Historic lifeboat returns to South Shields - after almost 50 years away

From left to right, Steve Landells of the North East Maritime Trust, Geoff Woodward of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Michael Dickson of MI Dickson Ltd, Paul Gray of the North East Maritime Trust, Shaun Tebble of JML, Graeme Hardie of the Port of Tyne, and Coun Alan Kerr, of South Tyneside Council.
From left to right, Steve Landells of the North East Maritime Trust, Geoff Woodward of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Michael Dickson of MI Dickson Ltd, Paul Gray of the North East Maritime Trust, Shaun Tebble of JML, Graeme Hardie of the Port of Tyne, and Coun Alan Kerr, of South Tyneside Council.

A historic lifeboat has returned home to South Shields - after almost 50 years away.

Business leaders in South Tyneside have joined forces to bring Bedford, which is 131 years old, back to our shores.

The Bedford leaving South Shields for Exeter in 1968.

The Bedford leaving South Shields for Exeter in 1968.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968 when a new home was found for it at Exeter Maritime Museum, in Devon.

It was later moved to Lowestoft, Suffolk, before becoming part of a collection at the Eyemouth Maritime Centre, where it stayed until the centre closed its doors earlier this year.

A host of businesses, including the Port of Tyne, BT South Tyneside, Colman’s, J Barbour and Sons, JML, M I Dickson Ltd, South Tyneside Council, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and Ward Hadaway, came together to cover the cost of buying the Bedford and its transport back home after it was part of an online auction of the museum's contents.

The 10-metre long boat was originally stationed at the coble landing in South Shields.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

The bid to save it was led by the North East Maritime Trust.

Susan Wear, the Port of Tyne's director of corporate affairs, said: “We were first approached by the North East Maritime Trust to help see the boat return home rather than it end up anywhere else in the world.

“Fortunately in partnership with eight other local businesses we were able to support the Bedford coming back into public ownership in South Shields.”

With the support of the Port of Tyne, arrangements were made to see the Bedford safely transported from Scotland into temporary storage at the port until the trust can find a permanent home for it.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

Coun Alan Kerr, deputy leader of South Tyneside Council with responsibility for Culture and Leisure, said: “We were delighted to support the return of the Bedford to her rightful home in South Tyneside.

“The borough has such a long and proud shipbuilding and seafaring heritage, being home to the world’s first purpose built lifeboat and more recently celebrating 150 years of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

“Given the town’s significant role in the early development of sea rescue, it is wonderful that local organisations have come together to help safeguard the Bedford’s immediate future and prevent her from being lost forever.”

The Bedford was built by Lancelot Lambert at the Lawe, and was launched from the Lawe Building Yard on December 21, 1886.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

Miss Bedford, who lived in the South of England, bequeathed £1,000 (about £468,900 in today’s money) to the Lifeboat Society Trustees for the lifeboat to be named Bedford in memory of her brother Benjamin, who was an engineer with the Tyne Improvement Commission (predecessors of the Port of Tyne) after he was tragically killed during the construction of the Tyne piers.

Jerry Dudman, secretary of the North East Maritime Trust, said: “The Bedford was launched more than 55 times, saving 50 lives over the course of her career, making it an important part of the maritime heritage of the region.”

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.

The lifeboat left South Shields in 1968.