Life-boat House Wembley


            The Royal National Lifeboat Institute took advantage of the fortunate coincidence that the British Empire Exhibition 1924 was held in its Centenary Year, to erect its own house in the Exhibition grounds. Life-boat House Wembley, was very appropriately placed (when one remembers that the Institute was founded in the City of London), just at the corner of Old London Bridge, looking across the gardens to Government Building.

            Here was got together as complete an exhibition of Life-boat work as possible, certainly more complete than has appeared in any previous exhibition. There were models, some lent by the Science Museum, at South Kensington, but the majority the Institution's own, showing the development



of the Life-boat, from Wouldhave and Greathead's 'Original' built in 1789, to the latest type of Cabin Motor Life-boat. There were the Institution's portraits of Sir William Hillary, Bt., and Mr. Thomas Wilson, M.P., its founder and first Chairman, its collection of paintings of Life-boat scenes, a moving picture machine with a series of coloured pictures, showing  a number of Life-boat Stations, different types of Life-boats, different types of Life-boat houses, the different methods of launching, and famous Coxswains, a scenic model of the service to the Hospital Ship Rohilla at the beginning of the war, a working model showing how a Life-boat is launched down a slipway, another working model showing a Life-boat taking men off a wreck by means of a breeches buoy, and yet another showing a Life-boat launched to a steamer in distress, the sinking of the steamer, just after the Life-boat reaches her and takes off the crew, and the Life-boats return.


            There were wax figures of Life-boat-men dressed in oilskins and belts, one of the Institution's D.E. engines, which for the purpose of the Exhibition, was opened out and made to work by electricity, a line throwing gun, acetylene and electric searchlights, blocks, different kinds of ropes, and a pillar of wood, which showed the exact proportions of the different kinds of wood, oak, rock-elm, Honduras mahogany, teak, Christiania fir, and Norway spars (fir), used in the construction of a Life-boat.


            Finally in the centre of the house, was one of the Institution's latest types of Motor Life-boat, the Watson Cabin. This boat had been specially built for the Exhibition, and is to
be stationed at Margate. The Boat was open to visitors, who were able to walk round her deck, see the cabin and engine-room, and inspect the many details of the equipment of a modern Life-boat.


            During the six months of the Exhibition something like three-quarters of a million people have been over the Boat. The majority of them, even if they had seen Life-boats, had, of course never been on board one before, nor seen one at close quarters. Many were the strange questions asked, and the strange comments made. A foreigner, who spoke good English, when he saw the Boat said, "What is it ?" He was told "a Life-boat." And what, "he said "is that ?" But most of the questions were with regard to details. None of the others showed quite so complete an ignorance. One old gentleman, seeing the name 'Grace Darling' on the bows of the Boat, asked if this really was the Boat in which Grace Darling had gone out to the Forfarshire. He had allways thought that it was quite a small boat.



            The water barricoes, perhaps, caused more confusion than anything else. They were mistaken for various things, including buoys, life-buoys, fenders and hot-water bottles! A visitors book was kept, and among the countries beyond the British Isles which were represented in it were Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, Malta, Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Bermuda, the United States, France, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, Portugal, Holland, Spain, China and Japan.


            Besides the distribution of literature, leaflets and a short illustrated history of the Service, a number of Life-boat Souvenirs were on sale, metal pincushions, in the form of a Life-boat, small figures of Life-boatmen, statuettes of Life-boatmen, motor mascots in the form of Life-boatmen, and ash trays with a Life-boatman in the centre. Of these souvenirs, in all 11,758 were sold. Not only did they bring a substantial contribution to the Institution's funds, but, more important still, thousands of houses have, in these souvenirs, daily reminders of the Life-boat Service.    


            The article on the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at Wembley was taken from the November 1924 issue of The Lifeboat. The Study Group would like to thank Gill Mace Assistant Editor of The Lifeboat for supplying the material, and permission to use it.



            © Exhibition Study Group 1993