Uncover South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade’s history as exhibition is officially opened

Tom Fennelly, Honorary Secretary of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, and Captain Gary Hannah showing the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside the brigades knitted gansey

Tom Fennelly, Honorary Secretary of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, and Captain Gary Hannah showing the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside the brigades knitted gansey

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An exhibition tracking the 150-year history of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade has been officially unveiled.

The Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Alan Smith, and his wife, the Mayoress Coun Moira Smith, cut the red ribbon to open the display.

The Mayor of South Tyneside Councillor Alan Smith officially opening the South Shields Life Volunteer Brigades 150th anniversary exhibition at South Shields Museum

The Mayor of South Tyneside Councillor Alan Smith officially opening the South Shields Life Volunteer Brigades 150th anniversary exhibition at South Shields Museum

The exhibition, named Always Ready after the brigade’s motto, is on display at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery, in Ocean Road, as part of the group’s milestone celebrations.

The Mayor said: “This exhibition is a treasure trove of unique artefacts and lifesaving equipment that will tell the story of the creation and the importance of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

“As the new Mayor of South Tyneside I am thrilled to be a part of the brigade’s programme of celebrations by officially opening this exciting new exhibition.

“I would encourage everyone to come along to find out more about the brigade’s commitment to keeping people safe along our coastline.”

The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Alan Smith, and the Mayoress, Councillor Moira Smith, at South Shields Life Volunteer Brigades 150th anniversary exhibition at South Shields Museum

The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Alan Smith, and the Mayoress, Councillor Moira Smith, at South Shields Life Volunteer Brigades 150th anniversary exhibition at South Shields Museum

At the exhibition, residents and visitors to the borough can be view a wide range of search and rescue equipment from past and present along with photographs and artefacts from the brigade’s collection, including JT Watson’s iconic line drawing Saved, and rarely seen paintings from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

The centrepiece of the exhibition, which runs until September 17, is a full size breeches buoy set-up for demonstrations. The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade was the first organisation in the world to use the breeches buoy to save lives from shipwrecks.

The brigade’s anniversary will also be celebrated within this year’s Maritime Mayhem-themed Summer Parade, which takes to the streets on Saturday, July 2. The parade will be a vibrant celebration of South Tyneside’s rich maritime history of seafaring and shipbuilding as well as sights and sounds of the borough’s vibrant coastal community.

* Explore historic home of the life brigade

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is opening the doors of its historic home this weekend.

The life-saving group is inviting people to learn more during its 150th year by looking around the Watch House, which stands on the South Pier, South Shields.

It will be open from 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday, when guided tours of the building will be on offer.

The Watch House is home to a fascinating collection of shipwreck memorabilia, original lifesaving equipment, as well as hundreds of photographs and records tracing the history of the brigade since it started in January 1866.

The Grade II listed building has served as the headquarters of the brigade since it was built in 1867.

It is probably one of the oldest all-wooden Victorian buildings in Britain and features a Watch Tower accessed by a spiral staircase.

A series of slideshow presentations will also be shown illustrating much of the original equipment and highlighting various aspects of the work of the Volunteer Life Brigade from its early days dealing with numerous shipwrecks and up to the present day role of search and rescue.

Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, said: “The open days are proving to be very popular and to bring the Always Ready story of the history of the brigade to more and more people as our programme of events and activities continues. The Watch House occupies a unique place in our local history and heritage and is well worth a visit. Admission is free.”