Industry experts help South Shields' North East Maritime Trust team restore historic lifeboat The Bedford

Industry experts have been giving a helping hand to volunteers restoring a 140-year-old lifeboat.

Saturday, 28th May 2022, 2:25 pm

Built in 1886, the Bedford was the last lifeboat to be built by the Tyne Lifeboat Institution (now the Tyne Lifeboat Society) and was one of only four lifeboats operated by the organisation at the time.

The 33ft craft is of great historical significance to the maritime heritage of the area and boasts a rich history – launching on 55 occasions between 1887 and 1937 and saving 50 lives during her career.

The North East Maritime Trust (NEMT), based in South Shields, has been working to restore the lifeboat as part of the team’s work preserving the area’s heritage.

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The Bedford.

And the team got a helping hand from experts at AkzoNobel’s local yacht coatings division in Felling.

The company has donated a range of its premium coatings to the NEMT free of charge, and a number of its experts have also offered their time to help with the restoration.

Jody Graham, technical advisor at AkzoNobel’s Yacht Coatings team, said: “I was aware of North East Maritime Trust, as I live only five minutes down the road, so I contacted them to see if they could utilise some coatings we had going spare in our lab - and they jumped at the opportunity.

“We were asked if we would like to help with the restoration and we happily agreed.

The Bedford. TLS Library Digital Photos.

"The restoration is currently underway and myself and a few other colleagues have been on hand to show the NEMT team how to best apply the coatings and offer any technical advice they require throughout the process.

“For the Bedford, we are using our high strength and impact resistant epoxy, Interfill® 830, as well as a brand-new easy to use topcoat system from our International® range - One UP and Toplac® Plus.

“These products will not only give the Bedford a high-quality finish, but their superior flow mean they can be applied using a brush or roller, making it quicker and easier for the NEMT team to use.”

Dave Parker from the NEMT, said: “We were thrilled when AkzoNobel approached us with the free-of-charge coatings, and we instantly knew that we should use them to restore the Bedford.

The Bedford. TLS Library Digital Photos

“The Bedford is an integral part of our maritime history and we cannot wait for the restoration to be finished and can’t thank the AkzoNobel team enough for all of their expert guidance and support during the project.”

The history of the Bedford

South Shields was the home to the world’s first purpose designed and built lifeboat, the Original, completed in 1790, the town operating a lifeboat service that predated the establishment of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution by 34 years.

The Bedford, was the last lifeboat to be built by the Tyne Lifeboat Institution, spending her entire lifeboat career stationed at South Shields. She was the replacement for the 52-year-old Tyne, which had replaced the Original in 1833. The Tyne has been on display at South Shields since 1894, and was restored by the North East Maritime Trust in 2012.

Lifeboats on the water.

When built, the Bedford was one of four lifeboats operated by the Tyne Lifeboat Institution, with a lifeboat stationed at North Shields and three lifeboats at South Shields. The RNLI also had two of their lifeboats stationed at Tynemouth.

The Bedford was built by Launcelot B. Lambert, during the summer of 1886, in his boatyard on the river, at South Shields, and not too far from where the North East Maritime Trust workshops are today. Carved on the underneath of the midships thwart is the boatbuilders name, L. Lambert and the date 5th of July, 1886.

The boat is 33 feet 2 inches in length, 10 feet 8 inches in width, 3 feet 6 inches in depth, pulling 12 oars. A water ballast tank, when filled, provides additional stability and 4 self-relieving draining tubes are located on the deck. She cost £330 to build.

A new boathouse and slipway were built to house the Bedford, this next to the 1841 double boathouse, at the Coble Landing, South Shields, with these works and the boat funded from a bequest of £1000 from the late Miss Bedford of Pershore, Worcestershire, in memory of her brother, Benjamin, an engineer killed in the construction of the Tyne Piers.

She was named on Tuesday, 21 December 1886, by Miss Mary Hall, and after her naming ceremony, the boat’s capabilities were tested, being filled to the gunwales with water, with the crew standing on her thwarts. On the word of Superintendent Coxswain, Andrew Harrison, the cork plugs were removed by a sharp tug of the lines, and the boat emptied itself in 52 seconds.

J. Gregory of South Shields, an agricultural implement maker based at the Westoe Smithy, Westoe Village, built the launching carriage. It measures 29 feet in length and 7 feet in width, weighing 4 tons, having 4 wheels that fitted onto the timber slipway.

North East Maritime Trust director Dave Parker.

In her 50-year operational career, she launched on 55 occasions, saving 50 lives. Her first service launch was on January 11th 1887 and her final launch on November 17th 1937.

The Bedford Motor Lifeboat

By 1935, the RNLI had been operating a motor lifeboat from its station at North Shields Fish Quay for 30 years, and over that period of time had developed a number of different types of motor lifeboats, with twin engines, below deck cabins, on deck crew protection and radio telecommunications to suit specific operational requirements.

The Tyne Lifeboat Institution, renamed the Tyne Lifeboat Society, in 1905, still maintained that their rowing surf lifeboats were best suited to the conditions experienced at the mouth of the river, despite the completion of the piers and dredging of the river channel and treacherous Herd Sands which removed the very hazards that the lifeboats were first needed for in 1790.

For a number of years, the Tyne Lifeboat Society had refused to countenance the change to engine power, however, in 1935, they decided that only one boat would be motorised, and work in fitting a petrol engine to the Bedford commenced in August 1935, at the Baird Brothers Boatyard in North Shields. The conversion required the reconstruction of the stern for a rudder and tiller to be fixed, and a metal frame for the propeller. A Garner petrol engine was fitted, in the stern of the boat with the fuel tank located on the port side.

After her conversion, in April 1936, the Bedford was transferred from the Coble Landing boathouse to the Pilot Jetty boathouse, near to where the South Shields Sailing Club is today.

The Bedford performed the last service launch of a Tyne Lifeboat Society boat on the 17 November 1937, during a south easterly gale, with a heavy swell running, standing by the small coaster Torborg and the three masted schooner Orion, when they both entered the harbour.

The Tynemouth RNLI’s 40-foot self-righting motor lifeboat, Henry Frederick Swan, which was restored by the Maritime Trust, 2005 to 2019, also launched to assist these two vessels.

For the next 31 years, the Bedford remained in the Pilot Jetty boathouse, awaiting her next launch, which never came, and with her future uncertain, the boat was under threat of being broken up. It would not be until October 1968 when her future was finally secured when she was found a home at the Exeter Maritime Museum. The International Sailing Craft Association, ISCA, sponsored the museum with the intention that the collection be used to educate young people and become an essential tourist attraction. At Exeter, the Bedford’s engine, fuel tank, and rudder were removed. During the 1990's, the warehouses housing the museum at the canal basin needed to be repaired, causing financial problems, and the museum closed in 1997.

The Bedford, together with the remaining boats were relocated, by ISCA, to their World of Boats Museum, at Eyemouth and for the next 20 years she was stored in a farm barn and was not part of the public display. In 2017, this museum went into administration and closed with all boats advertised for sale, on an online auction.

The Bedford is of great historical significance to the maritime heritage of the town, and the closure of the World of Boats Museums provided the opportunity to bring her back home. The concern was that the boat would go to another part of the country or, if no bids were received, she would be broken up and lost forever. Following an approach to, and in partnership with South Tyneside Council, the Port of Tyne, and other local businesses, the North East Maritime Trust were successful in acquiring the Bedford in July 2017. The Bedford, on her original carriage, returned to South Shields in September 2017, being temporarily stored in Port of Tyne premises at Tyne Dock, before being taken to the Maritime Trust workshops, in 2019, for restoration back to her 1886 livery.