PortCities London

Lifesaving on the Thames

A national lifesaving organization

First lifeboat stations 

The City of London Tavern
View full size imageThe City of London Tavern where the inaugaral  meetings took place leading to the founding of the RNLI. © NMM
By the late 18th century, the rise in maritime trade led to an even greater increase in the loss of life, both at sea and along the British coastline.

To the frustration of onlookers witnessing an unfolding disaster, sometimes only hundreds of metres from the shore, the lack of specialized equipment and crew meant that they were unable to give assistance.

By the early 19th century small coastal communities decided to set up their own lifeboat stations operated by local committees. This provided a rather patchy cover of lifesaving and the time had come for the establishment of a national service.

Hillary's 'Appeal to the Nation'

In 1823, Lt Col. Sir William Hillary published his now historical Appeal to the British Nation and, as such, the interest it generated led to a meeting on the 12 February, 1824, in the City of London Tavern.

A further general meeting took place on 4 March chaired by the local MP, Thomas Wilson. Together with the patronage of George IV, the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was born. 


RNLI store at Poplar.
View full size imageRNLI depot at Poplar, c.1900. © NMM
The institution went through many changes and, in 1854, it became to the now familiar Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It was funded entirely by voluntary contributions from the public.

The RNLI  made London its headquarters at various locations in the city for many years before moving to its current site of Poole, Dorset, in 1972-74. 

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