In May 1998, Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust took on its most formidable enterprise since its foundation in 1984: Walton-on-Naze's oldest surviving RNLI lifeboat James Stephens No. 14 was purchased and returned to Walton for restoration to a seagoing condition. James Stephens No. 14 arrived in Walton on July 5 1900.
She was one of twenty lifeboats provided by a £10,000 legacy of James Stevens of Birmingham who made his fortune in the building industry. She was built by Thames Ironworks, Canning Town, in what was then theextreme west of Essex and was a 43ft Norfolk & Suffolk class boat, designed for working the sandbanks, but much further out to sea than the smaller self-righting lifeboats common up and down the East Anglian Coast. The original Norfolk & Suffolk class lifeboat, Frances Anne, had been designed in 1807 by Lionel Lukin, a coachbuilder, who carried out his flotation experiments on a pond at Dunmow!
What makes James Stevens No.14 so important to the heritage of Essex, Great Britain and Europe is that in 1906 she was taken back to Thames Ironworks and fitted with a 40hp Blake petrol engine. She was one of the first four lifeboats converted to motor power from their original pulling and sailing propulsion, but the only
Norfolk & Suffolk class.
She returned to Walton in November 1906 and after successful trials carried out her first rescue with her new motor in January 1907 when she assisted the schooner, Demaris, which was aground on the Gunfleet Sands. Her most famous rescue was on 29 December 1917 when she rescued 92 passengers and crew from the SS Peregrine, which was wrecked on the Longsand Head in a strong easterly gale.
By the time she was replaced at Walton in 1928 she had launched 126 times, saving 227 lives.
She was first sold to the Maldon timber importers, May & Butcher, for £180 and in 1942 she served on the Thames as a fireboat with the name Mardee before being sent to Lowestoft for decommissioning. In 1950 she was purchased by the Starke family who kept her at Brightlingsea and on the Blackwater until she was sold as a houseboat in 1976.
James Stevens No.14 is the oldest surviving motor lifeboat in the British Isles and Europe and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Ships. The Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust plans to restore her to seagoing condition as a floating and working exhibit attached to Walton Maritime Museum. This will cost £75,000 and so far £12,000 has been raised. James Stevens No.14 is truly part of Essex’s maritime heritage, being designed and built in the county, and spending
almost her entire 99 years existence on its coast.
The Trust is grateful to Essex Heritage Trust for its grant for £1,500 to help undertake stabilisation whilst a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund is prepared.