Whitby Lifeboat Museum

October 2021

RNLI Museum – A year in the Life of our Museum, Neil Williamson, Hon Curator

As you might know the Lifeboat Museum situated on Pier Road has closed for a renovation. I thought it would be good to share ‘A Year in the life of the RNLI Museum’ with you.

2021 started with the Country in ‘Lock down’ and the Museum & Shop being closed. As the Country came out of the Covid-19 restrictions, the Museum & Shop reopened with restrictions on numbers of visitors being allowed access to the building. These restrictions didn’t affect the numbers of visitors to Whitby as the Museum and Shop had a very busy summer. It was however difficult for the Shop to maintain full opening hours due to volunteer shortages due to various reasons as some of the volunteers were ‘self isolating’. The Covid ‘lock down’ did however provide unforeseen benefits in that it allowed time for the exhibits and cabinets to be thoroughly cleaned. Additionally, all the pictures held in the Museum archive have been scanned and catalogued. 


The plans for the Museum’s renovation continued with the contract for its redesign being awarded to Creative Core. The company’s design team held workshops with all interested parties (Shop Volunteers, Museum staff, Lifeboat personnel and Regional Staff) to assist them to produce a design that would meet all our expectations. Core are at present working on the initial design for the new layout of the Museum, it is planned to have an ‘open evening’ in late November open to all interested parties and stakeholders once the design layout is finalised.

With the Museum & Shop closed in September for the renovation, it has been an extremely busy autumn for all concerned. The Museum artefacts including all the items in the Archive and Shop contents had to be carefully packed and shipped to the RNLI’s Divisional Base North facility at Thornaby for safe storage before the building was handed over to the building contractors. The Pulling Lifeboat, the RNLB Robert & Ellen Robson was moved from the Museum to its temporary ‘tented’ storage bay at Coates Marine for the period the Museum is closed.

The move of the Lifeboat itself attracted a lot of public attention with the boat being ‘pulled’ through the town by the Lifeboat crew. Our RNLI Local Press Officer, Ceri publicised the event in advance and produced some great ‘then & now’ photographs of the crew c1900 and the present crew. Additionally, the ‘boat move’ was used as a fund raising event which was well supported by the crew (both full timers and volunteers) and the Friends of Whitby Lifeboat (FOWLs) with the event raising a superb sum of over £3000.


Whilst the Lifeboat is in the boatyard, the boat and carriage will undergo a full restoration overseen by Poole’s heritage department. It is anticipated that the Shop will reopen in November 2021 whilst the Museum will reopen in the of Spring 2022.

The RNLI are actively looking for additionally volunteers to assist in the Shop and Museum. If you have any free time to offer even if it’s just the odd morning or afternoon and feel that you would like to assist the RNLI Shop and/or its other fundraising activities, please contact me through the Civc Society.

I hope to offer you a conclusion to our Museum Renovation in Spring/Summer 2022.

September 2021

You might have heard the exciting news that Whitby Lifeboat Museum is going to be renovated and improved over the coming autumn/winter with the Museum reopening in the spring of 2022. To enable these works to be carried out in the Museum will close on Saturday 18th September 2021; it will be necessary to more the Pulling Lifeboat, RNLB Robert & Ellen Robson on its Carriage from the Museum through Whitby to the Coates Marine’s Boatyard where it will be stored undercover for the duration of the Museum’s renovation.


Lifeboat Pier House and RNLI Boathouse, 1953

The move of the Lifeboat will take place on Saturday 25 September when the boat will be ‘pulled’ by the present Whitby Lifeboat Crew & Volunteers as it would have been when it was in service with the RNLI; the timetable for the move is:

Saturday 25 Sep 2021

0930hrs - Lifeboat moved from Museum on Pier Road to Bandstand area opposite the Museum

1030hrs - Lifeboat pulled from the Bandstand along Pier Road to Baxtergate

1100hrs to 1530hrs - Lifeboat on display at Baxtergate area

1530hrs - Lifeboat moved from Baxtergate to Coates Marine’s Boatyard via New Quay Road & Langbourne Road    

If you are in Whitby on the day of the Lifeboat move it would be great to see you at the Museum prior to the pull of the Lifeboat or as the boat is moved along Pier Road to the Bridge/Baxtergate area where the boat will be on display from 1000hrs to 1530hrs. There will be opportunity to say hello and hear more about the Museum’s renovation.


RNLI Lifeboat Robert and Ellen Robson, 1955

The Rubie class RNLI lifeboat 'Robert & Ellen Robson', built in 1918, served in Whitby from 1947-1955, her last service being a historic event for the RNLI as it was the last time a rowing lifeboat was ever used in operational service.

During her time on service at Whitby the historic lifeboat was mainly launched to escort fishing vessels into the harbour in bad weather, however one of the more unusual services she was involved in was on 5th October 1949 when she was used to rescue seventeen geology students from Aberdeen University who were cut off on the infamous Black Nab. 

LifeboatThe Robert and Ellen Robson escorting Pandora B, September 1949 

Whitby's lifeboat museum, in the town's former lifeboat station building, is a flagship for the RNLI and visited by thousands every year. The museum will close (although the shop will remain open) from 20 Sept 2021 to allow work to commence to create an exciting new visitor experience within the museum, aiming to re-open early summer 2022. 

Deputy launch authority for Whitby RNLI, and museum curator Neil Williamson said: 'This is an exciting project for the museum and its volunteers. The RNLI has a rich history of lifeboating in Whitby and the pulling of the old lifeboat will be quite a sight as the boat has not moved from its current home since 2002, pulling it by hand as it would have been in the past feels like a nod to those who volunteered before us.'

The stories of Whitby lifeboat and the gallantry of the crew will still be centre stage in the new design, while giving greater opportunity to showcase the unique models, artefacts and the amazing historic pulling lifeboat. 

The redevelopment aims to bring the story of Whitby lifeboat and the wider lifesaving work of the RNLI to new audiences, making greater use of interactive, visual and emotive storytelling. This story will highlight how volunteers in all roles play a key part in the work of the RNLI.

Michael Charlton (RNLI Development Manager) who is leading the project said: 'The redevelopment gives new opportunities to inform visitors about how to stay safe by promoting local key water safety messages in a fun and informative way.  As a charity, it is important that the museum highlights how the RNLI is funded and how the public can be more involved and support, be that either via a simple donation or by leaving a legacy. In deed the redevelopment is only possible as it is being funded by a generous gift left in a will specifically for the museum as per the wishes of the donor.'