Cyclists helped save lives of Hartlepool sailors

The launch of The Cyclist lifeboat in 1887 - pictured in an illustration from The Graphic magazine.

The launch of The Cyclist lifeboat in 1887 - pictured in an illustration from The Graphic magazine.

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Thousands of cheering townsfolk lined the streets as Hartlepool unveiled its latest – and most unusual - lifeboat on December 17, 1887.

Indeed, such was the excitement that steamers full of sight-seers, as well as marching bands and hundreds of cyclists, turned out for the event.

A Breeches Buoy drill at Middleton Sands in 1931. Lifeboatmen often used a swing pulled along by ropes to rescue sailors from stricken vessels - and here they can be seen perfecting their skills.

A Breeches Buoy drill at Middleton Sands in 1931. Lifeboatmen often used a swing pulled along by ropes to rescue sailors from stricken vessels - and here they can be seen perfecting their skills.

“The lifeboat has been funded by the RNLI Cyclists’ Jubilee Fund, to the tune of £800, after a fund-raising event in Coventry,” reported the Gazette.

“Mr Sturmey, editor of The Cyclist magazine, presented the boat to the Royal Lifeboat Institution on behalf of some 6,000 wheelmen.

“The boat was launched amid hearty cheers and christened The Cyclist. It will be a great asset to the town.”

The desperate need for a lifeboat for Hartlepool was first recognised during a great storm in 1785, when 33 vessels were wrecked or grounded off the coast.

It was not, however, until 1802 that the decision was taken to launch a lifeboat service. The first vessel began its life-saving duties the following year.

By the 1850s there were lifeboats housed at Sandwell Chare, the Old Pier and North Sands – as well as commercially-owned boats at Stranton and in the harbour.

But it was the arrival of The Cyclist lifeboat in 1887 which really hit the headlines - perhaps because of the usual way in which it had been funded.

Indeed, a procession was held to welcome the boat, which left the Borough Buildings, then passed through St Mary Street and High Street.

Headed by marching bands, and featuring civic dignitaries, the procession ended up at the quayside, where Rev John Burdon welcomed the revellers.

Crowds then gathered around the slipway of the boathouse at Middleton, near the Old Ferry Landing, to watch as the vessel was unveiled.

“A splendid choir of 200 voices, stationed on the deck of a steamer near the quay, sang Dr Dyke’s eloquent hymn Eternal Father,” reported the Gazette.

“On conclusion of the hymn, the Mayoress christened the lifeboat and, amid cheers from the assembled thousands, Cyclist glided smoothly into the water.

“After her self-righting capabilities had been tested, the band played the National Anthem and the company dispersed - the majority going to the football field to watch Percy Park of North Shields played a match against Hartlepool Rovers.”

The Cyclist went on to serve Hartlepool “diligently and dutifully” until 1902, with each year’s expenses paid for by cycling enthusiasts.

The crew saved dozens over the years and, in 1902, they even received a reward from the Kaiser for their services to German vessel Catharina.