Eastbourne’s RNLI Museum

I’ve been working at Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne since March, and in that time, I’ve been able to explore the town in bits and bobs on lunch breaks, on my way to work, and on my walk home from the station. The lack of places in which one can sit down with a cup of coffee still comes as a bit of a surprise to me (living in Brighton has spoiled me in terms of choices for caffeine consumption).

What I have noticed is that there are more museums in the town than I realised – so I’ve decided to go exploring.

To kick things off, I visited the RNLI Lifeboat Museum and Shop (you can’t forget the shop) located a stone’s throw away from Towner, on the Eastbourne seafront, right next to the charmingly named Wish Tower and a short walk away from the historic pier and bandstand.

Eastbourne's RNLI Museum and Wish Tower
Eastbourne’s RNLI Museum and Wish Tower

For those who haven’t heard of the RNLI, they are known as ‘the charity that saves lives at sea.’ I’ve lived in seaside towns my whole life (apart from those few years spent in London for university) so the work they do has always been in the background of my existence. The RNLI have a few museums dotted up and down the country such as the interestingly named Grace Darling and Henry Bloggs sites.

My local one is known simply at the Eastbourne Museum in RNLI parlance, but it could easily be named the William Terris Museum as it was built in memory of an actor of that name who was murdered on the steps of the Adelphi Theatre in 1897.

William Terris
William Terris

After initially being the William Terris memorial boathouse, the site became a museum in 1937.

William Terris memorial plaque
William Terris memorial plaque

Eastbourne’s life boat service kept the thespian connections over the years. Notably, they came to the rescue of the film crew of The Living Daylights (1987) as they were filming this instalment of James Bond’s exploits off Beachy Head in 1986. If you need reminding of that particular film… here’s the trailer.

Apparently the film crew only deigned to be rescued after their boat nearly smashed.

For such a tiny museum, the space is crammed full of stories and anecdotes about the work of the local lifeboat crews. In such a small space, the sheer volume of stories can feel quite overwhelming at times but it’s worth taking the time to read as many of them as you can.

A medal presented to Sam Knight
A medal presented to Sam Knight

a vintage barometer

It was interesting to consider how this miniscule museum (one of the smallest I’ve visited on my adventures. Not quite the smallest museum, that would be New York City’s Mmuseumm, but it ranks high on that list) compares to other places that tackle a similar theme. Usually maritime museums have the luxury of large spaces, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. This RNLI museum has chosen to concentrate on the stories associated with the area; the objects serve to support these narratives but don’t drive it in the way you see in other museums.

If you find yourself in Eastbourne and fancy visiting – admission is free.


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