Charles Henry Ashley

The backbone of the Navy
Charles Henry Ashley

During the First World War the Cemaes Bay lifeboat CHARLES HENRY ASHLEY went to assist at an incident on 16 December 1914. She was manned for the 3 hours between 4.30 and 7.30pm to go to the assistance of the steam trawler ANGLIA of London. No other service was reported between 1914 and 1918.

Cemaes Bay is at the northern tip of Anglesey, where vessels travelling between Dublin and Liverpool passed close to its shores. The CHARLES HENRY ASHLEY was built by Thames Ironworks in 1907. She was stationed at the Porth yr Ogof lifeboat station by Wylfa Head near Cemeas Bay between 1907 and 1932, when she was retired from service because she was a non-self-righting lifeboat. CHARLES HENRY ASHLEY was the fifth lifeboat to be stationed at Cemeas Bay. 

In her 25 years of active service she was launched a total of seven times, only one of which was during the First World War, and she was not credited with saving any lives. This was not because the coast around Anglesey was any less dangerous than other areas-indeed it was extremely hazardous; the reason for her limited activity was that the Cemeas Bay lifeboat played a secondary supporting role to other lifeboats stationed on Anglesey, and particularly to those stationed at Holyhead.

The hazards of the sea around Anglesey meant that the island was extremely well served with lifeboats. Holyhead had one of the earliest lifeboat stations in the country, having been established in 1828. In 1897 the station was provided with the first of the six steam lifeboats which served in the RNLI’s fleet between 1890 and 1928. The boat, the DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND, had first been stationed at Harwich in 1890, but remained at Holyhead until she was sold out of service in 1922. She was replaced by another steam lifeboat, the JAMES STEVENS No. 3, which remained there until 1928. Between 1915 and 1929 the Holyhead No.2 lifeboat station was home to the smaller self-righting lifeboat, the FANNY HARRIET.

Another lifeboat station was established by the Anglesey Association for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck in Cemlyn, also in 1828. It was adopted by the RNLI in 1882, and housed the 35ft self-righting SIR JOHN between 1914 and 1919. Yet another was established at Rhoscolyn in 1830; between 1899 and 1929 this lifeboat station housed the 37ft RAMON CABRERA self-righting lifeboat. Others followed at Penmon in 1832, Llanddwyn in 1840 and Moelfre in 1848. The CHRISTOPHER BROWN served at Penmon between 1896 and 1915, and the 40ft CHARLES AND ELIZA LAURA served at Moelfre between 1910 and 1929, being launched a total of 35 times and saving some 84 lives.      

A further round of lifeboat station building on Anglesey began in the 1860s. A station was built at Bull Bay in 1868; between 1904 and 1926 it housed the 38ft JAMES CULLEN. Further stations were built at both Cemeas Bay and Rhosneigr in 1872. The 34ft self-righting THOMAS LINGHAM was housed there between 1904 and 1924.

Two further lifeboat stations were built on Anglesey in 1891, those at Beaumaris and Porth Rhuffydd. The 43ft FREDERICK KITCHEN was based at Beaumaris between 1914 and 1945, but the Porth Rhuffydd lifeboat, the NORBURY, served only between 1891 and 1904.

Where is she now?

The village of Cemaes is proud to be the caretaker of the CHARLES HENRY ASHLEY, a 38ft Watson designed lifeboat built in 1907 and stationed at the nearby Porth yr Ogof  lifeboat station by Wylfa Head until she was taken out of service in 1932. After several years in private ownership, she was re-launched after total renovation in April 2009.  She is now a major attraction to visitors at her mooring in the harbour during the summer months.

A team of dedicated local enthusiasts now maintain and sail the vessel.  Membership of the Cemaes Boat Club is open to those who wish to share the enjoyment of this historic lifeboat.  For further information, contact the Club Membership Secretary (Mike Thompson) on 01407 710552.   On designated sailing days, visitors can, by taking up temporary membership, qualify to join the crew for a sail or row in Cemaes Bay.   She is also available for sail/rowing training and as a film and advertising set.  Contact the Boat Club Secretary (Keith Downs) on 01407 710333 for details. (Please be aware that availability is totally weather dependent and the Coxswain of the day makes the final decisions).


The boat is not fitted with an engine, so faithfully reproduces the authentic practice of the early 20th century being propelled from the harbour under oars and then hoisting her sails in open water.   She is rigged with a jib, a dipping lug mainsail, and a dipping lugsail on the mizzen mast.  These days, this is an unusual rig which can prove to be difficult to master.  However, she may be old, but in a breeze of wind she slips along at a very respectable speed and provides a rewarding sailing experience.  There is always a core crew of trained sailors, with safety as their prime consideration, so novices are welcome.



 The Cemeas Boat Club has an extensive physical library of historical and contemporary documents and photographs.