World first collection in aid of the RNLI recreated in Manchester 130 years on

Lifeboats Media Invite

This Saturday, Manchester will celebrate 130 years since the world’s first ever charity street collection took place. The milestone event which shaped the future of fundraising happened in aid of the RNLI – the charity which saves lives at sea.

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The RNLI will be recreating this image taken 130 years go in Manchester

This weekend will see RNLI fundraisers collecting around the city to support volunteer crews, who have been saving lives on the coast since the charity was formed in 1824. As part of the celebrations, a historic picture taken on the day of the collection will be recreated to reflect modern day fundraising.

In 1891 the world’s first ever charity street collection, in aid of the RNLI, began with an impressive horse-drawn lifeboat parade through the city. It featured a parade of bands, floats and lifeboats through the streets of Manchester and raised over £5,000. Street fundraising began as a result of a lifeboat disaster five years earlier, when 27 men from Southport and St Anne’s died while trying to rescue sailors from the stricken vessel Mexico.

Following the sad incident, a local wealthy industrialist Sir Charles Macara answered the RNLI’s call for help. He was so concerned for the widows and children of the volunteers lost that he decided to organise a collection for them. Instead of asking wealthy philanthropists for money, he appealed to the man on the street.

Charles and his wife Marion got a committee together and organised the first Lifeboat Saturday in aid of the appeal. It was the world’s first charity street collection ever recorded, and the formula proved popular for decades to come.

Now, in 2021, the RNLI are celebrating 130 years since Manchester’s world first, by once again bringing the RNLI into the heart of the city where street fundraising all started.

RNLI crews from Lytham St Anne’s will remember their fallen predecessors as they take time to offer their thanks to the people of Manchester who were moved by the tragedy and given so generously over the years.

The famous Lytham St Annes Shanty Crew will be playing throughout the day and fascinating historical exhibitions and artefacts will be on display to the public.

The event is being organised by the Manchester RNLI fundraising branch who are always overwhelmed by the response to their collections, and are looking forward to giving something back to the community.

Alex Doig, chair of the Manchester fundraising branch says:

‘Manchester is the birthplace of street donations, not just in the UK but the world, and that’s something to be really proud of. The anniversary will be about celebrating the strength of the link between the city and the sea. It’s only through our volunteers time, through charitable donations and through the support of local communities and businesses that our crews can do what they do.’

The anniversary will be about celebrating the strength of the link between the city and the sea, despite living so far away from the sea, the people of Manchester often visit the coast for holidays or day trips and are incredibly grateful and humbled that the RNLI is there 24/7 should they or their families get into trouble.

It’s a story only too familiar for Manchester family, who will attend the event to thank the RNLI for saving the life of dad-of-three Ben Williamson. Ben was bodyboarding at Perran Sands, when he feared for his life after being swept by the current 100 metres away from the shoreline.

The horror unfolded as Ben's wife Hannah and their three young children, Megan, seven, and five-year-old twins Niamh and Sammy, watched from the beach. Two teenage boys had gone in to the water to attempt a rescue. The St Agnes RNLI crew raced to the incident and pulled the three casualties into the lifeboat. Ben, Hannah and their children were reunited with hugs on the beach.

Hannah says:

'Living in the city, you don’t really see the RNLI as that relevant, but without them my husband wouldn’t be here today. We really thought we had lost him. Many of us holiday or visit the coast for day trips and it’s amazing to think these people are there and ready to drop everything should a stranger need help. I think the RNLI is actually more important to people like us not living close to the coast, as it’s a new environment and when you’re on holiday, you do tend to let your guard down as you want to have a great time, which is exactly what we did.’

Hannah and her family will taken centre stage in the recreation of the original image taken on the exact day 130 years ago. She added:

‘I was so proud to hear that the first street collection happened here in Manchester and feel incredibly proud and humbled to be attending the event with my family. We do all we can now to support the RNLI and hope the event is a great success.’

The event will run between 9-5pm and seaside snacks will be available.

To donate please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/RNLIManchester130

To help collect during the day, please visit. https://volunteering.rnli.org/vacancy/volunteer-collector-manchester-456424.html

RNLI media invite:

Media Invite: The media are invited to to recreate a modern day image of the world’s first ever street collection in aid of the RNLI, which took place in Manchester following the Mexico lifeboat disaster.

The event will follow in the footsteps of the original Manchester fundraising pioneers by transporting an RNLI lifeboat to St Ann’s Square symbolically recreating the procession of 1891. The collection was arranged after 27 lifeboatmen lost their lives whilst attempting to rescue the crew from the German barque Mexico.

There will be an opportunity to speak with local people who have been saved by the RNLI, local fundraisers and volunteer RNLI crew from Lytham St Annes.

Where: St Ann’s Square.

When: Saturday, 9 October 2pm.

There will be an opportunity to interview:

· Ben and Hannah Williamson from Manchester. Camera footage of the rescue is here: https://source.rnli.org.uk/share/414D21F9-6011-4E78-9A09AE4E6A779511/?mediaId=3457EA58-3233-45E0-80D244A2F513BB90. Also downloadable is an interview with the family talking about the indent.

· Manchester RNLI fundraising branch and Lytham St Annes’ current RNLI crew

RNLI media contact

To register your intention to attend, or to request images of the image being recreated, please contact Danielle Rush on the numbers below.

For more information contact Danielle Rush, RNLI Regional Media Manager in Wales on 07786 668829 or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or email PressOffice@rnli.org.uk.

Historical Notes

Sir Charles Wright Macara (1845-1929) was a successful Manchester cotton merchant. He and his family spent their holidays and weekends at St Anne’s, Lancashire. Charles became actively involved with the lifeboat station there and was Chair of the St Anne’s Lifeboat Station Branch.

In 1886 Sir Charles witnessed the worst lifeboat disaster in the RNLI’s history. The Mexico, a Hamburg barque, left Liverpool on December 5th for Guayaquil, Ecuador. Four days later she was caught in a violent gale and, amidst the heavy seas and snow showers, she ran aground on the perilous sandbanks in the Ribble Estuary. Lifeboats launched from Lytham, St Anne’s and Southport to rescue the stranded crew.

Eliza Fernley from Southport and Laura Janet from St Anne’s were the first lifeboats to launch. Tragically, they both capsized during the rescue attempt and only two of the crew survived. A third lifeboat, Charles Biggs, launched on its maiden rescue, and saved the Mexico’s 12 crew members.

A disaster fund was set up for the families which raised £30,000 but Sir Charles wanted to do more. He examined the RNLI’s finances and discovered that they were low. He also learned that over two thirds of the RNLI’s income came from just 100 of the country’s wealthiest people. 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".

“Bring charity into the streets…and streets into charity”

With the help of the Mayor of Manchester, Charles Macara organised a truly impressive parade through the city on Saturday 1st October 1891. 30,000 people lined the streets to watch the parade which included bands, colourful floats, and two lifeboats drawn by horses.

Charles’s wife Marion, with many of her friends, went round the crowds with buckets and tins to collect money.

To ensure that no one missed the opportunity to give, Sir Charles had arranged for several lifeboat men to carry sacks on long poles which were thrust in front of those watching from windows and the tops of buses and tramways.

The event was very successful with over £5,000 being raised – equivalent to nearly £250,000 today – and became an annual event in Manchester. By 1895 over 90 towns and cities across the UK had adopted ‘Lifeboat Saturdays’ ensuring the RNLI had a steady and healthy income.

The first Lifeboat Saturday in 1891 was the start of a tradition of street collecting, not only for the RNLI but for all charities.

The event was also the start of the RNLI's branch system, which is an important part of the RNLI’s fundraising today, with Lady Macara establishing Ladies Lifeboat Guilds. The RNLI, and indeed all charities, have much to thank Sir Charles and Lady Marion Macara for.


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A lifeboat is towed through the streets of Manchester during the world's first street collection

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27 lifeboatmen lost their lives whilst attempting to rescue the crew from the German barque Mexico.

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Ben, Hannah and family during a return visit to Cornwall

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Ben, Hannah and family during a return visit to Cornwall

David Forshaw

Lytham St Annes Shanty crew who will performing on Saturday

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 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 by email.