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Saving a historic lifeboat which served on the Mersey a century ago

Efforts are being made on the Wirral to save the historic Barnett class lifeboat William and Kate Johnston, which was one of just four of its type that was built and operated by the RNLI.

Serving New Brighton RNLI from 1923 until 1950, William and Kate Johnston saved 248 lives during her time on the Mersey. She was the first Barnett class lifeboat in service, and at the time of her launch was the largest lifeboat in the world, capable of carrying 130 casualties. Now, sadly, the William and Kate Johnston has fallen into disrepair and is barely seaworthy.

She had been abandoned in Gosport marina for a year and was under threat of being demolished before the National Historic Ship Society stepped in to try and find new owners for her.

The William and Kate Johnston Preservation Society has been set up to see this heritage asset, a crucial part of maritime history on the River Mersey, restored to her former glory and returned to the north west, to serve as a museum piece and working vessel on the river for day trips and community groups to take advantage of, while learning about her splendid history.

Having already acquired the vessel, the WKJPS have divided the task of the lifeboat’s return and restoration into several key phases. Phase one launched recently, and relies upon the society raising £10,000 to see William and Kate Johnston returned, via road, to Wirral, where all-important survey work to ascertain the scale of repairs required can be carried out.

Spearheaded by Dan Wardle, a Liverpool River Pilot and helm at New Brighton RNLI on their Atlantic-85 B-class lifeboat Charles Dibdin, and Ian Diamond, former Commodore of Royal Mersey Yacht Club and Trustee of the Rock Ferry Water Front Trust, the William and Kate Johnston Preservation Society are a charitable organisation set up solely for the purpose of seeing the historic lifeboat returned to her hometown and restored, with a view to creating an active heritage asset for the area.

Dan said, “The William and Kate Johnston is such an important part of the heritage of the River Mersey, and of the RNLI.

“As a worker on the river and a volunteer for the RNLI this cause holds a special place in my heart, and I believe the entire region can benefit from having this crucial part of its history returned home and restored back to her original condition. Just think how wonderful it would be to see her sailing back down the River Mersey once again!”

The William and Kate Johnston Preservation Society are actively seeking funding from various sources. In talks with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as other charitable funding organisations, they are also actively seeking corporate sponsorship and community funding to realise phase one of the project, to bring the vessel back home so that work can commence.

Ships Montly - January 2024

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