Llandudno is home to one of the longest-established coastguard teams in Britain. The team was initially tasked with operating a device to save lives from shipwrecks.
The origins of the Coastguard Rescue Service go back to the early 19th century when Captain George Mumby invented his line-throwing apparatus. There had been many shipwrecks where vessels were close to shore but cut off by raging seas, to rescuers’ frustration. Mumby’s device was a mortar which fired a special cannon ball with a short chain attachment and a coil of thin rope. Once fired, the shipwrecked sailors would grasp the rope, then haul a much thicker rope across from the rescuers. A breeches buoy, a sort of cradle, would then be hauled across and the mariners winched ashore.
There had been much concern in Parliament about loss of life at sea at that time of sailing ships. In 1815 the House of Commons ordered that Mumby’s equipment should be placed at 45 sites with very bad wreck records, including the Great Orme. Later a more efficient rocket system was introduced and by 1881 there were 195 Life Saving Apparatus (LSA) teams along the coasts of England and Wales. Until the Second World War, the equipment was transported by a wagon drawn by two horses (drawing, right).
On 5 November 1967 the Llandudno coastguard team made its first and only rescue by breeches buoy in the 152 years since it had been introduced, to remove a mystery woman from a ship hit by strong winds at Penmaenmawr (described here). A similar fate befell MV Carrier in April 2012 at Llanddulas, but the breeches buoy had been withdrawn many years before and the sailors were removed by helicopter.
Llandudno’s coastguard team also manned two purpose-built lookouts on the Great Orme. One overlooked Llandudno Bay towards Rhyl. The other was above the gunnery school site, overlooking Conwy Bay to Anglesey. These lookouts were demolished after re-organisation and improved radio communications enabled shoreline mobile patrols to be carried out using Land Rovers.
The other important part of the team’s work is cliff rescue. The Great and Little Ormes, with their spectacular sea cliffs, are a magnet for young inexperienced climbers. There have been many rescues and fatalities over the years. The volunteer team (pictured right in 2013) is based in Trinity Avenue and often called to such incidents. It also rescues sheep stranded on cliff ledges.
With thanks to John Lawson-Reay, of the Llandudno & Colwyn Bay History Society
Postcode: LL30 2LG