Life brigade’s South Shields HQ opens its doors for 150th anniversary

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House.
The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House.

People have the chance to look behind the scenes at the headquarters of a life-saving group in South Tyneside.

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is opening the doors of the historic Watch House to the public this weekend.

The building, on the South Pier, South Shields, is being opened as part of the brigade’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

It will be open from 10am to 4pm tomorrow and Sunday, and there will be guided tours of the building –which houses a collection of shipwreck memorabilia, original life-saving equipment and photographs tracking the brigade’s history.

The Grade II-listed building has served as the headquarters of the brigade since it was built 1867. The group was launched the year before. The Watch House is one of the oldest all-wooden Victorian buildings in Britain with a watch tower, which is reached 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, up to the present-day role of search and rescue.

Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the organisation, said: “The first weekend opening at Easter went well despite some dreary weather. We hope 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.”

A major exhibition will be on offer in South Shields Museum and Art Gallery from May 21 to September 17, and a small touring exhibition is supporting a programme of open days and illustrated talks at the Watch House throughout the year.

The touring exhibition opens in Jarrow Library on Monday, and runs until May 6. The next illustrated talk takes place at the Watch House on Thursday, May 12. The next open weekend is planned for June 25 and 26.