Finding the SS Commodore

Sheringham photographer Chris Taylor, who also forms part of the lifeboat crew and is a member of the Sheringham Shantymen, had a long-standing ambition to find the remains of the SS (steamship) Commodore.

The SS Commodore, carrying a cargo of coal, was blown ashore just to the west of the town during a storm in November 1896. The Henry Ramey Upcher (HRU) lifeboat, preserved in the Fishermen’s Lifeboat Museum, described on this site, was launched to rescue the crew of 14 and three Sheringham fishermen who had been taken aboard to offer support. The HRU had been in service for just over two years. As the storm intensified the Commodore was wrecked and subsequently was blown up by Trinity House as it constituted a danger to shipping.

Chris knew roughly where the Commodore’s remains were but had never found them until he chanced upon them very recently. His discovery made the local and national news.

The winter of 1896/97 was an exceptionally stormy one. In the January following the wreck of the Commodore the slipway from the RNLI lifeboat station (now Oddfellows Hall) was washed away in a storm, rendering the lifeboat station no longer usable.

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September opening

The Peter Coke Shell Gallery will be open most Saturdays and Sundays during the month from 12 noon to 4 pm. It is also likely to be open on some weekdays during these hours. This is entirely dependent on the availability of volunteer stewards so can not be guaranteed.

The Fishermen’s Lifeboat Museum is expected to be open from 12.30 to 4.30 pm on Sunday 5th and from 12 noon to 2 pm on the 26th. It may also be open on certain other Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 12 noon and 4 pm, but this can not be guaranteed. It is not likely to open on weekdays.

Both will be closed after the end of September, but depending on weather conditions and the availability of volunteer stewards may be open for some days during the schools half-term holiday at the end of October.

Adult visitors are requested to wear a face covering while on the premises for the protection of other visitors and our volunteers. A cleaning regime will be in place to help protect against the spread of Covid-19.

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Art Exhibition, 2021

This year’s art exhibition was very successful. A total of 34 paintings were sold, with an overall value of more than £800. After the profits have been calculated they will be donated to the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

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Society Annual General Meeting

The society’s 2021 AGM was held on 30th April. No AGM had been possible in the previous year, owing to Covid. Members were able to take part through the miracle of Zoom, with one former Sheringham resident joining us from Oswestry.

The reports of the trustees for 2019 and 2020 were accepted by the meeting and our treasurer was able to report a healthy financial situation, thanks to support in the form of grants for organisations such as ours, unable to raise funds in the normal way by opening to the public.

There are no substantial changes to committee membership. The society is pleased to have recruited a new Membership Secretary, Phyllis (Phyl) Styles, following the resignation of Geoff Dyson, whose contribution over recent years was much appreciated.

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2021 – New Year, New Start, New Name

In common with similar organisations we were not able to welcome visitors during 2020 because of the Covid restrictions, but that does not mean that we were inactive. As described below, the important anniversary of the last time that the Henry Ramey Upcher lifeboat put to sea was commemorated as best we could in August and there was plenty going on behind the scenes by way of repairs, redecorations and reordering as will be seen now that visitors are again able to come inside.

An important decision was also reached. The name “Fishermen’s Heritage Centre” which has been used since the new expanded facility was opened in 2006 does not accurately reflect what we do. The name was chosen for historical reasons which are no longer relevant. It is essentially a lifeboat museum and before 2006 when extra exhibition space became available, was called the Henry Ramey Upcher Lifeboat Museum. It describes the “Fishermen’s Lifeboats” (i.e. those provided through the generosity of the Upcher family of Sheringham Hall and not coming under the control of the RNLI). It exhibits the last of these, the Henry Ramey Upcher, and provides information about the Upcher family and the fishermen who made up the crew. Consequently, from the beginning of 2021, the Fishermen’s Heritage Centre changed its name to the FISHERMEN’S LIFEBOAT MUSEUM.

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VJ Day Commemoration, 15th and 16th August 2020

15th August was the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, the end of the war in the Far East. The following day back in 1945 was the last occasion on which the Henry Ramey Upcher lifeboat (HRU) put to sea. We could not let this occasion pass without marking it in some way. Owing to continuing Covid restrictions it was not possible to have the lifeboat shed open to visitors in the usual way, but on Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th August the doors of the shed were open so that the boat could be viewed from outside and Chief Steward Malcolm Peddar and Chairman Peter Strudwick were on hand to explain to visitors the events of 75 years ago.

What was to have been a joyful celebratory trip ended in confusion and danger. Carried away by enthusiasm at the end of the conflict in the Far East, in which many servicemen from East Anglia had been engaged, the boat set sail with too many passengers and got into difficulties 1 mile offshore, being unable to tack back to Sheringham in a strong south-westerly wind and heavy swell. The motorised Sheringham RNLI lifeboat the Forester’s Centenary had to be launched to tow the HRU back. On beaching, several passengers were soaked when a large wave broke over the stern and there was some damage to the boat itself.

RNLI records from the time record “rewards” of £16 13s 6d (£16.68), presumably donations from passengers, probably added to when grateful for their rescue from a potentially dangerous situation. The 141 visitors of 2020 contributed £69.62, which likewise will be donated to the RNLI. Almost all of this was collected on the Saturday. Sunday 16th was marred by very unpleasant weather, resulting in flooding in parts of Sheringham.

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The Ispolen makes a reappearance

One of the more famous rescues carried out by the Henry Ramey Upcher Fishermen’s Lifeboat was of the brig Ispolen in 1897.

The remains of the wreck are occasionally exposed by storms and tides to public view.

The latest exposure was on 29 October 2018 and photographs are shown here. There was a big storm in December 2013 which took away some of the timbers but it appears that since that catastrophic event even more timbers have been lost.

For a short news video from the previous year search for “Sheringham’s ancient shipwreck exposed by tides, BBC News, 2012”.

Malcolm Peddar

Fishermen’s Lifeboat Museum

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