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Bridlington RNLI remember The Great Gale of 1871, 150 years on

Lifeboats News Release

A church service is to be livestreamed and wreaths are to be laid to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Great Gale.

The Great Gale memorial and Bridlington Priory Church in the background

RNLI/Andy Brompton

A memorial to The Great Gale stands in the grounds of Bridlington Priory Church

Just behind Bridlington Priory Church stands an obelisk commemorating The Great Gale of 1871, a memorial to one of Bridlington’s worst maritime disasters and the final resting place of 43 sailors. Every year on the Sunday closest to 10 February a church service is held and a wreath is laid by RNLI volunteers to remember those that lost their lives in The Great Gale.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the disaster and The Archbishop of York was due to attend the service that is held by Reverend Matthew Pollard. A restored lifeboat from Whitby Historic Lifeboat Fund was also going to be pulled through the town, following the route of the original funeral procession, to commemorate the anniversary.

Unfortunately, due to coronavirus restrictions, these plans have had to be altered, but there will still be a church service. This will be livestreamed from the Friends of Bridlington Priory Facebook page and a wreath will also be laid at the memorial, as well as one at sea. There are also plans to commemorate the anniversary later in the year pending any change in coronavirus restrictions.

The events of 10 February 1871 occurred when a storm hit the East Yorkshire coast. Many of the affected ships were using Bridlington Bay to shelter from the previous day’s bad weather in an area known affectionately as ‘The Bay of Refuge’ by local sailors. When the wind changed direction and conditions deteriorated it caused ships to run aground or into the harbour walls. The exact number of deaths caused by the storm isn’t known but it is thought to be in the region of 70. As many as 23 colliers (coal ships) are known to have been wrecked and for weeks afterwards debris was washed ashore along the coast.

At the time Bridlington had two separate lifeboats, the RNLI’s lifeboat the Robert Whitworth and a locally owned vessel named the Harbinger. Both boats were launched multiple times, with both crews succeeding in saving several lives. Tragically, the Harbinger was attempting to save the crew of a brig when a wave capsized the lifeboat and six of the nine local men aboard drowned.

It is thought that the reason so many ships were wrecked is due to them being overloaded and poorly maintained. In the wake of the disaster Samuel Plimsoll was able to press Parliament and by 1876 the Plimsoll line was compulsory on all ships. Load lines or Plimsoll lines are still displayed on ships to this day.

The livestream of the service will take place at 10:30am on Sunday 7 February at and a representative of the RNLI will lay a wreath at the memorial. Members of the public are asked not to attend the church in order to adhere to current coronavirus restrictions.

RNLI Media contacts
For more information please contact William Gray, RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer: [email protected] or call:07816 134 712.

An RNLI flag hangs in front of a stained glass window in a church

RNLI/Andy Brompton

Bridlington Priory Church is decorated with RNLI flags for the service
A wreath placed on a memorial

RNLI/Andy Brompton

Last year's wreath at the memorial
Three tombstones in a graveyard

RNLI/Andy Brompton

These tombstones belong to three of the crew of the Harbinger

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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 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.

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