull, leaving the original lifeboat shell ready for restoration as per the plans of 1892. A small amount .of necessary hull repair was carried out at this time, and more importunity,
six replica thwarts were fitted to strengthen the hull, which together with the steel cradle, would prevent the empty shell from distorting. After this was completed in 1995, the boat remained stored there and the Trust was extremely grateful to Mrs J.Phillips for the use of the Southward Chandlery Boat shed while the search for a permanent home got under way.
It was obvious to the Trustees that due to the size of the Alfred Corry, there was no suitable accommodation available in the Southwold area, and they were left with no alternative but to raise funds, obtain a suitable site, and erect a new building.
Fortunately the history and heritage of the Alfred Corry, being very dear to the Townspeople of Southwold, it was not long before the Southwold Trust and the Adnams Charity indicated their interest in providing funds towards the cost of a new building. Initially it was thought that a small modem industrial type building, relatively cheap to produce and within the funding available, would be acceptable on the site at Southwold Harbour. However the impact of such a building on the Heritage Coast and Area of Natural Beauty was unacceptable to the local planning authority. A large number of constraints were imposed on the type of building that would be approved, resulting in escalating costs, and funding beyond that available to the Trust.
Removing the shed from Cromer Pier
Despite the tireless efforts of the Trust in the person of Dennis Ball, all seemed lost, until the Trust was informed that the old Cromer Lifeboat Shed was to be replaced, and the building was being transported by sea to Lowestoft, where it was to be offered up for sale. The Trust expressed an interest in the building, which was eminently suitable as a home for the Alfred Corry, and confirmed with the local planning authority that planning permission would be granted if successful with its purchase. Many problems had to be overcome, both financial and technical, but on the 12 April 1998 the shed arrived by sea, docked in Southwold Harbour and shortly afterwards was positioned on its concrete foundation. The wooden constructed building was the first of its type to be constructed by the RNLI. Built in 1922 at a cost of £15,000 it had withstood the rigours of the North Sea for 75 years, but the main structure was still sound. The 52 ton shed had been cut in two, to aid the removal from the pier at Cromer, but although this helped in its re-siting there was considerable deterioration of internal and external cladding and roof covering. The Trust was faced with the huge task of repair, re-roofing and re-decoration of an 8m wide by 19.5m long by 8m high building. However this work was carried out in 1998/99 by a small team of volunteers, and funded by a substantial sum of money donated by Mr & Mrs M. Rockall.
The shed has a history and heritage of lifeboats second to none in the United Kingdom. It has seen the coming and going of a number of lifeboats, the saving of over 1000 lives, and of its association with the most highly decorated lifeboatman of the R.N.L.I., Coxswain Henry George Blogg, who was a lifeboatman from this shed for 53 years. He was awarded the Gold medal of the Institution (which was only given for extreme gallantry) three times, the Silver medal four times, and he held the George Cross and British Empire Medal. More on the history and story of how the Cromer Lifeboat shed became the Museum can be found here.
The Trust, initially funded by selling off much of the boat's 'yacht' equipment and fittings, has also received financial help from many sources. Principal among these are those already mentioned, and also Waveney District Council, The Forester Trust, The British Leather Seller's Livery Company, R Desborough Esq., and many more, too numerous to mention here, who have given donations large and small. Others have and continue to provide services free of charge, especially Mr Richard Leon with his boatbuilding skills. The general public have been most supportive, all of which are helping the project to achieve its goal, the restoration and preservation of the Alfred Corry and of the museum itself.
The Alfred Corry Trust
Ferry Road, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6NG.
Registered Charity No 1039030
How the Alfred Corry Lifeboat was rediscovered.
The following transcript is written by John "Wiggy" Goldsmith, a local Southwold man and he tells of how he first heard of the boat's existence:
THE PART HISTORY OF THE "ALFRED CORRY
From 1893 as “Alfred Corry” until 1972 as “Thorfinn”
One Saturday afternoon in September 1972 that I received a phone call from Wally Upcraft at Southwold harbour saying a gentleman had called in looking for a model of the Lifeboat "Alfred Corry"; he knew it was somewhere in the town. Wally told him the model hung in St. Edmund's Church, He asked him of his interest. This unexpected reply was "I used to own and sail her", Wally obtained the news that she was moored at Maldon in Essex and the gentleman then left for the church. Wally then telephoned my home, and told me of the visit. I immediately went to the church but the Gentleman had left.
My next step was to start some enquiries by telephone. First Directory Enquiries and gave the facts I had to the operator leaving her
to find a harbour master or sailing club member. I was lucky, the harbour master was about.
He said he did not know of the 'Alba' (The name she had when sold out of service in 1918) but as there were several lifeboat conversions in the area I should come over try to identify her. The next morning, Sunday, I went to Maldon in the company of Terry Oddy. On searching the Maldon area we found five old lifeboats. The one I thought might be the 'Corry' bore the name "Ellen Gordon". I left a note on the door asking the owner to contact me. Another boat only 50 yards away could not be properly seen. After a couple of days i had a letter from a Mr. Reece who lived on the "Ellen Gordon". He told me his boat was from Aldeburgh but never knew the real name. (I later identified her as the "City of \Winchester".) He told me the nearby boat was named "Thorfinn", but knew no other details. Checking in Lloyds 1961 I found the "Thorfinn" had been renamed from “Alba". Success! We had found her. A week or two later, in company with Terry Oddy and Roger Trigg, we returned to Maldon and met the owner of the "Thorfinn" and went aboard.
Next thing - floor boards were uplifted and we were looking at the framework and timbers, noting the amount of original work still in being. After taking plenty of photographs and having had a good 'yarn', we went off to the "Ellen Gordon" and met Mr. Reece who let us inspect the lifeboat building techniques used in her construction. The contrast in workmanship and design was evident. The Southwold boat was built for £800.00 in 1893 and was 44'x13'9". The Aldeburgh boat was built in 1902 for £2,640 and was 46'x14'.
A difference of 11 years and £1,840, for only a slightly larger boat. However the workmanship in the Southwold boat made to the local requirements surpassed the standards used in the Aldeburgh boat, one outstanding feature being the timbers on the Southwold boat had been shaped (joggled) over the strakes, a feat of workmanship usually only done by specialists. One wonders if inflation started galloping in 1902!
For the next 2-3 years occasional visits were made to see the owners of both boats; In 1976 the "Thorfinn" owner phoned me to tell
me he was giving up the boat, and as it was getting a bit much to upkeep, it would have to be got rid of unless I wanted to buy it. The boat was now on its river bank location where removal would mean cutting it up or burning. What to do? I knew of John Cragie, who
at that time was piloting in the Essex estuaries, and having found out where to contact him I phoned and passed on the information
of what might happen to our Southwold boat. John visited the site and met up with the owner, and the story from here on was taken
up by John Cragie.
Perhaps my phone call was the catalyst that helped save the 'Corry'. I like to think so.
1. Lloyds Register of Yachts:
1919 Lord Albamarle
1926 'Alba' - Ralph Wilson of Cowes
1934 'Alba' - \V. Lather Smith of Cowes
1939 'Alba' - F.A. & Mrs. N.R. Eldridge of Cowes
1961 now 'Thorfinn' - J.L. & Mrs. E.M. Turner of Rochester
(Mr. Turner was, I believe, the visitor to Southwold' in September 1972)
7th September, 1994
Who was Alfred Corry?
Alfred James Corry was born in Kensington on 13th January 1858. His parents had come from Dublin about 1846, his father becoming a prosperous copper merchant, and by 1860 the family was living in some style in Wandsworth. Young Alfred was educated at the Oratory School in Edgbaston, and also in Belgium. Later he studied Engineering and at the age of 18, began a career as a civil engineer with the Vauxhall Water Company. He later worked for a company at Erith, Kent, and finally for a mining business in Westminster.
During his brief career he became an Associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1883, and an Associate of the Institute of Naval Architects in 1885. He died at the family home, Essex House, West Hill., Wandsworth, on the 4th April 1892, at the early age of 34.
His last will and testament, made the day before his death , he left two specific bequests, one of £2000 in Trust to Victor Sandiford, and the other as follows. “To the Treasurer for the time being of the Royal National Lifeboat institution the sum of fifteen hundred pounds the whole of which sum I direct to be expended on the building fitting out and equipment of one lifeboat." The remainder of his estate was divided between his brother and sister. He gave no instructions as to where the boat should be based, the decision to use the legacy for the provision of a new boat for Southwold and the choice of name for her was made by the R.N.L.I The above is
a summary of the results of research carried out by Mrs Mary Trumpess, on behalf of the Trust, to whom many thanks are due.
Southwold Lifeboatsmen's Roll of Honour
She was kept and launched from the beach opposite Ferry Road
The coxwains: John Cragie, Sam May and Charles Jarvis
Fitting the Alfred Corry to its steel cradle