Re-enactment will mark 150 years of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade

Wreck of the Stanley on the Tyne.
Wreck of the Stanley on the Tyne.

A dramatic re-enactment will tonight mark 150 years since the formation of a life-saving group in South Shields.

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade was launched after the loss of 32 lives when two ships were caught up in a storm in November 1864.

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

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

The tragedy led to an outcry on both sides of the river and, on January 15, 1866, a public meeting was held at the old Town Hall to prompt the set-up of the life brigade.

The meeting came about after a committee of local influential people petitioned the then Mayor of South Shields, Alderman Thomas Moffett.

That meeting is set to be re-enacted tomorrow night at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, in Ocean Road.

Members and supporters of the brigade will be joined by an invited audience, led by the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Richard Porthouse, to recall the events of 150 years ago.

After months of planning and thanks to the grant of £50,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund we are at the start of a whole year of exciting events and activities to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Tom Fennelly

Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, has been involved in the organisation for 46 years and acted in his role for the last 44.

He said: “After months of planning and thanks to the grant of £50,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund we are at the start of a whole year of exciting events and activities to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.”

The tragedy that led to the group’s formation took place on November 24, 1864, when a fierce gale sprang up off the Tyne and many vessels including the schooner Friendship and the passenger steamer Stanley ran for shelter in the river.

The Friendship was driven ashore on the Black Middens Rocks at Tynemouth. The Stanley also ran in for shelter but was also driven onto the rocks.

Rescue attempts were carried out but 32 lives were lost.

The Watch House, where the brigade is based, is a Grade II listed building and is probably one of the oldest all-wooden Victorian buildings remaining in Britain.

Other re-enactments and celebrations are due to take part throughout the year.

A commemorative documentary film has been created and an exhibition will run at South Shields Museum from May 21.