Always Ready: Marking 150 years of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.
South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the idea for a volunteer group which has saved countless lives on the South Shields coast.

On December 16, 1865, a meeting was held to propose the formation of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade. It was a meeting that saw a petition handed to the then Mayor of South Shields, Thomas Moffett, to call a public meeting with residents.

The petition sent to the Mayor to form a volunteer life brigade in South Shields.

The petition sent to the Mayor to form a volunteer life brigade in South Shields.

The meeting was held on January 15, 1866 and led to the organisation being set up.

The brigade’s honorary secretary, Tom Fennelly, said: “The proud motto ‘Always Ready’ is at the beginning of the remarkable story of lifesaving in South Shields and these two words embrace a rich legacy which remains very much alive today and is rightly celebrated as we approach the 150th anniversary of the founding of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

“The 150th anniversary is a significant milestone in the long history of lifesaving service and rich maritime heritage of South Shields.”

The world’s first purpose-designed lifeboat, the Original, built by Henry Greathead was stationed at South Shields in 1789.

Samuel Malcolm was appointed joint secretary of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade when it was first formed.

Samuel Malcolm was appointed joint secretary of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade when it was first formed.

Tom added: “The Volunteer Life Brigade story begins with the wreck of the Aberdeen steamer Stanley on November 24, 1864. Spectators stood helpless as 25 passengers and crew perished when a storm drove the ship onto the treacherous Black Middens in the Tyne harbour.

“Two lifeboatmen from Tynemouth’s first RNLI lifeboat Constance were also drowned during rescue attempts. This disaster highlighted the need for a shore-based rescue organisation to work with the full-time Coastguard who at that time were the only people trained in the use of the rocket rescue equipment.

“South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade has the distinction to be the first organisation in the world to use the breeches buoy to save life from shipwreck. Some of the equipment and procedures used were developed here is South Shields and became part of the inventory of every breeches buoy company in Britain.

“Every day since January 30, 1866, 24 hours a days, 365 days a year, South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade has stood ready to help those in peril around these shores, still working with the RNLI lifeboats and other emergency services.”

Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

The brigade is based at the Watch House on the South Pier. It is a Grade-II listed building.