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Forgotten favourites

A stash of forgotten RNLI photographs from the 20th century have been brought back to life through the digital screen. But which ones have left a lasting impact?

When was the last time you found something exciting in a spring clean? Was it an old birthday present? A forgotten fiver? 

What if you discovered rarely seen photographs capturing history, community and heroic acts of bravery – just like we did, when we unearthed 12,000 RNLI images in our attic last year.

Since finding these treasures, a volunteer team have been digitising and preserving the collection of classic photographs, led by Joe Williams, RNLI Heritage Project Officer. 

So, just like being asked to choose your favourite child, we asked Joe to select the four forgotten photographs that have stolen a special place in his heart since the discovery:

1. London Lifeboat Day, 1923

London Lifeboat Day, 1923

Photo: Central Press/Getty Images Archive 

‘There’s an incredible energy in this photograph,’ smiles Joe. ‘It was taken on 8 May 1923 and a huge crowd is parting to let Edward, the Prince of Wales – and President of the RNLI – through to his car. 

‘It’s a photo that deserves a prolonged look, as you’ll start to notice more and more details: the photographer stood on the roof of a car, the crowded upper deck of the tram, and the RNLI collection boxes lining the path. 

‘Virtually everyone is wearing a hat or, as with the Prince of Wales himself, tipping it!’ 

2. Our 100th Anniversary 

Celebrations for the RNLI's 100th anniversary

Photo: Sport and General Press Agency/Alpha Press

‘Lifeboat Day in 1924 marked the RNLI’s 100th anniversary. And to celebrate, the First Commissioner of Works gave permission for lifeboats to be stationed in public places in London. 

‘This photograph, taken on 20 May, shows lifeboat Sir John in Trafalgar Square. At the front of the crowd, you can see coins being dropped into collection boxes.

‘An incredible £5,675 was raised on this day across the capital.’

3. Charing Cross Exhibition, 1933

Charing Cross Underground Station in London, 1933

Photo: The Topical Press Agency Limited/Getty Images Archive

‘This stylish photograph was taken on 19 May 1933 in the booking hall of Charing Cross Underground Station in London. 

‘For a fortnight, underground passengers could view lifeboat models, photographs, paintings and displays of the latest kit.

‘The venue, lighting, electricity and policing were provided free of charge to the RNLI.’

4. Hoylake’s Hannah Fawcett Bennett 

Hoylake’s lifeboat Hannah Fawcett Bennett at the RNLI’s Poplar Depot

Photo: Sport and General Press Agency/Alpha Press

‘This striking photograph shows work being carried out on Hoylake’s lifeboat Hannah Fawcett Bennett at the RNLI’s Poplar Depot – our first store yard. 

‘The store yard was established in the late 1870s, and then the machinery workshop for minor repairs – as shown here in 1935 – opened after the First World War.’

To discover more of this invaluable collection, from fundraising and family photos to lifeboat builds and launching to sea, take a walk through history in our digital archive

Help us answer the next call for help this year, next year and for generations to come. 

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