A HARTLEPOOL lifeboat responsible for saving hundreds of lives had a final brush with fame - as a Viking longship in a Hollywood blockbuster.
The remarkable story of the RNLI’s 45ft Watson class Elizabeth Newton has been researched by historian Neil Mearns.
Neil, who writes a regular column on maritime matters for the Mail’s sister publication, the Sunderland Echo, said the Elizabeth Newton’s last hurrah came after she was sold out of the service in 1953.
Elizabeth Newton was towed to Sunderland to begin an extraordinary transformation on Wearside Boatbuilding’s slipway.
A seven-day deadline was imposed in which to complete her makeover into a Viking ship for the 20th Century Fox film production, “Prince Valiant.”
Released in 1954, the film stars James Mason, Janet Leigh and Robert Wagner and features the efforts of a Viking prince to become a knight in King Arthur’s Court and restore his overthrown father to his rightful throne.
Structural alterations to Elizabeth Newton involved construction of a new stern, rebuilding the bow and shifting and heightening the mast. Although the motor engine remained in place, 18 oars were supplied for use during filming.
On the night of May 19, 1953, the craft was taken to Palmers Hill Quay and lifted onto a trailer for transportation to Scotland.
Later, she took part in scenes filmed off the Isle of Skye complete with square sail, side shields and figureheads.
Elizabeth Newton had been built by J Samuel White of Cowes, Isle of Wight. Named in memory of the wife of Captain Richard Newton of Darlington, half of the £10,000 cost had been met by a legacy left by the late Mrs Newton.
Officially named by the Marchioness of Londonderry on August 23, 1924, the new motor lifeboat was stationed at Hartlepool until 1939, when she joined the RNLI reserve fleet, serving at several North-east stations until May 1953.