A community in South Shields is marking its military links as it commemorates 160 years of volunteer soldiers - and the birthplace of the local Territorial Army.
Rising tensions throughout Europe in 1859 renewed the need for volunteers to be trained in case of invasion - especially in maritime towns. The river Tyne was particularly vulnerable, supplying coal, ships and armaments.
A year later, following an appeal to volunteers, the 3rd Durham Voluntary Artillery (DVA) unit – now known as 205 Battery Royal Artillery – was formed in South Shields.
The Battery had a base at Lawe House, on the Lawe Top in South Shields, which was originally built as barracks during the Napoleonic invasion scare.
In recognition of these links, an information panel has been installed in the area.
The panel – ‘Defending the Tyne and the Country’ – stands near the two replica Napoleonic War cannons and old Tyne Pilots house at the Lawe Top.
It chronicles the history of the 205 Battery, which is now based in Northfield Gardens, South Shields, and holds the Freedom of the Borough, awarded in 2007.
Coun Audrey McMillan, chairwoman of the council’s Place Select Committee, said: “It’s no surprise that the Lawe Top area was at the heart of the town’s military defences, given that it provides an ideal vantage point over the harbour and mouth of the Tyne.
“This is evident in the Roman garrison at Arbeia Roman Fort, but the creation of the volunteer force and origins of the town’s Artillery Volunteer Corps are less well known.”
The panel was an idea conceived by the late James Swanson-Stobbs, former Chairman of the 3rd Durham Volunteer Artillery Association, and funded with a £1,550 contribution from the Riverside Community Area Forum.
Captain James Foster, of 205 Battery, said: “The information panel is a great tribute to Jim.
“The volunteers would regularly drill on the beach and practice batteries were set up on the Lawe Top.
“Jimmy would have been delighted to see his idea come to fruition, helping to spread the word about 205 Battery’s origins in the area.”
Mr Swanson-Stobbs’ widow Cathy Stobbs added: “It is a lovely gesture by the council.”
Coun Fay Cunningham, lead member for voluntary sector co-operatives and partnerships for South Tyneside Council, said: “It’s important that we keep the borough’s rich maritime and military heritage alive.
“I’m sure anyone with an interest in military history, whether they are local residents or visitors to the area, will enjoy being able to find out more about the story behind our local volunteer artillery corps.”