Lifesaving tales since the 1820s captured in new Barmouth lifeboat book

Lifeboats News Release

Almost two centuries of bravery, rescues and tragedies have been collected into a new book on the history of Barmouth lifeboat.

From the awe-inspiring bravery of a Barmouth man who saved seven lives after a shipwreck in 1825, to the story of a binocular glass brought all the way back to the station from Canada 120 years after being awarded to a Barmouth Coxswain, the book charts some of the fascinating tales from the years of saving lives at sea in the town.

The book was written by Norma Stockford, whose family have served on Barmouth lifeboats since 1939 and has volunteered at the station since 1971, and David Baily, who retired from the sea as a Master Mariner in 2009 and is now the station’s Lifeboat Operations Manager.

As part of their painstaking research they drew on Jeff Morris’ previously published history of the station, local Meirionnydd records and visited the RNLI archives department at the charity’s headquarters in Poole. The task was made easier for them thanks to Hugh Roberts allowing them to plunder the extensive collection of photographs on his community website and another important source of information came from the published works of Professor Lewis Lloyd, who has written extensively on the maritime history of Barmouth.

As well as the factual details they decided they would give particular focus to portraying the lives and experiences of the people involved in the station’s creation and the people of Barmouth came up trumps when asked for their assistance and willingly searched their personal and family collections and shared their memories. 

Mrs Margaret Parker, great granddaughter of the first recorded coxswain arrived at the Lifeboat station with photographs and newspaper clippings which proved invaluable. Miss Beryl Morris, whose father and grandfather were coxswains, and other descendantsof early Coxswains all contributed greatly to the research. 

And during the course of her research, Norma, who is also Lifeboat Press Officer at Barmouth RNLI, made a timely and very fortuitous discovery. 

Humphrey Jones was the first named coxswain of Barmouth lifeboat. His obituary, provided by Mrs Parker and taken from the Cambrian News of 25 February 1898, describes Humphrey as ‘a descendant of one of Barmouth’s oldest families’ and said he took up the position of coxswain of the lifeboat in 1866.

The report also stated that when Humphrey retired from the lifeboat service in 1892 he was presented with an illuminated address signed by RNLI Chairman Sir Edward Birkbeck and RNLI Secretary Charles Dibdin, ‘together with a binocular glass, and a purse with £26’.

So it was with great excitement that Norma received an email from Canada from ex- Barmouth resident Peter Davies, great-grandnephew of Humphrey Jones, saying that he had the very binoculars that were presented over 120 years ago, and that he would like to donate them to Barmouth lifeboat station.

Peter and Norma remembered each other from Barmouth Grammar School days and Norma was delighted to see him when he arrived with his family in September 2015 to make the presentation.  Still in their original leather case, the beautiful silver binoculars still work perfectly.  Everyone at that station was delighted that the well-travelled binoculars had come home to Barmouth again.

And Peter himself was delighted to be re-acquainted with an old relative after over 50 years.  Robert Wyn Jones, son of former coxswain Rhys Jones, and he are distant cousins and both descend from that first coxswain.

Another fascinating story told in the book dates back to March 1825, when Barmouth man Edmund Lewis became one of the earliest recipients of the RNLI’s Silver Medal for saving the lives of seven men.

In February of the same year in a violent gale, the crew of the vessel Neptune, which was sailing from New Orleans to Liverpool, abandoned her in Cardigan Bay, North Wales, leaving her drifting in a sinking condition under the high cliffs.  Seven Barmouth men went to her assistance, but, having boarded her, were unable to leave and she was driven ashore by a flood tide three miles from Barmouth.  The ship parted, her upper works drifting under the cliffs, and the men were given up for lost.  Mr Lewis, attaching himself to a rope, descended an awe-inspiring precipice to board the wreck.  Using ropes that he brought down for the purpose, he helped to haul all the men up the cliff to safety.

Names of the early lifeboats and coxswains were not recorded, but the book covers each of the named coxswains from Humphrey Jones in 1866 to today’s present Coxswain, Peter Davies.  It also outlines Barmouth’s heritage as an important shipbuilding centre and tells of shipwrecks and rescues from the nineteenth century, covering heroic stories and tragedies. It tells of brave volunteers, past and present.

Co-author Norma said: ‘A huge part of the Barmouth community contributes in one way or another to the work of their lifeboat station, and to the wonderful atmosphere there on a busy Summer's day - shop volunteers, boat crew, shore crew, fundraisers, the visits coordinator, members of the operations manager's team.

‘All, with the exception of the station mechanic, are volunteers, pulling together in their own way to help ensure that the long and proud tradition of saving life at sea continues in our town for as long as there are people out there needing help.

‘Putting together the book was a very enjoyable and fascinating experience, but I could not have done it without the help of my co-author David.

‘Many people still do not realise that the RNLI is supported entirely from voluntary contributions so for those of us who get so much out of it, it is good to be able to put something back to help the RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea.’

The book, which costs £8.95, is available from the local RNLI shop in Barmouth and all profits will help the RNLI charity to save more lives at sea.

Notes to editors:

The attached pictures, which should be credited RNLI/Barmouth, show:

- Co-authors Norma Stockford and David Baily signing copies of their book for friends and family

- Co-authors Norma Stockford and David Baily with the book on board Barmouth RNLI's all-weather lifeboat

For more information please contact Chris Cousens, RNLI Press Officer, Wales and West, on 01745 585162 or 07748 265496 or by email on Alternatively call the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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