In the land of Coleridge and his Ancient Mariner,
In a time of coal fires, wooden boats and horsepower,
There is a story of the Lynmouth Lifeboat Louisa
And the night horse and man over 13 miles pulled her.
Two of the afternoon clock struck a chime,
On January 12th, 1899.
The wind howled and the sea it roared,
Flooding ports and railways, taking off windows and doors.
The ship, Forest Hall, with masts a three
Was being towed up Bristol Channel with a crew of 15.
Bound for Liverpool, at St. David’s Head she cast off,
But the wind, it blew stronger and the waters grew rough.
Suddenly the cable grew taught and then snapped,
The tugboat immediately came about to get back.
For over an hour they tried to re-fix the line
But the storm was upon them, they had run out of time.
Captain Uliss made haste to anchor at bay
But another obstacle was thrown in their way.
The rudder of the Forest Hall was broken by a squall,
To the mercy of Poseidon and ****** they were all.
The ships’ anchor dragged, no purchase it found
The ship was headed for Exmoor’s rough ground
At 6:33pm a telegraph was sent
From Porlock to Lynmouth the Postmaster went
“Large vessel. Distress. Offshore Porlock”
Five minutes later the first signal rocket went off
Out into the pounding rain they ran
Those lifeboatmen and locals to lend them a hand
The waves loomed over the watch tower on the pier,
Then crashed down in fury which deafened the ear
“Tis hopeless” the Coxswain, Jack Crocombe, said he
“ain’t a crew in the service who could launch safely”
“From a more sheltered station we’ll call a new boat”
And to the post-office they went, to send a telegraph out
Tap, tap, tap on the Morse key he pressed
But nothing was happening, there was no line left
Blown down by the storm, and all hope with it,
“The duty is ours, but we cannot fulfil it”.
“The duty is ours, it’s us or nobody” he shouts
“it can’t never be nobody, go we must”
The protests did start, and questions did fall,
But the Coxswain had an answer to silence them all
“Now, I know that we can’t launch her from ‘ere”
“but it’s thirteen miles to Porlock Weir”
The voices were shouting, no one knew what to do
But the Second Coxswain’s voice carried on through
“Jack, we’ll need ‘osses, every ‘oss can be spared”
“if we got enough power, we’ll get her there”
The choice had been made, the die had been cast,
The crew had a plan, a solution at last
Around came the Lifeboat Louisa, so grand
Standing 34ft long and 7ft wide on land
3.5 tonnes was her unladen mass
The add thirteen crew, oars, rigging and two masts
The shafts had been fitted to the carriage with ease,
Rarely used but kept in the boathouse for needs
The horses were hitched, the carriage coupled on.
In total, the train was one hundred and thirty foot long
“Right then” said the Coxswain “let’s be off”
“up Countisbury Hill!” but as soon as they started, they stopped.
The horses did not pull together as a team,
The wheels were stuck in the parapet, of the bridge over the stream
In minutes it was fixed, and it started again
This time all horses were pulling the same.
Up Countisbury hill, they walked on and on,
Until they reached open ground, then the protection was gone
The rain thundered down; the wind raged again
Still the team kept on going, the pace slow and same.
All of a sudden, the carriage plunged to the right,
A four-foot wheel came off, then rolled out of sight
“There’s a wheel off!” the cry rang “get them scotches under!”
It was the front offside wheel that was causing this blunder
Nearly forty minutes it took to replace the wheel
Still the great storm refused to heel
But then they were off, nearly conquered the hill
But many more challenges faced them still.
The Blue Ball Inn marks Countisbury Hill peak
And hot cocoa and brandy helped restore the weak.
Now they pressed on, ten miles to go.
They were making good progress but painfully slow.
The rain had stopped, the lamps shone bright,
This brave crew continued through the night.
The party had by now reached Ashton Lane
Where their troubles soon were to begin again
On this narrow road, the walls were strong and thick
Impassable for the carriage, but Coxswain Jack had a trick
“We’ll pull the boat through the lane on the skids”
“The carriage can go o’er the moors with the kids”
So once again horse and train were detached
A new plan at work, only recently hatched
Eight horses pulled the carriage away,
Leaving ten to continue to Porlock Bay.
The boat was pulled down Ashton Lane
Later, all men agreed this was the worst part of the way.
Mud underneath, and walls closing in
Barely inches to move and soaked to the skin
Boast, horses and carriage finally together again
Made their way onwards, leaving the lane
Half past one, on that stormy black morn
County Gate was passed, conversation was born
The crew started talking, spirits, they grew
But a challenge was coming and this they all knew
Porlock Hill was coming their way,
Navigating this death path was tricky even in the day.
Porlock Hill, as the locals say
Is the devil incarnate come night or day
But the brave men from Lynmouth at the top they stopped
Safety chains, drag ropes and skid pans were fitted against the clock
Four horses at the front to control the bends
Ten at the back plus men to see this through to the end
Down the twists and turns the crawled
On the drag ropes and harnesses, man and horse hauled
Round the last corner “We’ve done it!” “We’re down!”
Sighs let out, smiles put on, it was an inspiring sound
Then all at once, morale took a plunge down,
As they stared at the entrance to Porlock Town.
Old Widow Washford had a cottage this end,
It would be impossible for the carriage to round the bend
The wall of the garden would have to come down
So, the crew started trying to widen the ground
“What are ye thinking at this time o’ night?”
“How dare ye start bangin! Gave me a fright”
Old Widow Washford’s head poked through the door
Was there no end to the troubles faced on this moor?
Once again, the Coxswain had the answer and said
“Don’t worry, we’re just widening the road dear. Go back to bed”
The old woman was dressed and out in a flash
Shouting encouragement, soon the wall was hashed.
Six inches more, they needed to pass
The corner of the cottage came off at last.
Five of the clock struck the morning chime,
For most people here, that was rising time.
Out of the town, and past the Ship Inn
The last part of their journey was soon to begin.
Half past five when they reached Porlock Weir
They were soon stopped by people when drew near.
“You can’t go no further” the Anchor Hotel Landlord said
“the road’s gone, Jack, to the beach, nothing’s left”
Only half a mile stood ‘tween the crew and their goal
They would not let this stop them, oh no.
The top road they took, almost as narrow as Ashton Lane
An exercise none of them wanted to repeat again.
The train drew on, till they reached a tree
An old Laburnum standing between them and the sea.
Down it came and then back on their way
The light was beginning to turn night to day.
The boat reached the beach, the flares had been lit,
The ****** poised with their oars, ready to hit.
Holding the stop, Second Coxswain yelled “HAUL”
And down shot the Louisa, into the squall
The oars struck together, through the roaring sea
Sails hoisted, oars beating, wind blowing hatefully.
It was on the morning Friday 13th January,
That Lifeboat Louisa of Lynmouth launched at Porlock from Countisbury.
Ten and a half hours, over thirteen miles
This crew and their boat had endured many trails
The Forest Hall was reach, her crew all safe
Back to the mainland they made at pace.
Jack Crocombe, George Richards, Charles Crick, Richard Burgess,
Richard Ridler, David Crocombe, Bertram Pennicott, William Jarvis.
George Rawle, William Richards and John Ward
John Riddler, E.J. Peddar and Richard Moore.
All of them crew members on that historic day
And for this they are remembered in every way.
But I give my thanks to the crew mate who gave this story to me,
My Great Great Grandfather, Lynmouth Lifeboatman
William Sellick Pugsley.
Sophie J Pugsley
Great Great Granddaughter of crewmate William Pugsley of the Lynmouth Lifeboat Service.