Following campaigning and fundraising by the East Durham Heritage and Lifeboat Centre, work has commenced on a statue in commemoration of Royal National Lifeboat Institution crew and staff who served at Seaham lifeboat station between its opening in 1870 and its closure in 1979.
A depiction of a life-size lifeboat crew member featured in period dress, the statue will be installed permanently at Seaham Harbour Marina. The same local artist who created Seaham’s famous ‘Tommy’ sculpture, Ray Lonsdale, has been commissioned to create the memorial statue, due to be unveiled later this year.
Ernie Cooper at East Durham Heritage and Lifeboat Centre, said: “Seaham has such a rich heritage and we’ve had so many selfless and brave lifeboat volunteers throughout the years. It is fantastic that we can dedicate this project to all those people who risked their lives and the wellbeing of their families to save those in peril, and show our respect for their efforts here in Seaham.
“It’s been a long process to get to this point from the initial talks and ideas, so it’s exciting that work has now begun. With the success of Tommy on Seaham’s North Terrace, we hope our statue will be equally stunning and help to spark an interest in the marina’s rich history and the fascinating stories of the lifeboat station which used to operate here. We’re always keen to hear from members of the public who have an interest in east Durham’s heritage and who might be interested in joining us as a volunteer.”
Although there is no longer a working lifeboat station at Seaham, there is a heritage centre on the site detailing the history of the station based there until 1979. The heritage centre is run by volunteers and houses the famous George Elmy lifeboat alongside artefacts, photos and other records of the station’s history, including all call-outs made and every life saved.
The heritage group has liaised closely with Ray Lonsdale to ensure the design of the eight feet high statue is historically accurate, with the statue including a recreation of a classic oilskin coat and life jacket from the 1950s. One member of the group even modelled for the artist in full period dress to help him to understand the intricacies of the sculpture.
Peter Coe, director at Seaham Harbour Marina, said: “We’re proud that the marina has such a rich and interesting past. We are thrilled that this statue will help us to show everyone who visits us that the marina has much more to offer besides the very popular boats, beaches and the many great businesses. Not only is it an excellent place for a family day out but it’s a perfect location to delve into the history of the local area and learn some really fascinating tales.”
As with Roy Lonsdale’s other works, the lifeboatman will be crafted from special Corten steel, which forms a weather-resistant rust-like finish. Set to be located on the East Quay at Seaham Harbour Marina, and with free access to the marina, members of the public will be able to come and see the tribute to all Seaham’s lifeboat volunteers.
The unveiling of the statue is set to take place in November while the event will be open to all special invitations will be extended to those who served at the station and their family members together with representatives of those who have kindly funded the project, representatives of local RNLI stations, Seaham Marina staff and those who have supported the East Durham Heritage Group over the years.