Restoring the Charterhouse Lifeboat

The historic lifeboat Charterhouse was in service at Fishguard Harbour from 1909 to 1931. The most technically advanced lifeboat in Wales at the time, she saved many sailors’ lives. On decommissioning, she was sold into private hands, but has now been brought back to Pembrokeshire. She has found a home at the West Wales Maritime Museum in Pembroke Dock SA72 6JY, where she is being restored. 

Charterhouse was the first motorised lifeboat in Wales when she went on station in 1909. Technologically she had a number of innovative features. She was one of the earlier styles of boat that were self-righting and motorised, with two sails and oars for 12 people to row.

One of her most daring rescues was in 1920 under coxswain John Howells. A Dutch three-masted motor schooner, the Hermina, had sought shelter at Fishguard from a fierce gale and heavy seas, but was dismasted and heading for the rocks. The Charterhouse went to the rescue, but the propeller had limited traction in the heavy waves, and the mission was in peril. Oars and skilled sailing were put to use. All were saved during the heroic rescue except the schooner’s third officer.

The lifeboat was later taken to London by train and displayed outside the Houses of Parliament. John Howells was awarded the RNLI’s highest honour, a Gold Medal, with other members of the crew also receiving medals. The presentations were made by the Prince of Wales.

The Charterhouse was decommissioned in 1931, sold off, and later kept by a family in north Wales for 60 years. After much research by the late Phil Davies, the old lifeboat was found, still afloat, at Bangor in North Wales. In 2009 a group of volunteers led by Phil brought the boat back to Fishguard Harbour, exactly 100 years after her initial launch. Once the boat was returned to Fishguard, a re-dedication ceremony was held. 

The boat was named after Charterhouse School. When the boat was first commissioned in 1909, most of the funds had been raised by past pupils and parents of the school. In 2009, some of the volunteers of the Charterhouse Returns project were themselves past pupils of the school, known as “Old Carthusians”. The Old Carthusians’ Yacht Club has continued to take an interest in the project. 

Charterhouse Returns is a registered charity (1139336). The project was awarded £7,800 by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014.

Members of the Charterhouse lifeboat crew involved with the rescue mission in 1920.
  Chair of the trustees Robert Rees working on the boat in 2014.
Working on the lifeboat at Fishguard Harbour.
May 2018 – After wrapping up the boat, while its future location is settled.
Charterhouse being lifted into position in her new home at the West Wales Maritime Heritage Museum at Pembroke Dock, December 2019.
Official welcome to Pembroke Dock 14/2/2020 by Lord-Lieutenant of Dyfed Ms Sara Edwards accompanied by Mayors of Pembroke Dock, Fishguard & Goodwick, and nearby towns.


> BBC News item


Where is Fishguard Harbour?

It’s a small port on the west coast of Wales, UK. The nearest town is actually Goodwick, but the bay is named after its neighbour Fishguard.

At one time, all sides of the Bay were very busy with cargo, passenger, and fishing boats.

These days, the main traffic is the ferry to Ireland that leaves several times a day. A relaxing way to get between London and Dublin is by train and ferry.