by catherine | Aug 30, 2012 |

James Cable: Aldeburgh's Beloved Lifeboatman


We like to celebrate the many remarkable people that come from our beloved town, both famous and lesser known. Read about a local celebrity and extraordinary lifeboatman James Cable. With thanks to Aldeburgh Museum for providing the account.

The fourth of five children, James Cable inherited his father's love of the sea (Thomas Cable was a coastguard during the Crimean War). He signed on as cabin boy on a fishing smack aged 13 and then worked as a fisherman until he was 20.

Following his travels around Australia, James returned to Aldeburgh where he worked as a fisherman, but by 1880 he was the owner of three fishing boats and four bathing machines (a changing room on wheels for those who ventured into the waves).

As businessman and fisherman James Cable became a well-known personality on the beach and around the town, but today he is chiefly remembered for his fifty years of service to the Aldeburgh lifeboat, almost thirty of them as coxwain (the person responsible for every aspect of a rescue). It was James' courage, strength, confidence and unrivalled skill that meant he was perfect for this job; he understood the current and every danger that might arise.

Altogether he served as coxswain for three of Aldeburgh's lifeboats between 1888 and 1917: the George Hounsfield, the Aldeburgh and the City of Winchester. During that time he was awarded three silver medals by the RNLI and another by the Norwegian government, together with numerous lesser awards.

In his retirement Cable wrote his autobiography: A Lifeboatman's Days. This documented his travels as a young man as well as his career as coxswain in Aldeburgh.

Of the many  stories recounted in this autobiography, the night of 7 December 1899 is one of the most tragic. At the time, Cable was suffering from influenza so could not help the lifeboat crew rescue a vessel in distress on the Shipwash sands. Six men were trapped underneath the boat after it capsized during the rescue, and despite Cable, among others, working desperately for hours to save them, these six men perished. As this terrible accident affected so many, it is commemorated in Aldeburgh by an imposing marble monument in the graveyard of the parish church.

James Cable retired from service in 1917, but he continued his connection with the lifeboat service for a further twelve years both as a member of the Aldeburgh Station Committee and as foreman launcher on the beach crew. He died in 1930 and is buried in Aldeburgh churchyard.

Stay in Aldeburgh and visit Aldeburgh Museum

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