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Debate rages in Wells as memorial for Eliza Adams lifeboat crew could make way for restaurant and holiday homes

PUBLISHED: 15:40 31 May 2017

Thomas Kew, one of two survivors of the Eliza Adams tragedy, pictured next to the memorial. He launched the appeal to fund the memorial to the lost crew. Picture: Wells Lifeboat Station.

Thomas Kew, one of two survivors of the Eliza Adams tragedy, pictured next to the memorial. He launched the appeal to fund the memorial to the lost crew. Picture: Wells Lifeboat Station.

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It was a tragedy at sea more than 130 years ago which continues to hold a place close to the hearts to the people of Wells.

The Eliza Adams memorial as it is today, with the Wells harbour office in the background, which was the lifeboat station at the time of the tragedy. Picture: RAY HEWITT. The Eliza Adams memorial as it is today, with the Wells harbour office in the background, which was the lifeboat station at the time of the tragedy. Picture: RAY HEWITT.

The day October 29, 1880 when 11 members of the Wells lifeboat crew, aboard the Eliza Adams, drowned on a rescue mission is an integral part of the town’s history.

Now debate is raging over the possible move of a memorial, installed in 1906, in tribute to them.

The memorial could be moved from its current site near the public toilets on Beach Road, a mile away, near the beach, where a new lifeboat station is planned.

This would make way for a controversial restaurant, proposed by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC).

The Eliza Adams and the lifeboat house before the tragedy in 1880.  Picture: WELLS LIFEBOAT The Eliza Adams and the lifeboat house before the tragedy in 1880. Picture: WELLS LIFEBOAT

Descendents of some of those who died in the tragedy are amongst the people voicing their views and feelings are mixed in the town.

Wells Town Council will ask every resident for their view, with questionnaires going out in The Quay magazine next month.

Wells lifeboat coxswain and town council chairman Allen Frary, whose great grandfather William Bell was one of only two survivors of the Eliza Adams tragedy, has spoken to descendants of crew members who died.

He said: “The majority are in favour of the move, although not everybody feels that way.

An artist's impression of how the new restaurant at Beach Road, Wells, could look. Picture: North Norfolk District Council. An artist's impression of how the new restaurant at Beach Road, Wells, could look. Picture: North Norfolk District Council.

“The new lifeboat station would feature a display on the history of the lifeboat and the memorial could form part of that.

“It would also overlook the area where the Eliza Adams capsized.

“My view is that more people would see the memorial at the new location but I appreciate not everyone feels the same way, so we are asking for people’s views.”

Wells town councillor Ray Hewitt, who is chairman of Wells Playing Field Committee, is strongly opposed to the move and is also against the restaurant plans as he feels it would have an overbearing impact on the field.

Wells lifeboat coxswain and town council chairman Allen Frary, whose great grandfather survived the Eliza Adams tragedy.  PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Wells lifeboat coxswain and town council chairman Allen Frary, whose great grandfather survived the Eliza Adams tragedy. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

He said: “That memorial was placed there many decades ago to honour the memory of the people who gave their lives on the Eliza Adams lifeboat.

“It was placed in this location, specifically, as it is close to where they set off, with the lifeboat station being located where the Wells harbour office now is, at the time of the tragedy.

“It would be disrespectful to move this memorial, which was paid for by public donations, so NNDC can build on the site.”

Wells town councillor Ray Hewitt, who is against the move. Picture: Ian Burt Wells town councillor Ray Hewitt, who is against the move. Picture: Ian Burt

The story of the Eliza Adams tragedy

The Eliza Adams lifeboat capsized on October 29, 1880 after going out on two successive rescue missions.

A large sea broke over the lifeboat, capsizing her and driving her mast into the sand, preventing the lifeboat from self-righting.

Twelve of the crew were washed from the boat and 11 died. One of the two survivors remained in the boat, tangled in the lines until the mast snapped and the boat finally righted itself. The other survivor managed to lay on the boat’s rudder before being washed ashore.

The eleven crew that were lost left 10 widows and 28 children.

One of the survivors, Thomas Kew, launched a fundraising appeal which paid for the memorial to be installed in 1906.

Why the memorial could be moved

The Eliza Adams memorial could be moved to make way for a new restaurant and holiday apartments.

The proposals were put forward by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) as part of its plans to raise money from its corporate assets to avoid raising council tax and making cuts to services, with the council receiving less funding from central government.

A spokesman for NNDC said: “NNDC is meeting with groups in the community at Wells to talk about how the area can be supported and a suggestion has been made that the Eliza Adams memorial may be better situated at Wells Lifeboat Station at some point in the future.

“Obviously this is very early days and any move would have to be thoroughly considered by the community and the council.”

In 2005, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) took over responsibility for memorials across the country to crew members who died.

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