Mary Stanford memorial service

Mary Stanford Boathouse

It is always moving to see the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House silhouetted against the sea and sky, the view reminding us all of the terrible tragedy of November 15, 1928 when 17 brave men lost their lives at sea.

A memorial service will be taking place at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Rye Harbour on Sunday, November 21 at 2:30pm. This year the whole service will be held outside.

List of the lost crew of the Mary Stanford lifeboat. Pinned to the lifeboat house door.

We are reminded that the weather conditions at the time of the disaster were among the worst in living memory.  Gale force winds were so strong there was great difficulty launching the boat which had to be pulled manually across a stretch of sand.  At 5am it took three attempts to launch and the crew would have been drenched from the effort of climbing in and out of the boat in roaring winds and rough sea.

After being launched, the crew would have been busy setting the sails against the gale and holding 15ft oars. A message arrived almost immediately that Mary Stanford was no longer required to assist the SS Alice from Riga off the coast of Dungeness. They did not notice the message being signalled from the shore.  We do not know what happened then other than that they were all drowned.

How salutary to imagine the RNLI boat with no engine or radio or any of the electronic devices that today we regard as necessary and commonplace on all vessels.

Image Credits: Mags Ivatts .


  1. Please note that, following appropriate consultation, the service will be inside. Those attending are strongly urged to wear masks. Thank you.

  2. I think it’s terrible that the lifeboat house has never been restored in testament to the lost crew. It would make a great little museum and could raise some funds. If I lived nearer I would try and get something going. Was the lifeboat scrapped?

    • The Mary Stanford remained at Rye Harbour until the inquiry was over. In January 1929 she was taken to the RNLI depot at Poplar in east London, where she was broken up.

    • Hi Lizzie I set up the Friends of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House group to restore the lifeboat house and achieved Grade II listing. We also have our restoration builders in place now and our restoration project. So far we have over £20k in funds and applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund but they had already made huge funding to the nature reserve so turned us down. Covid has also delayed fundraising but we are ever hopeful of achieving the restoration and yes it will be a museum dedicated to telling the story of the heroes of the lifeboat crew. We are just setting up a new website as we had problems with our old one, so perhaps you would like to join the Friends in the future. Kind regards Jacqueline Stanford

  3. Very very sad to see the state of the Mary Stanford lifeboat station in which all the crew were drowned, would be a good idea to set up a fund to bring it back to its original state .I for one would be happy to contribute towards the renovation.

  4. So sad to see the lifeboat station looking so unloved and forgotten. Perhaps local builders could give an estimate for its repairs so that we would have a target to aim for when looking for donations and fund raising. Interesting that it belongs to a limited company, would they object to renovations?

    • Hi Clare we have our project costs of £125,000 and our builders etc, we just need the funds, but are ever hopeful. Kind regards Jacqui

  5. If you pause on the way through the lychgate at Rye Harbour Church you will see a list of those who served in the first world war. What is so horribly poignant is that a decade later, almost to the day that hostilities ceased, a number of those named perished in the Mary Standford disaster.

  6. I thought there was a group set up to renovate the life boat house and they raised awareness of it and monies. There use to be leaflets in the Library and a relative of the Mary Stanford was one of the people who started it up.I thought they thought it could be used as a learning place for school children as well as a museum for history of the lifeboat.
    I remember a lady gave a talk at the Northiam and Rye RAF society / Rye British Legion meetings.
    7 or 6 years ago..meeting held at the Rye club in Market Road ..
    Some one may know more details.

    • Hi Judith yes I gave the talk, but not sure if my husband’s family is connected or not. Just spooky that I am Jacqueline Mary Stanford and should move down here and become a parish Councillor for Rye Harbour….

      • Lovely to hear from you Jacquline , it was a good talk I remember and you were such a lovely person.pleased that you and the fund are making progress after so many years of perseverance.. and wishing you every success.

  7. If you simply click on the link provided by Tony then all the information you need is there. £120k needed – but turned down by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as their funding went to the nearby Discovery Centre.

    • That is what we will do. Our civil engineer who, before his death covered Canterbury Cathedral and had been on the Heritage Lottery committee walked into that boathouse and said “this is exactly the type of project the fund likes to support” yet they did not but were happy to support a new build…. anyway we live in hope.
      It is lovely to see so much interest.
      It is unfortunate that due to its remoteness it is a target for those idiots with their spray cans….

  8. Surely we cannot stand by and watch such an iconic Important building rot away,are there any professional people who can help getting it restored

  9. My ancestors, specifically the Cuttings and the Heads were killed in the disaster. My maternal grandmother was a Cutting. In the middle of September a large family group made a visit to Rye and Winchelsea, on the birthday of my mother’s one remaining sibling (of 5).


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