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RNLI Coin Collector - East Parade

1930s Royal National Lifeboat Institution Coin Collector on East Parade

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a UK charity devoted to saving lives at sea. It was founded in 1824 and relies solely on funding given by supporters; no funding is provided by central government. In 2016, the cost of running this lifesaving service was £140 million.

Many different ways of attracting donations from RNLI supporters have been used over the years. During the 1930s a number of cast-iron pedestal collecting boxes were placed around the country, usually at coastal locations, to help with the fund-raising activities.

At present eight examples of these collecting boxes are known to have survived including this one in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex.

History of Bexhill-on-Sea’s RNLI collection box

On 3rd August 1935 the Bexhill Observer published a short report informing its readers of the appearance of “a small iron pedestal” close to the Beach Inspector’s Office at the Colonnade. This followed several years of endeavor by the local branch of the RNLI to persuade the Council to sanction its positioning. Painted in “unobtrusive colours” it was hoped the box would help to collect vital funds for the RNLI although Bexhill has never had its own lifeboat or associated lifeboat station. At present no photograph showing the collecting box on this site has been found. Major alterations to the Colonnade following the Second World War saw the collecting box move to its current position on East Parade close to the War Memorial. It is not known when the collecting box was decommissioned by the RNLI although a photograph taken in 1963 (held by Bexhill Museum) probably shows it still in use.

The collecting box is constructed of cast iron, with a square base and approximately 1m in height. The side facing north has a door with keyhole for emptying the contents. The side facing south has at its base a difficult to read oval foundry-maker’s plaque. The box has angled corners and above is a moulded octagonal cap with a central dome on an octagonal plinth. There is a redundant coin-slot for donations in the top of the dome. There is also evidence of where an oval sign was attached to the dome behind the coin slot to explain the purpose of the box to passers-by.

By 2017 the pedestal had received little care except coats of dark green paint as part of the Council’s routine maintenance of its seafront structures. A small group of local residents as well as Bexhill Museum and Rother District Council representatives decided to both research the history of the coin collector and restore it to its former glory.

Other known RNLI collecting boxes around England and Wales

1) Aldeburgh, Suffolk, outside RNLI charity shop

2) Bamburgh, Northumberland, in the RNLI Grace Darling Museum

3) Barry Dock, south Wales, in the Knap car park

4) Clovelly, Devon, in the village close to RNLI lifeboat station

5) Cromer, Norfolk, in the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum

6) Porthgwarra, St Levan, Penzance, Cornwall, close to RNLI lifeboat station

7) Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, outside RNLI charity shop

It is of note regarding the importance of these collecting boxes that Historic England has designated the box at Porthgwarra as Grade II listed (List entry number 1422554). The principal reasons for this designation are: -

a) Rarity and survival: a remarkably well-preserved charity collection box at a costal location, few of which were built as permanent fixtures.

b) Architectural interest: a good example of quality foundry craftsmanship to a handsome design.

c) Historic interest: indicative of the once thriving fishing industry at Porthgwarra and the bravery of RNLI volunteers.

At Bexhill-on-Sea the collecting box was restored during 2017 thanks to sponsorship by both Brewers (Bexhill) decorators and private individuals. The restored box can now be added to Bexhill-on-Sea’s historical heritage.

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