It’s a race against time to preserve rare part of shipbuilding heritage

FUNDRAISING PLEA: An online appeal has been launched to purchase a 50ft Thames Class lifeboat built in 1973 by Brooke Marine, and return it to Lowestoft to become a floating museum.

picture: SUPPLIED FUNDRAISING PLEA: An online appeal has been launched to purchase a 50ft Thames Class lifeboat built in 1973 by Brooke Marine, and return it to Lowestoft to become a floating museum. picture: SUPPLIED

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
11:22 AM

A £25,000 appeal has been launched to bring a rare, Lowestoft-built lifeboat back to the town.

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An illustrious past

In its heyday, Brooke Marine – later Brooke Yachts – employed hundreds of people constructing boats and small ships for high-profile customers from all over the world.

Most famously, Richard Branson’s yacht Virgin Atlantic Challenger II was built by the company, along with the first Al Said, Oman’s former royal yacht and flagship of its navy.

There were also survey vessels launched for the American navy, Russian trawlers, and gunships for military buyers across the globe, with the Cold War between Eastern and Western Bloc countries providing a steady stream of customers for the firm.

But the end of the Cold War brought a drop in orders and Brooke Yachts closed in 1992 after trading in Lowestoft under various owners for nearly 120 years.

The company that was eventually to become Brooke Yachts was founded in Lowestoft in 1874 by John Walter Brooke – a 25-year-old Yorkshireman who bought a small iron and brass foundry in the town.

Brooke built its first boats in 1911 at its newly-opened yard in Harbour Road, Oulton Broad – on the north shore of Lake Lothing.

The 50ft Thames Class lifeboat, originally named Rotary Service, was built by Brooke Marine in 1973 and is one of only two of its type built for the RNLI.

Scott Snowling, a former crew member on the South Broads inshore lifeboat, said the plan was to restore the vessel and turn it into a floating museum.

The proposals include setting up a non-profit organisation to fund the ongoing costs of the project by offering activities on board the restored lifeboat, including sea trips for youth groups and organisations, team building exercises and maritime training.

The vessel has been renamed Treffry and is currently moored at Castletownbere in Cork in south-west Ireland, where it was last used as a pilot boat.

It is being offered for sale on the open market and fundraisers are now in a race against time to raise £25,000 to buy the vessel before someone else snaps it up.

Further funds will be needed to fully restore the boat and meet safety regulations.

Mr Snowling said: “I want to preserve a bit of Lowestoft history. There is very little of its shipbuilding heritage left. I know there are potential plans to redevelop the Brooke Marine site. When that happens, that area of the town will be gone and there will be very little of that history left.”

Mr Snowling, 27, is trying to raise the money through the Crowdfunder website, where supporters can make donations. However, projects must raise the full sum within a time limit set by the website or all the pledges will be withdrawn.

Mr Snowling has 31 days to raise the balance of £22,380. He said he was exploring other funding options and urged people to contact him if they could help.

Rotary Service was based at the RNLI lifeboat station at Falmouth in 1974 before being reallocated to Dover. By the end of her service life, she had launched 411 times, saving 177 lives.

• For more information, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ex50-001 or www.facebook.com/exRNLI50001

Mr Snowling can be contacted on 07709 020339.

Have you got a Lowestoft story? Email kathryn.bradley@archant.co.uk

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