Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum
Southwold and the Suffolk coast are rich sources of history and tradition that are just waiting to be discovered by inquisitive visitors. One example of the county’s deep maritime connection can be found in the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum, which charts more than 125 years of history that is locked within just one fascinating vessel.
Nestled in a charming spot close to the unspoiled dunes of the Southwold coastline, the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum is both a wonderful attraction and home to a piece of local maritime history. The museum is the permanent home of the former No. 1 Southwold Lifeboat, the Alfred Corry, which was first officially launched just a short distance from its current ‘berth’ on April 3rd, 1893. During its operational career of 25 years, the Alfred Corry was launched into perilous seas on 41 separate occasions and she and her crew were responsible for the saving of 47 souls. Perhaps more amazingly, these heroic actions form only part of the vessel’s rich history, with the Alfred Corry assuming different names under several different owners throughout its life.
The Alfred Corry was commissioned by the RNLI in 1892 and subsequently built by the Beeching Bros shipyard in Great Yarmouth. Beeching Bros itself was founded in 1795 by James Beeching, who was also responsible for the invention of a ‘self-righting lifeboat’ design and even produced craft for the smuggling trade – a colourful pastime that existed along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast at the time.
The cost to construct the Alfred Corry was £490.7s.4d, which equates to some £60,000in today’s money. Funding for the new craft was provided by its namesake, Mr Alfred J Corry, through a legacy of £1,500, which was left to the RNLI for the ‘building, fitting out and equipping of one lifeboat’ in his last will and testament which was written the evening before he died of tuberculosis. Sadly, Alfred Corry died at the young age of only 34 years old.
After a quarter of a decade of daring rescues, in October 1918, the RNLI deemed the cost of much needed repairs and driven by the desire to move over to motorised lifeboats lead them to sell the vessel out of service. The Alfred Corry was subsequently purchased by Lord Albemarle during 1919 and converted into a ketch-rigged ‘gentleman’s yacht’ and renamed Alba. As of 1945, the vessel had a second new owner and enjoyed the distinction of being the first UK yacht to enter into the Port of Ostend after the Second World War.
Conversion and Rescue
Despite an impressive career as a lifeboat and leisure craft, the second half of the 1940s were a less distinguished period in the vessel’s lifetime. By 1949, the craft had yet and another new owner and had again been renamed, this time to ‘Thorfinn’. During this time the former Alfred Corry was used as a houseboat at various locations on the East Coast, before eventually ending up as a rather neglected leaky hulk on the River Blackwater.
Fortunately, she was eventually discovered and rescued by Mr John Cragie and his family. John was himself a master mariner and the great-grandson of the first Coxswain of the Alfred Corry. The vessel was towed to Rowhedge, Essex for a programme of restoration and after four years of hard work she was again under to sail under the name Alfred Corry. While the craft was modernized in terms of engine, sail, plan and internal layout, she continued to retain her overall original appearance. In 1980 the Alfred Corry made a triumphant return to Southwold harbour after 62 years away, as the Cragie family continued to sail the vessel along the South and East coasts, as well as the continent.
Returning to a New Home
As the Alfred Corry approached her 100th birthday, the work and cost of maintaining the vessel became too great for one family to support. To ensure the continued survival of the vessel, a plan was set in motion to restore the Alfred Corry to her original lifeboat configuration and permanently installing her within a permanent Southwold Museum. A Charitable Trust was established to manage this momentous project and the Alfred Corry finally arrived back in Southwold by road during 1994 and the search for a permanent home began.
As good fortune would have it, the Cromer Lifeboat shed had recently become redundant and had been transported by sea to Lowestoft and from there was bought by the Trust, through the generosity of donors. Despite many technical and logistical problems which needed to be overcome, on 12th April 1998, the shed arrived at Southwold by sea and was installed as the new home of the Alfred Corry. After 15 years of tireless restoration by a dedicated team of skilled volunteers (organised by John Cragie and Dick Leon) and donations from a broad base of supporters, the lifeboat today continues to rest in Southwold in its pristine original state.
The Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum is a fascinating attraction, filled with history, historical photos and memorabilia, which is managed by a dedicated and friendly local team, led by Curator Frank Upcraft. Entry to the museum is free, although a donation is much appreciated, and both parking and refreshments are nearby, making it a great place to visit before taking a stroll along the beach. The team at the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum are currently working to upgrade the current lifeboat shed to create an extension which will further improve the visitor experience and increase the space available for the educational visits. So, be sure to drop by to say hello and if you are moved by the accounts of the actions of the boat and her crew, you too can play your part in supporting this important part of local history.
Written by Andrew Dann
For more information on the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum, visit their website... http://www.alfredcorry.co.uk/
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