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Memories sought as £1m restoration begins on Deal and Broadstairs lifeboat The Francis Forbes Barton

By Eleanor Perkins

An RNLI fundraiser is appealing for memorabilia and information about one of the country’s oldest surviving lifeboats since its return to Kent last month.

The Francis Forbes Barton, which served in Broadstairs from 1897 to 1912 and throughout the First World War in Deal, is now in Ramsgate.

The Friends of Francis Forbes Barton, a group set up especially to see her safe return, are now working on a £1m project to restore the vessel.

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The Francis Forbes Barton has been brought back to its former home in Thanet

They are also appealing to any relatives of crew who might have memorabilia or information about the boat to get in touch.

Group member and RNLI fundraiser Michael Bon said: “We’d like to gather as much information about the crew who were on her from 1912 to 1921 because we’re keeping a diary which we want to be turned into a book, detailing her story up until she’s fully restored.”

If the book becomes a reality it would raise money for the RNLI.

Michael Bon from the RNLI is appealing to crew member's relatives for information about the boat

Mr Bon said: “The idea is to then get her back onto the water and take her around the country showing her off. We’d love to row her from lifeboat station to lifeboat station using local rowing clubs, sailing clubs and sea cadets, or anyone who would like to be involved.”

Built in 1896, the Francis Forbes Barton was sold out of service in 1926 and most recently was left to languish for seven years on a piece of rented farmland in Kirton, near Boston.

Following the death of the farmer who owned the land, former owner Gary Dixon was told he had to ‘move it or lose it’.

The boat had been in his family for decades. He himself had lived on her on a canal in Uxbridge, west London, for about 30 years until he was too old to manage the upkeep. It was then that she was taken out of the water and placed in the field. Mr Bon said: “She’s just been out in the open for years, which hasn’t done her any favours at all.”

Mr Dixon sold the 40ft boat to the group for £1, last month. It was then lifted by crane on to the back of a lorry before making the 200-mile journey to Ramsgate.

The Francis Forbes Barton on The Pier in Broadstairs about 1910

Mr Bon said: “Gary realised he couldn’t do anything with the boat. Word got back to us in Broadstairs and a group of five of us got together and formed the Friends of Francis Forbes Barton to set up a charity trust to look after her.”

Despite the boat being in a poor state, expert John Nicholls said she could still be restored but it is not known how much of the original boat they will be able to save. The Frances Forbes Barton Preservation and Restoration Trust will lead the project which is likely to take about five to six years. The group is due to submit a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Mr Bon says they hope to involve students to keep costs down. The lifeboat will remain in Ramsgate harbour while the project takes place.

To share information or to donate towards the restoration, email Michael on michael5bon@aol.com.

For updates join The Friends of the Francis Forbes Barton on Facebook.

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