First ever street collection for RNLI to be recreated

Melanie May | 5 October 2021 | News

First ever Lifeboat Saturday for RNLI. Photo: RNLI
The RNLI will be recreating this image taken 130 years go in Manchester. Photo: copyright RNLI

This Saturday, Manchester will celebrate 130 years since the RNLI’s first Lifeboat Saturday street collection, and recreate an image that has become part of the charity’s heritage.

The RNLI‘s first street collection – which it believes was the first charity street collection ever – took place in 1891 after wealthy industrialist Charles Macara and wife Marion answered the RNLI call for help after the loss of 27 lifeboat crew in 1886 when volunteers from Southport and St Annes drowned while trying to save others from the stricken vessel Mexico. Concerned for the widows and children of the volunteers lost at sea the first ever street collection was held.

With the help of the Mayor of Manchester, Charles Macara organised a parade through the city on Saturday 1 October 1891. The collection began with a horse-drawn lifeboat procession through the city and featured a parade of bands, floats and lifeboats through the streets of Manchester. 30,000 people lined the streets to watch.

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Lady Marion Macara, with many of her friends, went round the crowds with buckets and tins to collect money. This street collection raised over £5000 for the RNLI, equivalent to more than £650,000 today, and Lifeboat Saturday became an annual event in Manchester. By 1895 over 90 towns and cities across the UK had adopted ‘Lifeboat Saturdays’ ensuring the RNLI had a steady and healthy income.  

Branch system

The event was also the start of the RNLI’s branch system, which is an important part of the RNLI’s fundraising today, with Lady Macara establishing Ladies Lifeboat Guilds.

Taking part this weekend will be a Manchester family recently been saved by the RNLI, local fundraisers and volunteer RNLI crew from Lytham St Annes, which lost 13 crew in the Mexico disaster.

“Manchester is the birthplace of street donations”

Alex Doig, chair of the Manchester fundraising branch said:

“Manchester is the birthplace of street donations, not just in the UK but the world, and that’s something to be really proud of. The anniversary will be about celebrating the strength of the link between the city and the sea. It’s only through our volunteers time, through charitable donations and through the support of local communities and businesses that our crews can do what they do.”

The Williamson family will take part in this weekend’s celebration, after being rescued last year by the RNLI. Hannah Williamson was on the beach in August last year with their three young children, Megan, seven, and five-year-old twins Niamh and Sammy as partner Ben was washed away in a rip current.

She commented:

“Living in the city, you don’t really see the RNLI as that relevant, but without them my husband wouldn’t be here today. We really thought we had lost him. Many of us holiday or visit the coast for day trips and it’s amazing to think these people are there and ready to drop everything should a stranger need help. I think the RNLI is actually more important to people like us not living close to the coast, as it’s a new environment and when you’re on holiday, you do tend to let your guard down as you want to have a great time, which is exactly what we did.”

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