The North Devon coast has always been perilous for ships seeking shelter from storms, for there are few safe West Country harbours between Padstow and Bideford.
It is hard to imagine being a Clovelly fisherman and going out in a small boat with just a sail for power in the dangerous and unpredictable waters. Launching was often a perilous affair, with huge waves crashing over the vessel at the harbour entrance.
Tragedies occurred all too often – it’s said that the seas around the Hartland peninsula have caused ten shipwrecks for each mile. In 1821, a huge storm took the lives of over 30 fishermen.
Clovelly’s first lifeboat station was built in 1870 after an especially disastrous storm, when many fishing boats were destroyed and local fishermen drowned. The first lifeboat was 33 feet long and built of wood, and was powered through the waves by a crew of sturdy rowers.
Clovelly became home to one of only two lifeboats in the entire RNLI fleet with a permanent crew.
After the RNLI took Clovelly’s permanent lifeboat out of service in 1988, villagers set up their own inshore rescue boat. Then, eight years later, the RNLI returned, extending the boatshed and enhancing the inshore rescue service.
In the year 2000, the lifeboat station was extended and modernized. The work was carried out with great sensitivity and awareness by the Bude-based architects the Bazeley Partnership. The completed building won a number of awards for conservation.
In the summer months the lifeboat house is often open to visitors. It’s well worth a visit, so do make time for it during your tour of the village.