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Building Dating & Analysis

The Library
The Lifeboat House

The Library
Painting by Captain Henry Press

The Library
The Library today
The Library / Lifeboat Station
The town library is situated on the Esplanade and was originally the Lifeboat House. The basic fabric of the building is much the same although a number of features were lost following the conversion which can be observed from the before and after photographs.

The decision that Watchet should have a lifeboat station was taken by the R.N.L.I. on July 2nd 1874. This was made possible by the generosity of Mrs Joseph Soames of Torrington whose gift of £1,000.00 made it possible to purchase Watchet’s first lifeboat and named after Mrs Soames late husband. The land for the lifeboat station was an additional gift of the Countess of Egremont and once a tender was accepted work started on the slipway at the cost of just over a hundred pounds.

Some five years after the R.N.L.I. decision the 'Joseph Soames' duly arrived at Williton station on July 29th 1875. This must have been quite an event and an exciting day for the people of Watchet, indeed the streets were generously decorated with bunting and floral tributes. The Joseph Soames was led into the town drawn by a team of horses, preceded by various organisations including the Rifle Corps Volunteers and Odd Fellows and Foresters.

Having arrived on the Esplanade the lifeboat was dedicated by the Rev, J. Noble and named by Mrs Soames. Specifically designed for carriage launching the Joseph Soames measured thirty three feet.

The first recorded service of the Watchet lifeboat occurred on the 29th of March 1878. The 'Rose of Gloucester' was in trouble about a mile west of Warren Farm and attempts to tow here proved impossible as the water was to shallow. A fierce north easterly gale were making conditions very difficult and in fact the coastguard was able to remove the crew safely with the aid of lines. Returning to the harbour the crew of the lifeboat observed a distress signal from the sloop 'Olive Branch' of Cardiff. Being light she was high in the water with her anchor dragging she was in considerable distress and the three man crew in considerable danger. Thanks to the skill and bravery of the lifeboat crew they were rescued and taken safely back to the harbour. The sloop ran ashore near the ‘Rose’ and was wrecked but the 'Rose' was fortunately re-floated.

These dramatic events are recorded in a painting that hangs in the Town Council Chamber by Captain Henry Press depicting the lifeboat underway. Captain Henry Press was master mariner and a gifted artist as this example of his work illustrates. He later emigrated to Australia and was to become Commodore of Pilots in Melbourne.

An example of Captain Press's work is held in the permanent collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

In 1945 the last of Watchet's lifeboats was removed and closed. It languished for some years until when in 1951 when Leonard Laity Stoate of the milling family gave the building to Watchet. It was then converted to the town library, a function it still serves today.

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