(a) The Aldeburgh Station

The Aldeburgh Station

The first lifeboat was stationed at Sizewell, 4 miles North of Aldeburgh, but most of her crew came from Aldeburgh. Little is known about the Sizewell boat: she rowed 8 oars, double banked; was a non-self-righter; and may have been called Grafton. She saved 5 men from the sloop “Catherina” in 1841.

In 1851 the Sizewell boat was transferred to Slaughden where a wooden (and later brick) boathouse was built to shelter her. Then in 1853 a new self-righting boat rowing 12 oars replaced her.

During her period of service the new boat saved at least 35 lives but in December 1859 tragedy struck and she lost 3 of her crew. It happened on a bitterly cold night when, with a foot of snow on the ground and a fierce South West gale blowing, the lifeboat was summoned to the brig “Unity” which was making distress signals. After a three hour struggle to launch through mountainous surf, the lifeboat was capsized by a huge wave. She quickly righted herself and 10 of the crew of 15 scrambled back on board: the remaining 5 were eventually washed ashore but only 2 of them survived. This lifeboat seems to have remained un-named until 1866 when she was christened The Pasco for an RN Captain who raised funds for the RNLI.

Pasco and her crew: 1853 - 1870

The Pasco was on station for 17 years, then in 1870 she was replaced by The George Hounsfield which saved 99 lives in 20 years.

Our only image of George Hounsfield: she was a presence on the beach well after the end of her working life

By 1879 Slaughden was suffering from serious erosion and the lifeboat house was threatening to collapse. The decision was taken to move the boat ¾ mile North to just about the location of the present lifeboat house. Thereafter the Aldeburgh lifeboat was kept on the open beach under canvas covers for around a hundred years.

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It is important to understand that at this time there was no voice communication between vessels in distress and the rescue services. A vessel needing help fired rockets – maroons; flew a flag – or sail – or anything – upside down. The boom of a gun fired by a light-vessel might indicate a boat aground.  If a fishing boat failed to come home the lifeboat station was alerted by those who did return. Lookouts kept a constant watch for shipping in distress and the lifeboat could be launched within 15 minutes. Once launched the lifeboat was on her own, usually searching for her quarry in conditions of appalling visibility and tumultuous seas. She would not know whether she was searching alone or whether lifeboats from other stations had also been called out. Radio communication and radar were not even thought of: the skill and determination of the crews were alone responsible for so many heart-stopping rescues.