South Shields group celebrates 150 years of saving lives at sea

South Tyneside Mayor, Coun Richard Porthouse takes part in South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade's 150th anniversary celebrations
South Tyneside Mayor, Coun Richard Porthouse takes part in South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade's 150th anniversary celebrations

A vital sea-faring volunteer group enjoyed a blast from the past - to mark a magnificent milestone in its life-saving history.

Members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade took a step back in time on Saturday to re-enact its first ever drill - 150 years on.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade re-enacted its first ever drill - 150 years on.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade re-enacted its first ever drill - 150 years on.

The group is toasting its 150th year with a series of events to highlight the efforts of members past and present to save lives at sea.

The event was held at 11am in the Pier Head car park, in Sea Road, near the Watch House where the brigade is based - the exact place and date of that first drill.

The re-enactment was given the civic seal of approval by the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Richard Porthouse, while a hardy group of enthusiasts braved the cold weather to watch the spectacle unfold.

The first drill of many over a century and a half took place on February 13, 1866.

South Shields Volunteer Life brigade honorary secretary Tom Fennelly toasts 150 years of sea-faring history with South Tyneside mayor, Coun Richard Porthouse.

South Shields Volunteer Life brigade honorary secretary Tom Fennelly toasts 150 years of sea-faring history with South Tyneside mayor, Coun Richard Porthouse.

Tom Fennelly, honorary secretary of the brigade and a member for 46 years, said; “The day went really well.

“It was a cold morning but we were well equipped and had the mayor and mayoress as well as a small audience of people who braved the cold winds.

“We had colleagues from Tynemouth and Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade assisting us on the day.

“It was part of a series of events being held to mark our 150th anniversary.

“It was significant because it was 150 years on, on the same date and place that the first drill was held.

“It was also significant to have Tynemouh and Sunderland brigades working together with us - as we are the last three brigades in the country.”

The drill included brigade members using bouy breach equipment and simulating a rocket fire to help bring memories of the past into the present.

The next major event in the brigade’s celebrations will be a reunion of past and present members on Saturday, March 12.

On Saturday, April 2, there will be a major re-enactment of the first time the breeches buoy was used to save life from a shipwreck in 1866.

With the co-operation of the North East Maritime Trust, a restored fishing boat will be acting as the wreck of the schooner Tenterden, near the Watch House, off the South Pier.

A commemorative documentary film has been commissioned and a new brochure is being produced highlighting the achievements of the past and celebrating the search and rescue work of the Volunteer Life Brigade today.

There will also be a major exhibition at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery from May to September 17 and a small touring exhibition will support a programme of open days and illustrated talks at the Watch House throughout the year.

In addition there will be visits by local schools and a major new digital educational resource is being created to make the brigade’s Always Ready story accessible online to schools.

For more information, go to www.ssvlb.org.uk.