Fishermen’s Lifeboat Museum

The Fishermen’s Lifeboat Museum (originally known as the Fishermen’s Heritage Centre) was officially opened on 13th April 2006 by Peter Cox, Town Mayor of Sheringham, in the presence of a throng of invited guests and witnessed by Sheringham residents who had come to see this long-awaited occasion. The museum is housed in the shed containing the Henry Ramey Upcher lifeboat (HRU), built for its predecessor the Augusta, and also in part of the attached historic Fishing Sheds on West Cliff.

The museum describes the history of the lifeboats provided by the Upcher family of Sheringham Hall for lifesaving purposes, the family itself and the fishermen who crewed these boats.

The boats are usually referred to as the private, Upcher or fishermen’s lifeboats. The first of these, called the Upcher, was a fishing boat larger than most of the boats then in use by Sheringham fishermen. It was supplied to enable them to sail further in their quest for good catches of fish, but also came to be used as a rescue boat; however it did not have the extra stabilising features required of a true lifeboat. The second boat, the Augusta of 1838, was the first purpose-built lifeboat in Sheringham. It no longer exists, but we do have some relics of it and a model. Its story is a fascinating one. The last of the three, the Henry Ramey Upcher, replaced the Augusta. It can still be seen in the shed in which it has been housed since its construction.

The HRU was named in memory of the late squire of Sheringham by his widow, Caroline on 4th September 1894 and remained in service until 1935. For most of this time the coxswain was Henry “Coley” Cooper. His predecessors were also members of the Cooper family. The HRU was responsible for 33 recorded rescues during this time, resulting in the saving of 193 lives. It is in the form of a traditional inshore fishing boat of this area, which is said to go back to the Viking longboat, with a prow at both ends. By this date much had been learnt about lifeboat construction and a fairly standard design had been settled on over this part of the coast, which came to be known as the Norfolk and Suffolk type. It was built as all such boats were at the time by eye rather than from a plan by celebrated local boat-builder Lewis “Buffalo” Emery, using oak for the planking and fixings of copper throughout. It is 10.59m (almost 35 feet) long and 3.43m (just over 11 feet) wide with a keel length of 8.76m (almost 29 feet). It was powered by eight oars each side. The mast and sail could rarely be used in rescue work because of weather conditions. Unlike most other lifeboats of the time and since, it was not provided with a carriage to assist launching. The weight is about 3,000kg (3 tons), so a huge amount of effort was required by the crew and helpers to drag it over the shingle into the sea and to pull it back up the beach after its service – a dangerous operation but one which was successfully performed many times over.

The museum also contains information about, and a photographic record of, some of the fishermen who crewed the private lifeboats, many of whom worked in and around the Fishing Sheds, with displays about how they won their livings from the dangerous waters of the North Sea and other aspects of their lives. Sheringham Museum nearby contains four preserved former RNLI lifeboats which served the town, the earliest of which is of a similar period to the HRU, showing the evolution of these vessels over time.

For our location, see the Directions page. The museum is closed during the winter months. See the Opening Times page for the times the museum is open, but please bear in mind that it is staffed entirely by volunteers and when volunteers are unexpectedly not available the museum has to close. Also, owing to its exposed position on the seafront, the museum closes under extreme weather conditions. Admission is free, but voluntary contributions are requested to pay for the costs of maintenance of the buildings and their contents. We regret that wheelchair users are unable to see inside the boat or to make their way around it because of restricted space. They can, however, access the remainder of the museum.

Items connected with the lifeboat (e.g. booklets and leaflets, postcards, gansey patterns, guides, maps etc.) may be purchased.

For further information or to arrange a group visit, please Contact Us