Members are reminded that the subscription rate with effect from 1 January 2020 will be £22 (£30 overseas) per annum. The following actions are required dependent upon your method of payment.
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You need to take no action because the RNLI will do it for you. You will however get a standard RNLI letter one month before your renewal date which will say “Thank you for your donation of £22 “ and confirming it will be collected annually thereafter unless you cancel it. Please don’t be concerned about the letter, our account is administered by RNLI and it is a legal requirement that they issue this letter. We can assure you that the income will be allocated to your LBES membership.
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We’re very pleased to anounce that Issue 8, the Autumn 2019 edition of our excellent magazine, Lifeboats Past And Present is going to print this week.
Full Lifeboat Enthusiasts members will receive their copies in the next couple of weeks. 56 pages of full colour illustrated lifeboat related articles, news and information.
If you’re not yet a Lifeboat Enthusiasts member and would like to ensure you receive a copies of our excellent magazine moving forward, please go to the “Join Us” section of our website to find full joining information.
We look forward to welcoming new members onboard!
Callum Ives – Hon Secretary – RNLI Lifeboat Enthusiasts
Back in October last year we published a “save the date” announcing that The RNLI Lifeboat Enthusiasts Annual General Meeting 2020 and associated activities are set to take place over the weekend of 17th to 19th of April 2020. The AGM proper is scheduled for 3pm at Westmere Farm, Kilnsea on Saturday April 18th 2020.
If you haven’t booked in already and intend to go please contact the event co-ordinator David Wilkinson via the email below.
We aim to hold a range of lifeboat related events for members across the weekend, including a visit to the Humber Lifeboat station which is only accessible by specially arranged transport.
We hope that the former Humber Superintendent Coxswain, David Steenvorden will address the visiting Lifeboat Enthusiasts group.
There are additional plans to visit a couple of other local lifeboat stations, with the intention of seeing the lifeboats out on exercise. There should also be an opportunity to visit Spurn Lighthouse, combined with a guided tour of the WW2 era underground tunnels.
There is ample accommodation in the area for members in attendance but obviously early booking will ensure you secure your preferred choice. The planning for the event is still in the initial stages but if you are interested in attending and would like further information and an information pack please contact the event co-ordinator David Wilkinson via email at email@example.com
The communities of South Shields, North Shields and Tynemouth, at the mouth of the River Tyne on the north east coast of England, hold a unique position in the establishment and development of maritime rescue. In South Shields the first purpose designed lifeboat, Original, was launched in 1790, followed by a second lifeboat for North Shields, the Northumberland, in 1798. It was this same pioneering spirit that led to the first Volunteer Life Brigades being established, at Tynemouth in December 1864 and South Shields in January 1866, these, the forerunners of today’s H.M. Coastguard Rescue Service in the United Kingdom. It was also at North Shields, in 1905, that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) stationed its first petrol engined lifeboat.
The Origin of the Original
To lifeboat enthusiasts, Willie Wouldhave and Henry Greathead are synonymous with the design and construction of the lifeboat with claims by both men as being the “inventor” of the lifeboat. This created a controversy that actually ignored those who were the main driving force behind the creation of the first purpose designed lifeboat.
Prior to the completion of the North and South Piers in 1909, the entrance into the River Tyne was totally exposed to the full force of north easterly to south-easterly gales, with the Black Middens rocks to the north, the Herd Sands to the south, and the notorious Tynemouth Bar between. During winter gales, it was not uncommon for 6 or more ships to come ashore in a single day.
The entrance to the River Tyne, 1782
It was not until March 1789, following the wreck of the Adventure, that the first steps were taken towards establishing a lifeboat service when Nicholas Fairles, a local businessman, Magistrate andmember of the ‘Gentlemen of the Lawe House’, a group of local shipowners and marine insurers, who having been appalled at the loss of life and the inability of anyone to help rescue theAdventure’s crew, proposed a competition, offering a prize of 2 Guineas, to find a rescue boat capable of operating in the breaking surf at the river mouth.
Two entries were received, one from Willie Wouldhave Parish Clerk of St. Hilda’s Church, SouthShields, a tin model that demonstrated the concept of a self-righting boat, and from Henry Greathead, a local boat builder, a flat bottomed, wide beamed boat that resembled the troop carrying barges Greathead would have been familiar with during his time as a ship’s carpenter in the Royal Navy, during the time of the American War of Independence.
Neither entry found favour with the judging Committee. Greathead’s model was described as inappropriate for the local conditions, and Wouldhave’s boat, which was self-righting and to be built in copper sheeting, was found to be too radical a design. Whilst accepting Wouldhave’s idea ofinternal buoyancy, they only offered a Guinea for his trouble, which he declined to accept, but left his model with the Committee.
With no conclusive result, it was not until the Chairman of the Competition Committee, Nicholas Fairles, and Committee member, Michael Rockwood, met by chance and combined their knowledge gained from the competition to make a clay model of a boat that they considered would be best suited for local sea conditions.
Following Committee ratification, the model was given to Greathead to build, whose only contribution to the design was a curved keel, to assist in its manoeuvrability. The resultant boat, with design influences taken from the Northumbrian Coble and Norway Yawl, was non-self-righting and double ended, 28 feet 6 inches long by 9 feet 6 inches beam and 3 feet 2 inches depth amidships. The hull was clinker built with cork buoyancy fendering around the midships gunwale. It rowed 10 oars, was steered by a long oar from the stern, and had a crew of 12.
The boat was not named but became known as the Original, and was kept on a carriage in a lifeboat house located at the river mouth, at South Shields, and crewed by local pilots. The total cost of £159, and subsequent operational costs, was met by local shipowners. The new boat first launched on service on January 30th, 1790 when a vessel came ashore on the Herd Sand.
In 1802, the patent on another early sea rescue pioneer’s work, Lionel Lukin’s ‘unimmergible’ boatwas due to expire and with this knowledge, Greathead in October 1801, embarked on a public campaign to be recognised as the Inventor of the Lifeboat, and to market his boat building business.
He first sought the help of the Gentlemen of the Lawe House requesting them to sign his certificate stating that he was the inventor of the lifeboat. Nicholas Fairles refused to sign suggesting that he should show his model to see if it indeed resembled the Original.
Undaunted, his first successes were financial rewards from Lloyds of London and Trinity House, and then, in July 1802, with the patronage and sponsorship of local Members of Parliament, Parliament awarded Greathead £1200, recognising him as the Inventor of the lifeboat. In his evidence, he stated that the wreck of the Adventure gave him the idea of the lifeboat competition, and that his model – he showed Parliament the Original – had won the competition.
News reached Wouldhave of Parliament’s decision, but without the financial means and social status, he could do little to mount a successful challenge. In any event, Wouldhave, whilst designing a self-righting lifeboat, did not design the Original.
Fairles, the driving force behind the Original, stated in correspondence in 1806, that neither Greathead nor Wouldhave could be considered as being the inventor of the Original.
Prior to his campaign Greathead had built only five lifeboats, but during 1802, his yard built a further 10 boats, peaking in 1803 with another 14. Output diminished thereafter with only 12 boats built between 1805 and 1810. Having been declared bankrupt in 1807 and 1810, and imprisoned for debt in 1813, he died in 1818 aged 63. Willie Wouldhave, at the age of 73, died penniless, in 1821.
Wouldhave’s 1789 Tin Model and the South Shields Lifeboat, Tyne, built in 1833
The Beginnings of an Organised Lifeboat Service
The success of the Original, and an increase in shipwrecks led, at the behest of Nicholas Fairles, to a second Greathead built boat, Northumberland, being stationed at North Shields in 1798, this funded by the 2nd Duke of Northumberland, both stations being managed by a local committee.
The Original served at South Shields until January 1830, when she was wrecked on the Black Middens rescuing the crew of the brig Glatton. She never lost a single life during her 40 years service. Due to the lack of finance, it was not until 1833 that she was replaced by the 32 ft. longTyne, stationed at South Shields until 1887 where she saved 1024 lives.
The delay in replacing the Original led to the Newcastle Shipwreck Association requesting the National Lifeboat Institution to place a boat at Tynemouth Haven in 1832, this being on station for 10 years.
Due to recession, funding from local shipowners reduced to such an extent that in November 1808, following a public meeting in South Shields called and presided over by Nicholas Fairles, a permanent lifeboat fund was established, which essentially set-up a commercial lifeboat service, shipowners subscribing 10s6d per ship per annum, in return for which no charge was made for the lifeboat going to the assistance of any of their ships. Similar arrangements were established for the North Shields lifeboat. 5 Guineas was charged for the services of the boats to non-subscribers in addition to the payment made to the lifeboat crew of 1⁄2 Guinea each.
Nicholas Fairles was murdered in 1832, when attempting to resolve a coal miners strike.
This arrangement worked well until 1840, when after the crew of the brig Friendship was rescued, the owner declined to contribute to the fund. Judgement was given against him in the local Court, but with no legal means to enforce payment. At a meeting of local shipowners soon afterwards, it was decided that every vessel using the Tyne should voluntarily contribute to a lifeboat fund based on vessel tonnage. At the same time the management of the South and North Shields boats was consolidated into the Tyne Lifeboat Institution.
The Tyne at Coble Landing, South Shields, in 1858. The Providence can be seen in the boathouse and to the right of the boathouse, the former North Shields lifeboat, Northumberland, built by Greathead in 1798, and purchased by local Pilots in 1842, and used as a salvage boat.
This organisation, renamed the Tyne Lifeboat Society, in 1905, was independent of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The 1841 reorganisation led to a major overhaul of the lifeboat service. New boats and boathouses were built for both the existing North and South Shields stations, and new stations were established at Tynemouth Haven and on the Herd Sand at South Shields.
In addition to maintaining and manning a floating fire engine for use on the river, the local institution also undertook humanitarian work in looking after rescued seamen who had lost all their possessions, by giving them clothes to wear, finding and paying for temporary accommodation, giving financial assistance for passages home and finding berths on ships for seamen to continue in employment.
By 1862, there were 4 local institution boats: the Providence and Tyne both at the Coble Landing, South Shields, and the Prior in the South Beach boathouse, South Shields, and the secondNorthumberland at North Shields. Following the RNLI establishing the Tynemouth Lifeboat Station at the Haven in 1862, the Prior was moved to the South Beach boathouse.
Replacement boats were also constructed with, in 1872, the Tom Perry and in 1878 Willie Wouldhave both for South Shields and in 1884, the James Young for North Shields. The last boat to be built, in 1886, was the Bedford, together with a new boathouse next to the 1841 double boathouse at the Coble Landing South Shields.
In 1905, a new boathouse was constructed at the Pilot House Jetty, South Shields to replace that at the Coble Landing, further upstream. This new boathouse was directly opposite the moorings of the new motor lifeboat stationed at North Shields by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The design principles of these later boats, 33ft in length and 11ft. beam, still reflected those of the first Greathead built boats, and it was not until 1935, that the Bedford, now in the Pilot Jetty boathouse, was fitted with a petrol engine. However, this significantly affected her sea-keeping qualities. She performed the last service launch of a Tyne Lifeboat Institution boat in 1937.
Of the last remaining boats, the 66-year-old Tom Perry was sold in 1938 and used as a diving boat, and the 57 year old James Young, together with the new Tynemouth RNLI motor boat, John Pyemont, were destroyed, in their adjoining boathouses, during an air raid in April 1941. The Willie Wouldhave and her South Beach boathouse were destroyed in an arson attack in March 1947.
The 1849 Lifeboat Disaster
Tragedy hit the community of South Shields on December 4th 1849, when the Providence lifeboat capsized with the loss of 20 of its 24 crew of Tyne pilots. She had launched to the brig Betsy drivenonto the Herd Sands, in an easterly gale, and when alongside, a huge sea swept around the brig’sstern and capsized the lifeboat. The North Shields lifeboat Northumberland launched and rescued the crew of the Betsy and one of the lifeboatmen who had climbed aboard. The South Shields lifeboat Tyne also launched and picked up 3 survivors clinging to the keel of the Providence.
As a consequence of the disaster, the 4th Duke of Northumberland, President of the National Lifeboat Institution offered, in October 1850, a prize of 100 Guineas for the best model of a self- righting lifeboat. The competition was won by James Beeching of Great Yarmouth, whose design,adopted the principles of Wouldhave’s 1789 model. It was the publicity from this disaster and competition that led to resurgence in the fortunes of the National Lifeboat Institution.
Although lifeboats began operating on the Tyne in 1789, only the service logs for the years 1861- 1870 and 1882-1910 remain and what narrative remains today largely comes from newspaper articles and local wreck registers.
During two weeks of south easterly gales in January 1854, the lifeboats launched to over 50 ships driven ashore. One night, 12 ships came ashore between 2100 hours and 0200 hours, the lifeboatsTyne, Providence and Northumberland not returning to their boathouses until 0300, having rescued 87 seamen.
Launching the Lifeboat – Luke Clennell, 1810
Saturday, 9 February 1861, proved to be a busy day illustrating the necessity of having four lifeboats that could deal with multiple wrecks. A north easterly gale had created atrocious sea conditions on the Bar and within the space of seven hours five ships were wrecked.
The first vessel to come ashore on the under-construction South Pier was the brig Minerva of Whitby, her crew being rescued by the Providence. Next to come ashore was the schooner Fowliswithin yards of the Minerva. The Providence, Tyne, Northumberland and Prior all launched with theProvidence hitting the rubble stone base of the pier, returning for repairs, and the Prior being forced back ashore. The Providence put off a second time and upon reaching the wreck was unable to maintain her position in the high seas and was again forced ashore.
The Tyne returned to the beach and took on board a number of the local Coastguards and their rocket apparatus and anchoring to seaward of the wreck, fired a line across the schooner and hauled the crew aboard. Thirty minutes later, the schooner Caesar of Whitstable came ashore on the Herd Sand, with the Tyne and Northumberland each rescuing four of its crew of eight, after which the crew of the brig Indus, ashore on the Herd Sands, were rescued by the Northumberland, and later, the brig Sarah Anne of North Shields came ashore on the Herd Sands, the Tyne rescuing her crew of six.
On Friday, January 28, 1910, in a severe easterly storm with frequent snow squalls, the Norwegian barquentine, Alphonse, came ashore on the Herd Sand. The Volunteer Life Brigade fired a number of lines but the crew made no attempt to use the breeches buoy. The Willie Wouldhave, having last performed a service in January 1892, launched into the breakers, came around the stern of the ship and onto her leeside and took off all 29 crew.
On Sunday 19th November, 1916, during a south easterly gale, with sea conditions at the entrance to the harbour so bad that both pier lighthouses were at times completely obscured by breaking seas, the Fred Olsen Line mail boat, Bessheim, was driven onto the Black Middens.
The Tom Perry and Bedford launched from South Shields followed by the Tynemouth motor lifeboatHenry Vernon, and the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade setting up the rocket apparatus.
The two rowing lifeboats boats slowly made their way towards the Bessheim, half a mile away, battling the heavy seas and a flood tide when the Henry Vernon overtook them, reaching the stranded ship just as the second rocket had been fired, the Henry Vernon nearly being hit by the falling rocket.
The Henry Vernon navigated between the rock outcrops on the Middens, her keel hitting the rocks. When she reached the ship’s ladder which had been rigged on the leeside of the mailboat, 32 passengers dropped into the lifeboat, returning them to the Fish Quay. The South Shields lifeboat,Tom Perry, then went alongside and took off 16, transferring them to the Henry Vernon, which had now returned, and on the rising tide, the Henry Vernon went alongside a second time, taking off 34, with a third journey to take off the remaining 30 crew and six passengers. Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, using the breeches buoy, rescued three of the crew.
On the morning of Sunday 9th November, 1919, during an easterly force eight gale with snow showers, the steamship Linerton came ashore on the Herd Sands, to the south of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House. After the force of the gale blew several rockets, fired by the Volunteer Life Brigade, back onshore, the Willie Wouldhave was launched, the ferocity of the seas driving her back onto the beach, narrowly missing the timbers of the Constance Ellen, wrecked in 1901. With the help of the Volunteer Life Brigade, she got away and reached the leeside of theLinerton rescuing 24 of her crew, being constantly filled by the breakers as she surfed back towards the beach. She launched again and took off the remaining 21 crew. This was the last service call for the 41-year-old Willie Wouldhave.
Despite the heroic attempts of the Tyne lifeboats Providence and Tyne, together with the Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat, Constance, which lost two of her crew, and the efforts of the local Coastguard, who did not have the manpower or resources to affect a successful rescue, 25 passengers and crew on the Stanley perished.
The wreck of the Stanley
The disaster highlighted the need for a volunteer shore-based rescue organisation to work with the full-time Coastguard, who were then the only people trained in the use of rocket and breeches buoy rescue equipment.
After a series of public meetings, Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade (TVLB) was established in December 1864, followed by Cullercoats, 1.5 miles to the north, in 1865 and South Shields, (SSVLB) on the south side of the river, in January 1866. Over 500 Brigades served around the coast of the country, these gradually becoming absorbed into the HM Coastguard Rescue Service.
The South Shields Brigade comprised of four divisions each of 50 men, and became the first volunteer group to undertake a breeches buoy rescue, in April 1866, with the rescue of the crew of the Tenderten. That same year, the rules of TVLB were adopted by the Board of Trade and circulated nationally to encourage other volunteer life saving brigades to be established around the coast.
At South Shields, a timber watch house was built in 1866, at the start of the South Pier, with the addition of a lookout tower and infirmary by 1879. A wooded equipment store was built in 1868 and replaced by the present brick building in 1894. A watch house at Tynemouth was built on a prominent site overlooking the harbour entrance in 1866. This site was requisitioned by the military and a new watch house was built nearby in 1874, where it still stands today. Both are protected historic buildings and are still the operational headquarters of both lifesaving brigades that also house museums outlining the history and development of the Brigades.
Today, only three Volunteer Life Brigades remain, those at South Shields, Tynemouth and Sunderland, with other Brigades having been absorbed into the HM Coastguard Rescue Service. TheBrigades are all operational ‘Declared Facilities’ now specialising in coast and cliff rescue, working directly with HM Coastguard, the RNLI lifeboats from Tynemouth, Cullercoats and Sunderland and the Coastguard search and rescue helicopters.
Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House
South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House, and Tyne Lifeboat Institution South Pier boathouse in 1897
The Visit of Charles McClellan
In July 1883, USLSS District Inspector Lieutenant Charles McClellan visited South Shields and witnessed a breeches buoy drill by SSVLB on the 25th July as well as inspecting two of the 33ft. surf lifeboats of the Tyne Lifeboat Institution, the Tyne and Tom Perry.
The drill, requested by Lt. McCellan, had been arranged through the Board of Trade, in order for him to obtain a complete knowledge of the working of the rocket apparatus, as part of his factfinding trip to the United Kingdom.
A report in the 26th July edition of the South Shields Gazette, stated that after the drill, Lt. McClellan was introduced to the assembled crowd, where he expressed his pleasure and thanks to the Brigadesmen for their drill, which he considered to be highly professional. He concluded that if ever he had the misfortune to be shipwrecked, he would like it to be in the vicinity of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, the crowd applauding his short speech. Upon his return home, McClellan embarked on a programme of improving lifesaving equipment and surf boat design, as outlined in the USLSS Board of Lifesaving Appliances reports of 1886,1888,1892 and 1893.
McClellan proposed and obtained approval in October 1884, from the Board of Life Saving Appliances, for the adoption of a hawser cutter that had been designed and developed by a member of South Shields VLB. It is interesting to note that the 1884 report states that the hawser cutter had been obtained by Lt. McClellan on a recent visit to England, as adopted by the Board of Trade for use at stations of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, albeit that it was H.M. Coastguard and VLB’s,and not the RNLI that operated this apparatus.
SSVLB Hawser Cutter, on display in the SSVLB Museum, and an extract from the 1884 Board of Life Saving Appliances Report illustrating this piece of equipment
The Shields surf lifeboats had raised water tight decks, air cases, through deck relieving tubes and valves, water ballast and external fenders, The Tyne, built in 1833 on the lines of the earlier Greathead built lifeboats, and which McClellan had inspected, had these features added during a refit in 1845, with these being standard in all subsequent boats, such as the 1872 built, Tom Perry.
Whilst the Beebe surfboat resembled the lines of the Original, improvements in USLSS surf boat design, through the work of Lieutenant J.C. Moore and the evolution of the Beebe-McClellan surfboat, progressed during 1887 and 1888, with new build boats, and modifications to existing surfboats including the features found in the Shields lifeboats With no direct evidence, it is onlyspeculation as to whether McClellan’s visit to the South Shields, and his inspection of the local lifeboats, had any direct influence upon the subsequent design and development of USLSS surfboats.
Both the Tynemouth and South Shields Brigades were instrumental in the development of life saving apparatus, with the Board of Trade using TVLB to evaluate new equipment, whilst SSVLB also developed a new traveller block and recommended and implemented talley boards being in foreign languages, this after the crews of a number of foreign vessels that came ashore did not know how to rig the breeches buoy. TVLB also campaigned for instructions, translated into a number of languages, on rigging a breeches buoy, to be put on brass plaques permanently attached to all ship’s masts.
In September 1877, TVLB undertook a drill for the benefit of General Ulysses S Grant who was visiting the Watch House.
The celebrated artist, Winslow Homer, lived in nearby Cullercoats, a small fishing village, between spring 1881 and November 1882, residing in a house that overlooked the harbour, the Cullercoats VLB Watch House and RNLI boathouse. During his stay he would have witnessed a number of shipwrecks and rescues by the local lifeboats and Volunteer Life Brigades. His painting of the ‘Wreck of the Iron Crown’, on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art, shows the Tynemouth RNLI lifeboatCharles Dibdin battling through surf to the barque ashore on the rocks of the Black Middens. Five crew were rescued by TVLB with the remaining 17 by the lifeboat.
Upon his return to the United States, he applied his understanding of violent seas, as witnessed at Cullercoats and Tynemouth, and after seeing a demonstration of a breeches buoy drill at Atlantic City, painted, in 1884, the ‘Lifeline’ now displayed in the City of Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The RNLI and the Shields Lifeboats
Since the establishment of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, in 1824, the Tyne Lifeboat Institution resisted numerous requests to become a part of that organisation on the grounds that their boats were better suited for the local sea conditions and that they had the financial resources to operate a successful service.
Despite the Tyne Lifeboat Institution operating four lifeboats, the RNLI decided to open their own station at Tynemouth Haven in 1862 with a second station and boat, overlooking the Black Middens, soon following in 1865, as a response to the wreck of the Stanley. A report in the Lifeboat Journal at that time, states that “as the neighbouring life-boats, at North and South Shields, provided and supported by a local life-boat society, are on the old “Greathead” plan, an opportunity will no doubtbe afforded for testing the comparative qualities of the two descriptions of boats, as no winter passes by without the occurrence of wrecks on the Herd Sands and the shore contiguous to ourgreat coal port.”
Both the Tyne Lifeboat Institution and RNLI boats worked in conjunction with each other on wreck services. However, during the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Honorary Secretary of the Tynemouth RNLI Station wrote to the Tyne Lifeboat Institution on a number of occasions, requesting that a portion of their funds collected as harbour dues be handed over to the RNLI, requests that if accepted would have seen the financial collapse of the local institution.
The Tynemouth RNLI stations had also, for a number of years, been experiencing difficulties in launching and recovering their boats at low tide, whilst also having difficulties in getting a full crew for their boats. The local institution boats being able to launch and reach wrecks far more quickly than the RNLI boats further compounded the operational ability of the RNLI.
To resolve these problems the RNLI, in August 1903, proposed, to construct a new boathouse and slipway near to the Black Middens, connected to the shore by a gangway, and the Tynemouth RNLI Committee approached the Tyne Lifeboat Institution to discuss the relocation of the Tynemouth station and the future of local lifeboat provision, an invitation that was declined.
By August 1904, the Tyne Lifeboat Institution were concerned about the overtures from the RNLI, and decided to secure their legal protection, applying to the Board of Trade for registration under the Companies Act 1862. The application was contested by the RNLI on 10 grounds at a hearing held in London in December 1904. However, the Board of Trade granted the Licence of Incorporation, in January 1905, recommending that the local institution change their name to the Tyne Lifeboat Society. Following this decision, the RNLI were contemplating closing both Tynemouth stations on operational grounds and the high cost to construct a new station. A solution to these problems came when the RNLI decided in March 1905, two months after the Board of Trade decision, to station the first petrol engine motor lifeboat, the J. McConnel Hussey, at Tynemouth, a move that immediately rendered obsolete the Shields rowing surf lifeboats.
With a greater speed, endurance and carrying capacity than the rowing surf lifeboats, the RNLI, unlike the Tyne Lifeboat Society, had recognised the changed operational conditions arising from the completion of the Tyne Piers, with the majority of services likely to occur outside the piers. This is indeed what resulted.
The End of an Era
The Tyne Lifeboat Institution doggedly retained the principles of operating surf lifeboats, considering that this type of boat was best suited for the conditions at the mouth of the Tyne, despite the fact that the construction of the piers had removed many of the dangers previously encountered at the harbour entrance. As a result, the number of service calls dramatically reduced to only a handfulduring the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The failure of the Tyne Lifeboat Institution to adapt to these changing circumstances and financial inability to modernise and replace an ageing fleet of lifeboats, was eclipsed by the far more technically advanced, and better resourced RNLI, who in placing a motor lifeboat on the Tyne resolved a number of operational and political problems prevalent between the two organisations.
The history of the Tyne Lifeboats and Volunteer Life Brigades can still be seen today. Wouldhave’stin model together with other related artefacts are on display in South Shields Museum. The only remaining Shields lifeboats still in existence are the Bedford, currently being restored by the North East Maritime Trust, in South Shields and the Tyne, also displayed in the town. The Redcar LifeboatZetland, built by Greathead in 1802, is displayed in the town’s Lifeboat Museum. The museums in both Volunteer Life Brigade Watch Houses display many artefacts from shipwrecks together with rocket rescue and breeches buoy equipment.
The dedication and determination of the early rescue pioneers is still continued today by the crews at Tynemouth Lifeboat Station, with their 17m, 25 knot, Severn Class lifeboat Spirit of Northumberland named after the first lifeboats at North Shields. The Volunteer Life Brigades are now specialist search and cliff rescue teams, whilst the Tynemouth Brigade still maintains a breeches buoy capability using equipment developed in the offshore oil industry, despite the breeches buoy being withdrawn nationally in 1988.
For these pioneering communities, the accolade of being the ‘Cradle of Lifesaving’ in the UnitedKingdom is both justified and deserved.
Tynemouth Lifeboat Spirit of Northumberland