Celebrating 150 years of saving lives off South Shields coast

Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade with the Chronicle Cup in 1923.
Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade with the Chronicle Cup in 1923.

I’ve been asked to let readers know that, as part of the programme of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the formation of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, a re-union of members, past and present, will take place this month.

It will take place in the brigade’s historic headquarters, in the Watch House, South Pier, South shields, on Saturday, March 12, at 11am.

Organisers are hoping to make contact with as many people as possible who served in the brigade or who have had family connections with its lifesaving work at any time since 1866.

Present-day Honorary Secretary Tom Fennelly said: “While we have extensive records for much of the brigade’s history, sadly some records were lost and there are gaps in the information we have on some of those who served over the years.

“We would be delighted to renew connections with past members.

“We would especially welcome sight of any records, photographs or artefacts that people may hold.”

“The brigade does have an extensive archive of material, and much of it is on display in the Watch House.

“Other artefacts and records will form part of a major exhibition which is being staged in South Shields Museum from May 21 until September 17.

“It would be interesting to see if we can uncover items which we have not seen before.”

The accompanying photograph shows a brigade team with a trophy, the Chronicle Cup, and the original picture forms part of the extensive photographic collection.

Lifesaving companies in the North East took part in annual drill competitions to test efficiency and excellence in the use of the breeches buoy equipment.

The Chronicle Cup Competition was started in the early 1900s and continued up until the 1950s, when it was superseded by another competition.

The competition was suspended during the First World War and was resumed in 1923.

The photograph shows the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade team, led by Captain James Page.

There were 12 teams competing, and Roker Volunteer Life Brigade were runners-up that year, with Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade in third place.

The Brigade’s 1923 Annual report records: ”Our operations took place on the beach near the Brigade House.

“Captain Betts RN, Inspector of Coastguards was judge and umpire, being accompanied by the District Officers from Seaham and Blyth.

“Mr R. Y. Carter of South Shields acted as time keeper.

“The drill was smartly executed, and at the close the Inspecting Officer announced that South Shields had a clear majority of points over the rest of the competing teams, and therefore became the holders for the year 1923.”

Brigadesmen Robertson, Robson, Jamieson, Brown, Grenyer, Preston, Macintosh, Wallace, Loades, Ramsay, C Mathews, Spence, Crosbie, Laidler, and Deputy Captain Mathews: Wreck party Macdonell and Whitaker are pictured with Captain Page, proudly displaying the trophy.

On Saturday, April 2, there will be a major re-enactment of the first time the breeches buoy was used to save life from shipwreck in 1866.

With the co-operation of the North East Maritime Trust, a restored fishing boat will be acting as the wreck of the schooner Tenterden, near to the Watch House, off the South Pier.

A commemorative documentary film has been commissioned and a new brochure is being produced, highlighting the achievements of the past, and celebrating the search and rescue work of the Volunteer Life Brigade today.

As mentioned, there will be an exhibition in South Shields Museum, and a small touring exhibition will support a programme of Open Days and illustrated talks at the Watch House throughout the year.

In addition there will be visits by local schools and a major new digital educational resource is being created to make the “Always Ready” story accessible online to schools throughout the country.

Full details of the programme will be publicised before each event. An information leaflet is available in libraries, council offices and other public places.

Further information is available on the Brigade website www.ssvlb.org.uk.