Two plaques celebrating the RNLI’s 200th anniversary and the lifeboats and people who use them were unveiled in London this week, along with a visit by a historic lifeboat.

In the City of London, a new plaque has been placed on Furniture Makers’ Hall, which was where the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) had its first headquarters when it was founded in 1824.

Although the RNLI is known for its lifesaving work around the coasts of the UK and Ireland, it has strong connections with London. The charity was founded and remained headquartered in the City of London until 1851. In 1894, the RNLI City of London Committee was founded and has since funded three RNLI all-weather lifeboats based at Selsey, Dover and Sennen Cove. London also has four RNLI bases on the Thames, and they’re relatively recent additions. The first was only set up in 2002 following the inquiry into the Marchioness disaster.

These stations are consistently among the busiest of the RNLI’s 238 lifeboat stations, with Tower being the busiest and Chiswick the second-busiest.

The plaque celebrating the RNLI’s 200th anniversary is on the front of Furniture Makers’ Hall, Austin Friars, a short walk from Liverpool Street station.

Meanwhile, arranged to coincide with this year’s anniversary, a British-built lifeboat has travelled from Sweden to visit the London dock where it was made over 150 years ago.

This is Lifbåt 416, which was built in London in 1868 as a gift for the King of Sweden

The lifeboat was constructed by Forrestt & Son’s boatyard in Limehouse, who was a prolific builder of self-righting lifeboats between 1862 and 1899. While most of their lifeboats were for the RNLI, a handful went overseas, usually as philanthropic gifts — such as this one for Sweden.

It was a gift in December 1868 from Queen Victoria’s London wine merchant James Gunston Chillingworth, who presented the lifeboat, complete with oars, sails and a wagon to move it, as “acknowledgement for the universal kindness shown him during his recent visit to Stockholm and other parts, and for the courteous reception accorded him by his Majesty”.

Quite what a London wine merchant was doing in Sweden is unclear, but a newspaper advert by the wine merchants mentions that in addition to supplying Queen Victoria, the firm was also a supplier to the King of Sweden and Norway, and the King of Bavaria.

In Victorian times, companies often exaggerated their importance to nobles to make their products sound good, but in this case, it might well be that he was a large supplier to King Karl XV, as the gift of a lifeboat would not have been cheap.

Delivered to Gothenburg, the lifeboat was initially more of an English curiosity until it was moved to the seafaring town of Skanör and was in use right up to 1941, when motorised lifeboats had surpassed it. During its career, the boat was involved in rescues that saved at least 80 lives.

Originally called the Willam and Anne Chillingworth, in 1910, it was given the more functional name of Lifbåt 416. as part of a tidying up of lifeboat names by the Royal Swedish Pilot Board.

The lifeboat was in quite a poor state by the 1990s when it was fully restored. It is now the heart of a local museum which still takes the boat out to demonstrate how people saved lives long before engines and GPS existed.

To jointly mark the RNLI’s 200th anniversary and the boat’s heritage, Lifbåt 416 was brought to the UK (in freight), and after attending events in Poole, the crew rowed her back into the Limehouse Basin yesterday morning.

Returning her back to where she was originally built.

At Limehouse, the Canal & River Trust had arranged for a new plaque to be installed in Limehouse Basin, close to where the original factory was located, so people would be reminded of where many of the UK’s early lifeboats were built—and one special Swedish one as well.

The plaque was unveiled by David Orr CBE, Chairman of the Canal & River Trust.

You can find the plaque next to the small pedestrian bridge that goes over the Limehouse Cut.


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