WHEN Rick Hall ventured back to the seaside town of Withernsea a couple of years ago, he was shocked at how run-down it was.
The former police officer was in town on a job as a private investigator - of which he can say little - but he was struck by one building, the old lifeboat station.
“It had been a dance school, it was just about derelict,” he said.
The first lifeboat was stationed near the lighthouse in 1861 to aid shipping entering the Humber. It moved in 1882 to Seaside Road, closer to the seafront.
But when Mr Hall was growing up in Withernsea, the building was a dark and dingy amusement arcade. Decades later it was shut up, painted black, nondescript and giving no clue of its rich history.
He said: “I just thought it looked terrible, depressive, there were gangs of unsavoury-looking people and shutters on shop windows. It looked like the town had been neglected, forgotten about, when really Withernsea was full of decent people.
“I thought I will renovate the building and if I can’t get permission for a microbar, I’ll do something for Withernsea.”
The project lasted for 11 months, with a result which regulars say does the town proud. The Old Boatshed still has a narrow, spiral staircase which someone climbed when a ship was in distress to ring a bell and summon the farmers, whose horses would drag the boat down to the shore.
The windows, found under boarding, open inwards and underneath the floor there is a slope to get rid of the water dripping off the boat when it came in.
The lofty ceiling was needed to fit in a boat and carriage standing 15ft high.
Mr Hall, who dived with Humberside Police’s underwater rescue unit, admits it has been a gamble. He failed to get a grant to renovate the building - but feels destiny was calling.
“I had this compulsion to do it - I don’t know why. While I was working, my uncle, who is 86, walked in with a photograph and said it was of my great grandfather who was on the leading horse on the lifeboat.
“He was a farmer at Holmpton and when the bell rang he would come with his horses and lead them down. It sent shivers down my spine, the thought he had been in this building.”
In another twist, he discovered while on a trip to Cornwall that the original lifeboat, the Docea Chapman, had been renamed the Louisa 11. It had been on show in Lynmouth, but had ended up on the roadside “full of mud and flowers”.
Rick is now considering trying to bring it back to Withernsea, and said: “I just feel I should do something.”
The town’s population of 6,159 is swelled by summer visitors, many from the West Riding, to the caravan parks. Many, these days, stay on the parks, something which Mr Hall and other entrepreneurs, like the owners of the new Route 1033 Smokehouse, are trying to change.
He said: “In the bar you hear people excited, ambitious and looking forward to come kind of help to lift Withernsea again. They get excited by the fountain (planned for the seafront) and they are on about a little pier.
“Withernsea is full of lovely people, they are down to earth and honest and I think it is sad they have been neglected.”
Customers are full of praise for what Mr Hall has achieved.
One said: “Some people think all Withernsea wants is a £2 pint when there are lots of people who want nice places to go and have a drink. We very rarely went out until this opened.”
The Old Boatshed was the second RNLI lifeboat station in Withernsea, operating between 1882 and 1913.
It was built for £375, with the money coming from the legacy of Admiral Henry John Rous, who in the course of an adventurous life served during the Napoleonic Wars and organised Sydney’s first regatta.
With the new boathouse came a new lifeboat, still called Admiral Rous, but 34ft long and 8ft wide, with 10 oars. The first call-out was in 1885 when the brig Emilie of Gothenberg loaded with planks was driven ashore in a fierce storm. Rocket after rocket was fired at the stranded ship, the ropes getting entangled. But the 12th rocket hit its mark and the crew was brought ashore.