1. What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate her physical fabric?
In spite of the loss of the original engine, a remarkable amount of original material survives. The steel framing is 90% original, timber framing 50%, hull planking 70%, deck 90%, superstructure 80%, steering gear 90%, fuel tanks, prop shafts and other engineering (apart from the engine and gearbox) is 90%, Mast tabernacles 100% but masts, sails and rigging are all being replaced (to original design.) Oars and rowlocks are likewise being replaced as none of the original material survives. All replacement material and workmanship is being undertaken to original specification so far as can be ascertained – the Trust is fortunate that it has been able to obtain a number of the builders’ drawings to assist in this respect.
2. What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?
The river Tyne developed a huge volume of maritime trade during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, to the extent that literally hundreds of vessels would sometimes enter or leave in a day, carrying minerals and industrial products for what was the world’s most heavily industrialised river. The mouth of the Tyne had a hazardous entry with a tortuous passage between rocks and sand banks, until dredging and breakwaters eased the perils. It was because of these circumstances that advanced lifesaving measures had to be developed, leading to the building of the world’s first purpose made lifeboat, at South Shields, and to the inauguration of volunteer lifesaving institutions – which have since spread worldwide.
The continued volume of industrial activity and need for safety ensured that the Tyne maintained lifeboats of the most advanced pattern and so, in 1917, the finest lifeboat that could be built was provided for Tynemouth, at the expense of the widow of the Tyne’s most prominent ship builder, Henry Frederick Swan.
This was the vessel that was recovered by NEMT in an advanced state of decay in 2005.
Work started on building the Henry Frederick Swan (HFS) in 1915 at the Cowes yard of S. E. Saunders. She was delivered to the RNLI Tynemouth station (which is at North Shields) and entered service on 16th February 1918. HFS remained on station until 1939 when she was replaced by a more modern vessel; she then went into reserve. This was not the end of her service for in 1941 an enemy bomb landed on the lifeboat station destroying the new boat; HFS was brought back for further service and had to undertake rescue duties until 1947.
Upon final withdrawal HFS was acquired by the 1st Tynemouth Sea Scouts; later she passed to the 1st Alnmouth and Lesbury Sea Scouts. By 1963 she was in the hands of Wearmouth Schools as part of a nautical skills scheme and in 1972 was sold into private ownership. After a period of dereliction North East Maritime Trust purchased the vessel for restoration and a little later she was taken to the Trust’s newly acquired workshop on Corporation Quay, South Shields; opposite the site of her old lifeboat station where she served for 28 years making her one of the longest serving lifeboats at one station, in RNLI history.
3. How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?
Henry Frederick Swan is a 40’ by 10’6” self righting vessel, having a heavy cast iron keel to keep her upright and she has a large number of floatation boxes fixed within her hull to protect against sinking, as well as water discharge ports should she be overwhelmed by sea. Being a “transition vessel;” propulsion was originally by lug sails (on two masts pivoted for ease of raising and lowering) together with a petrol engine – a Tyler C2 – which gave her a motoring speed of 7.5 knots; these being available for alternate use according to circumstances. She also had ten oars for use when other means could not be used. At some time during her life the original engine was replaced by a diesel engine – unfortunately it has not been possible to trace a surviving Tyler petrol engine and the later diesel engine is being retained.
The hull is of double diagonal mahogany planking on a combination frame of rolled steel and sawn or steamed oak. The propeller is accommodated within a tunnel to protect it from impact from rocks or wreckage. There are whalebacks fore and aft constructed in the same manner as the hull. The whole form of construction is complex but affords a flexibility to withstand impacts.
Source: North East Maritime Trust
HENRY FREDERICK SWAN is a 40 ft self-righting motor lifeboat. She was funded by Mrs Lowe of Bath and named in memory of her late husband, who was the managing director of the Armstrong Whitworth works on Tyneside, and who was for many years also chairman of the Tynemouth branch of the RNLI. Work started on building her in 1915 at the Cowes yard of S.E. Saunders. She was given the Official Number 646, was delivered to the RNLI Tynemouth station at North Shields, and entered service on 16 February 1918. She remained on station until 1939 when she was replaced by a more modern vessel; she then went into reserve between 1939 and 1941. However, in 1941 an enemy bomb landed on the lifeboat station destroying the new boat, and HENRY FREDERICK SWAN was brought back for further service, continuing to undertake rescue duties until 1947.
Upon her final withdrawal she was acquired by the 1st Tynemouth Sea Scouts; later she passed to the 1st Alnmouth and Lesbury Sea Scouts. By 1963 she was in the hands of Wearmouth Schools as part of a nautical skills scheme. In 1972 she was sold into the private ownership of Gerry Johnstone, in whose hands she remained until 2005. Renamed SURVIVAL, she was moored at his boatyard at Lemington and used for family river trips and fishing expeditions. Routine maintenance was carried out by Mr Johnstone and family members. Following the compulsory purchase of Gerry Johnstone’s yard and land in the early 2000s, the condition of the vessel slowly deteriorated. After a period of dereliction she was purchased for restoration by the North East Maritime Trust (NEMT). She was later taken to the Trust’s workshop on Corporation Quay, South Shields, opposite the site of her old lifeboat station. Prior to her re-launch in April 2019, the original maker's plaque and wheel spoke were donated to NEMT by Mr Johnstone's family.
In spite of the loss of the original engine, a remarkable amount of original material survives. The steel framing is 90% original, timber framing 50%, hull planking 70%, deck 90%, superstructure 80%, steering gear 90%, fuel tanks, prop shafts and other engineering (apart from the engine and gearbox) is 90% original and mast tabernacles 100%. Masts, sails and rigging have all been replaced to original design, along with oars and Linkleter rowlocks. HENRY FREDERICK SWAN is now displayed and operated on the water close to her original workplace, conveying to the public how lifesaving was undertaken on the Tyne nearly 100 years ago. She is moored by the waterfront of Corporation Quay, South Shields. A pontoon allows direct public access, and the public have opportunities to travel on her.
Email from Gerry Johnstone's granddaughter dated 15 July 2019.
Built by S E Saunders of Cowes, Isle of Wight as a Lifeboat for Swan’s Shipyard
She was delivered to the Lifeboat Station at Tynemouth and launched 28 times and rescued 8
She was recommissioned to replace the bombed out Tynemouth Lifeboat and was launched 4 times
She was presented to the Sea Scouts
She was in the hands Wearmouth Schools as part of a nautical skills scheme and renamed ‘The Wearsider’
She was sold into private hands
After a period of dereliction she went to The North East Maritime Trust for restoration
Displayed and operated from a pontoon at Corporation Quay, South Shields allowing direct public access
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