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Poole Old Lifeboat Museum. RNLB Thomas Kirk Wright.

Refurbished Lifeboat Museum Reopens

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One of the first ‘little ships’ in the Dunkirk rescue flotilla is now the centrepiece in Poole’s newly refurbished Old Lifeboat Station Museum.

The building is hugely significant for both the area, and the charity, as rescue crews were based there for more than a century. It opened in 1882 and ceased operations some 102 years later. 

‘This refurbishment has helped re-create a more exciting experience for visitors and makes it an important cultural landmark for our city and community,’ explains Dave Corke, RNLI Volunteer Museum Manager.

The Thomas Kirk Wright is a key exhibit for the team. The ‘Dunkirk boat’ came into service in 1939 and was quickly put into action during Operation Dynamo in 1940. 

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She made three trips to the French to rescue stricken soldiers from the beaches. It saved countless lives and was part of a contingent of around 900 vessels which had made the perilous crossing (more than 230 boats were lost at sea).

The operation lasted nine days and there was a total of 18 lifeboats which made the voyage in hostile waters. More than 335,000 troops were rescued. The Thomas Kirk Wright was badly damaged and had to be towed home before undergoing repairs.

Poole Old Lifeboat Museum. RNLB Thomas Kirk Wright.

The 32-foot-long vessel continued her life saving work until she was retired in 1962. During this time, she saved a further 15 lives. She is now on permanent loan from the National Maritime Museum Greenwich. 

The Poole Old Lifeboat Station Museum presents the history of its lifeboat crews with a collection of artefacts, images, crew kit and testimonies. 

‘Our Heritage team and volunteers have worked hard to research, design and fit all items to reproduce the authentic feel of the lifeboat’s past.’ 

‘And with the Thomas Kirk Wright as the main attraction, it is a unique experience for anyone interested in learning more about our local history.’

‘I’m looking forward to seeing visitors from all around the country enjoying all that the museum has to offer, and if they would like to continue their exploration, there’s plenty more to see and do at the RNLI College.’

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The museum’s exhibits vary from Poole’s first motorised lifeboat to Captain Ward’s cork lifejacket. This was a crucial mid-nineteenth century invention as it allowed easy movement for lifeboat crews as they rowed out to sea. 

There’s a real ‘hands-on’ feel to the updated museum as you can try on certain types of kit to see how modern-day crew members would be dressed – in comparison to their predecessors.   

The museum is at the eastern end of Poole Quay, next to Fisherman’s Dock and is open daily (free entry). The newly fitted shop sells a range of nautical-themed items, including RNLI memorabilia, cards, gifts, snacks and clothing.

The charity operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland.  In a normal year, there are around 240 lifeguard units situated on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands.  

Since its inception, in 1824, RNLI lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved more than 142,700 lives.

Images: Supplied / copyright: RNLI / Nathan Williams

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