Chance to dive into maritime history as festival of heritage returns

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade on South Pier, South Shields, will welcome visitors as part of this year's Heritage Open Days.
South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade on South Pier, South Shields, will welcome visitors as part of this year's Heritage Open Days.

Walks and talks will offer a glimpse of rarely seen South Tyneside locations as a celebration of the past is held this week.

Heritage Open Days, which runs from Thursday to Sunday, offers the chance for people to explore a range of architectural treasures, with free access to venues that are usually closed to the public or charge for admission.

Honorary secretary Tom Fennelly of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Honorary secretary Tom Fennelly of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

The team behind it says borough’s programme of venues, talks and walks will appeal to history buffs, visitors and residents alike.

One of the organisations taking part in the four-day celebration is the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade which this year is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its formation in 1866.

It will be holding an illustrated talk at South Shields Museum, on Friday from 2pm until 3pm.

Entitled Always Ready for 150 Years’ this will focus on the remarkable history, development and future of the organisation.

The brigade’s historic headquarters will also be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

Its Watch House, on South Pier, dates back to 1867 and is one of the oldest all wooden Victorian buildings in Britain and houses an extensive collection of artefacts, photographs, records and equipment tracing the heritage of the brigade’s lifesaving work.

Honorary secretary Tom Fennelly said: “This is a very special year for the Brigade and we are great supporters of Heritage Open Days.

"We are delighted that the Watch House will be open during this great weekend which gives people the chance to discover what is on their doorstep.

“We have had a great year of events and activities so far this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary and it was great to see the Watch House featured prominently on the Heritage Open Days information brochure and poster."

On Saturday, there will be a guided tour of the Mission to Seafarers’ premises, based in Mill Dam, South Shields, from 1.30pm until 2.30pm, including its chapel.

The charity offers support, solace and practical help to merchant navy sailors from across the globe.

The Mission’s Secretary, Fay Cunningham, said: “There will be a warm welcome and a cup for tea for visitors wishing to see our lovely little chapel with altar carvings by ‘mouseman’ Robert Thompson and a chance to have a look at the club facilities available for visiting seafarers.”

The North East Maritime Trust in Wapping Street, South Shields, will also be hosting guided tours of its Fishermen’s Workshops where wooden historical vessels are restored.

The tours, taking place Thursday to Sunday, will give people an opportunity to see maritime heritage items on display.

Dave Parker, director of the North East Maritime Trust, said: “It is always a delight to be part of Heritage Open Days and the North East Maritime Trust has been so pleased to display the restoration work and associated skills we are so passionate about.

“The trust has recently acquired the adjacent slipway and additional workshop, enabling vessels to be cradled out of the water for maintenance and restoration, which will form part of this year’s tours.

“In association with the exhibition Boat Curves currently on at The Customs House, artist Steven Livingstone, will be creating large scale drawings within the workshop.”

As well as the organisations with maritime links, there are many other South Tyneside venues taking part, from local churches and local business premises to cultural and historical tourist attractions.

Heritage Open Days is a major national event celebrating England’s fantastic architecture and culture.

This year’s event marks the 15th anniversary of the Tyne and Wear programme, which is sponsored by Port of Tyne.

Councillor Alan Kerr, deputy leader of South Tyneside Council with responsibility for culture and leisure, said: “Heritage Open Days is a fantastic showcase of the Borough’s array of historical buildings and attractions that tell the story of our diverse heritage.

“With such a wide variety of events being held free of charge there is something for everyone to explore whether people are into history, architecture, culture or want to discover more about their local area.

"Thanks to the unique opportunities on offer to go behind the scenes of the rich heritage we have here in South Tyneside I am sure it will be a busy four days for the borough.”

For full listings, specific opening times or booking information for events in South Tyneside, visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/hod.

www.southtyneside.gov.uk/hod Copies of the Heritage Open Days booklet are also available at local libraries and the Visitor Information Centre at Haven Point, South Shields.