Remembering the 125th anniversary of the world’s first charity street collection

Lifeboats News Release

This Monday (10 October) sees the 125th anniversary of the first ever charity street collection, which took place in Manchester on behalf of the RNLI on Saturday 10 October 1891.

Organised by successful cotton merchant Sir Charles Macara, the collection was a huge success and raised more than £5,000 - equivalent to almost £250,000 today. The event inspired regular Lifeboat Saturdays, not just in Manchester but around the country, and became a major source of fundraising for the RNLI. Other charities later followed suit and street collections are still a regular and vital source of charity income.

Sir Charles Macara organised the collection after witnessing the RNLI’s worst ever lifeboat disaster five years earlier, when 27 men died in an attempt to rescue the crew of the stricken German barque Mexico during a violent gale off the Lancashire coast.

RNLI volunteers launched from Lytham St Annes and Southport but tragically the Eliza Fernley from Southport and Laura Janet from Lytham St Annes capsized and 27 lifeboat crew members drowned, leaving 16 widows and 50 fatherless children. Lytham’s Charles Biggs lifeboat launched on her maiden rescue and saved all 12 of Mexico’s crew.

A disaster fund raised £30,000 for the families of those lost but Macara wanted to do more. He discovered RNLI finances were low, with over two-thirds of the charity’s income coming from just a handful of wealthy people, so he decided to hold ‘a grand cavalcade to make the public at large aware of the service provided by the brave volunteer lifeboat men and the need for widespread financial support’.

The Manchester collection was supported by an impressive parade through the city, when 30,000 people lined the streets to watch bands, colourful floats and two horse-drawn lifeboats. Charles’s wife Marion, with many of her friends, went along the crowds collecting money and Charles arranged for lifeboat crew members to carry sacks on long poles to reach those watching from windows and the tops of buses and trams.

Hayley Whiting, RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, said: ‘The first Lifeboat Saturday was hugely influential and changed charity fundraising forever. Before that, fundraising used to be quite private, and charities tended to approach only influential people and wealthy philanthropists. This was different - ordinary people were being asked to help, and were clearly happy to do so.’

Lifeboat Saturday with its street collection didn’t just help to shape the RNLI’s fundraising techniques, but also charities around the world. Street collections have since formed a regular and vital source of charity income today.

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 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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or or by email.