You’re never more than 3 hours away ( by car) from the sea in the British Isles, and it is to the coast I come for my final post. In small communities up and down the UK there are fishing museums, museums in lighthouses or coastal signal towers, and plenty of art galleries by the sea, like Tate Cornwall, Russell-Cote Gallery in Bournemouth and Powell-Cotton in Kent. There are also six Royal National Lifeboats Institution – RNLI – museums, perhaps the most well known is the Grace Darling Museum, which commemorates the Victorian Grace Darling, at age 22, rowing out to rescue nine survivors from the wreck of a ship.
The RNLI was founded by William Hillary in 1824, who called for a service dedicated to saving lives at sea. It is one of the most popular charities in the UK. But the RNLI doesn’t have the oldest surviving lifeboat in the world, that honour belongs to Zetland Lifeboat Museum in Redcar.
Zetland, the name of the boat, was built in 1802 by Henry Greathead at a South Shields boatyard. He built many lifeboats and Zetland was the eleventh. The Zetland spent the next 78 years in service saving 500 lives. In 1854, a vessel ran aground and local fishermen attempted to refloat it, and got in difficulties; the Zetland was launched and rescued everyone – 52 people ferried on one boat.
The administration of Zetland was handed over to RNLI. It’s final launch was in 1880 and the crew were awarded £100 for their efforts by the RNLI. Now preserved, the Zetland resides in a museum not far from the current lifeboat station, and in a building constructed in 1877 for Zetland’s successor, and when that boat retired, the building was used to home the Zetland; it’s has been there since 1907!
Having reached the end of my A to Z blogging, this one boat encapsulates all that I want to say about museums. An object, of no great beauty, conserved and displayed, telling a story about a community’s heroes, identified as an item of historical importance, appreciated by those who live their lives by a similar trade, and held in trust for future generations. Its worthiness is its heritage not its intrinsic value as an asset, which probably amounts to little. If lost, it could not be replaced or adequately recreated. Although beautiful objects are appealing to the eye, sometimes we give too much attention to their worth at the expense of other less aesthetic objects.
This year’s theme meant I was spoilt for a choice. I could have blogged every day about museums and galleries for years and still not have covered them all in the UK. Picking which ones to use was in itself a challenge and I’ve enjoyed finding out about some of my favourite museums, including one I’ve worked in!
Thank you for spending April with me. All the posts will be made available on the blog’s menu.
See you next year, hopefully with all these great museums open again.