1950s RNLI lifeboat returns to Llandudno after years of planning

A FORMER Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) vessel in Llandudno was successfully moved to a new location in the town yesterday afternoon (April 12).

Tillie Morrison Sheffield ON 851, which was stationed in Llandudno from 1953 until 1959, was moved via a low loader from Deganwy to Bodafon Farm Park.

After years of planning, Tillie departed Deganwy Marina at roughly 1.30pm, travelling past Maesdu Golf Club and Mostyn Broadway en route to Bodafon Farm Park, where she arrived at approximately 2.15pm.

Of the early RNLI lifeboats stationed in Llandudno, Tillie is the only one remaining; she was the first RNLI self-righting motor lifeboat with twin engines, and twin propellers.

In July 2014, following a public appeal for funds, social enterprise “Ships’ Timbers” bought Tillie, discovered as an abandoned fishing vessel, from a classic boat owner in Hartlepool.

Tillie was then brought back to North Wales and registered with National Historic Ships, and has since been kept within an open area of hard standing at Deganwy Marina – until now.

Ships’ Timbers’ aim is to restore Tillie to her original form as a former RNLI lifeboat.

As a fully restored early wooden RNLI lifeboat, Tillie will be a tourist attraction, and provide an opportunity for people to learn about RNLI wooden boat construction, and the service history of the vessel.

Debbie Wareham, chair of Ships’ Timbers, hailed a memorable day for the organisation, as eight years of tireless work came to fruition.

She said: “The lifeboat service in Llandudno is one of the key parts of this community, so we set out to have a look to see what the state of the old Llandudno lifeboats were, and identified that the only one still in existence was Tillie.

“We had to get this boat. She was an 11th-hour rescue, so we saved the last old Llandudno lifeboat. That was the motivation for it.

“To bring Tillie to Llandudno is an incredible moment, because she’s come back home. It’s been hugely difficult to get to this point, and we nearly lost her during the pandemic because we were struggling for funds.

“Llandudno is where she belongs. She’s going to be secured here, and then we’ll have indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, and hopefully people can come and have a look at Tillie.

“We’ll now be focusing on her restoration needs, but what we also need to have is a longer-term location for Tillie. Ultimately, she will need to be indoors.

“What I would like to see happen is a custom-built glass building for her to go in, where we can manage those environmental conditions for her.

“It’s a new life for Tillie, and archaeology and heritage work really makes a big contribution to people’s positive wellbeing.

“To come here and develop a sense of engagement with Tillie, it just helps for people to feel part of the Llandudno and Conwy County communities.

“I hope people will find a place in their hearts for her. She will be looked after and loved here, and be a tourist attraction at the same time.”

North Wales Pioneer: The boat and its platform were carried safely by a crane upon arrival at Bodafon Farm ParkThe boat and its platform were carried safely by a crane upon arrival at Bodafon Farm Park

Many people turned out to see Tillie’s arrival at Bodafon Farm Park, including deputy mayor of Llandudno, Cllr Carol Marubbi, Llandudno town councillors for the Craig-y-Don ward, Cllr Frank Bradfield and Cllr Francis Davies, and long-serving members of the Llandudno RNLI station.

Tillie was launched 17 times in Llandudno and saved eight lives, and was able to carry 30 survivors together with her crew of eight.

She was built in 1947 at a cost of £10,573 by J.S. White, Cowes, Isle of White, and measures 35ft 6in in length and 10ft in breadth, with an original weight of 7.25 tonnes.

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After leaving the RNLI, she was converted into a yacht, and then a fishing vessel.

Going forward, the plans for Tillie now involve:

• An engine being taken to Coleg Llandrillo’s Rhyl site, and kept on display for the students to learn about.

• A heritage consultant, Ian Clark, visiting Tillie to carry out a condition survey, and provide restoration options for the vessel.

• Costing the restoration of the vessel, explore funding options, and begin to seek funds.

• Deciding the conservation option for the vessel and planning the conservation programme as a grassroots project.

• Opening an exhibition space at Bodafon Farm Park and have interpretation boards next to Tillie.

In preparation for her return to Llandudno, Tillie’s twin engines were removed by the marine engineers from Conwy Boat Folk.

RRC Cranes then provided crane support to lift Tillie and relocate her to a secure position at Bodafon Farm Park.

For more about Tillie, go to: tilliemorrison.blogspot.com.

North Wales Pioneer | Llandudno