A demand for safety from stormy seas
In 1794 a lighthouse was built at Mumbles Head to help ships find a safe path through Swansea Bay. In spite of this, many ships continued to be blown off course during stormy weather to collide with the submerged sandbanks of Mixon and Scarweather Sands. Often in these situations the coastguards and tugs of Swansea Harbour would attempt to rescue the crews of stricken vessels.
By 1834 there was strong demand for a dedicated lifeboat crew following a number of dramatic rescues elsewhere in Wales, as reported in The Cambrian newspaper:
“There cannot be afforded a stronger proof of the vast utility of lifeboats than in the preservation of the crews of the [stricken] vessels and we take the opportunity of again urging on the consideration of the influential gentlemen connected with our harbour, the necessity of procuring one, for the protection of the poor mariner when threatened by the danger of shipwreck and loss of life.”
Barely a month after this article was published, two ships ran aground and became stranded on Mixon Sands. Thankfully there was no loss of life, but the event was enough to start a petition for a lifeboat amongst local communities.
The first lifeboat service
In 1835, the first lifeboat service was established in Gower at a cost of £120 (equivalent to around £13,000 today). It wasn’t much of a success… the lifeboat itself was poorly equipped and rarely used. Dissatisfied, the local authorities replaced it with an altogether better lifeboat in August 1855. The new boat, stored within a shed next to Swansea’s Harbour Offices, carried a crew of thirteen pulling ten oars. Even then, the local steam tugs had to lend a hand during the worst conditions.
Finally, in 1863, Gower got its first proper lifeboat service. Work began on a purpose-built lifeboat station near Mumbles Head, managed by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). A new lifeboat was also purchased, named ‘Martha and Anne’, which stayed in Swansea until the lifeboat station was completed in 1865. Yet another lifeboat joined the service in 1866, named ‘Wolverhampton’ on account of it being presented to the RNLI by the city of the same name.
The station boathouse was expanded in 1884 and the building can still be found today, known as the Old Lifeboat Cottage.
Modernisation of Mumbles Station
By 1898, the newly built Mumbles Pier had become a busy rail terminus. Steam trains passed by the doors of the lifeboat station day and night, so in 1905 it was decided to build a new boathouse alongside the pier, out of the way.
A new slipway was constructed in 1916, following a delay caused by outbreak of the First World War. The new boathouse was finally completed in 1922.
Today, work has now finished on restoring the pier and constructing a new, modern lifeboat station. The boathouse proudly houses a Tamar Class lifeboat, the most technologically-advanced vessel ever produced by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.
The people of Gower continue to generously support the lifeboat service, which in turn remains dedicated to keeping the seas safe for those sail upon them – as it has done for nearly 200 years.