Following the formation of a voluntary life brigade at Tynemouth in January 1865, the new institution received extensive coverage in the local press and the Brigade conducted a drill at Marsden which was watched by a large number of the local residents, including Archibald Stevenson.
An article published in the Cornhill Magazine in 1872, gave details of the early brigades.
The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade
There was a very large master of the members of this corps at the Spanish Battery at Tynemouth, yesterday afternoon on the occasion of their being inspected by Captain Robertson, R.N., Surveyor-General to the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. The number present being about a hundred, and amongst them we observed Ald, J. F. Spence, Mr A. S. Stevenson, Mr Arcbd. Stevenson, Rev. Mr Hicks, Rev. Mr Anstiss, &c. Besides Capt. Robertson, Capt. East, Inspector of the Coastguards in the Northern Division, was present; and the weather being fine—though it afterwards took a disagreeable and sudden turn—there was large assemblage of the elite of Tynemouth to witness the use the rocket apparatus. The proceedings were began with the firing of a mortar, followed by the setting off of a rocket, at the gate of the Battery, as signals for the members of the brigade to muster. Immediately there was a rush and a bustle inside the Battery, and as the volunteers ran off with the lines and hawser and other portions of the rocket apparatus, people naturally felt a little of the excitement that might be expected to be caused by the cry "A ship ashore!" The apparatus was taken to the edge of the height overlooking the haven, at a part almost above the jetty; and thence, after the lapse of a few minutes, a nine-pound rocket was fired over to the pier, where there were some men ready to receive the lines. The line was caught and the hawser, in the course of a little time, pulled along and fastened; and then a “cradle," consisting of a lifebuoy, with a piece of canvas shaped like the upper half a pair of trowsers, suspended from it, was put on; and a man was placed in it, with his limbs dangling underneath, and sent safely over to the pier. The "cradle" passed and repassed several times after this, two men being taken nearly every time. The operation was exceedingly successful, and excited great interest on the part of the spectators. A 6-pound rocket was afterwards fired for the purpose of trying how far it could carry. We understand that Capt. Robertson expressed high satisfaction at the conduct and appearance of the brigade A meeting of the committee of the corps was held at the Town Hall, North Shields, last night, the Rev. H. S. Hicks presiding. Captain East was present, and his rules were read over and discussed. It was afterwards resolved that a house should be erected by public subscription, on the eminence near to the Black Midden Rocks, in which some members of the brigade could keep look out on stormy nights. A supply of clothing will also be kept in the house for the use of any persons who may be saved from drowning, and suitable refreshments will be in store for those who may be rescued. The following are the names of the subcommittee which was appointed to collect subscriptions for the purpose of building the house:—Ald. Joseph Spence, Mr Stanley Kewney, Mr T. Taylor, Mr M. J, Detchon, and Mr J. Morrison.
Source: Shields Daily Gazette 22 March 1865
A demand for a brigade in South Shields soon gained local support.
"A Volunteer” favours us with the following capital suggestion:-
“I have read with very great pleasure the reports which have appeared in your valuable paper from time to time of the success which has attended the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade. I cannot see why such a brigade could not be formed in South Shields. Our brave pilots, I believe, will come forward and give their assistance; many of our volunteers will also join, and a splendid brigade could soon be formed. I hope some influential gentleman will take the matter up at once, and let such heartrending scenes as we too often witness be prevented if possible.
Apologising for thus trespassing on your space, I yours, &c.
We heartily share the hope expressed by our correspondent. Whatever doubts were entertained on the success of the Tynemouth brigade at the time when it was formed, everyone must now admit that idea of its formation was quite as sensible as it was original The members of the corps have not yet had many opportunities of showing how serviceable they may be but enough can be inferred from their numbers and enthusiasm at their practisings; and during the gales at the beginning of last spring they proved sufficiently that they were not a mere "fancy" corps, fitted only for a holiday sight on a sunny afternoon, but ready to take their posts "when the stormy winds do blow" and eager to do all in their power to assist the shipwrecked mariner. Undoubtedly, as “A Volunteer" points out there is sufficient material for such a brigade to be found in Shields. We are just afraid that the people of the town will display in this case a characteristic slowness in doing anything; which their neighbours on the north side have done before them; but if several gentlemen such as the Messrs Spence, of North Shields who have been the soul of the Tynemouth brigade were to take the matter hand, we should not despair of witnessing a realisation of our correspondent's wish.
Source: Shields Daily Gazette 15 July 1865
A preliminary meeting was held to establish a volunteer life brigade for South Shields.
Volunteer Life Brigade for South Shields
It is very gratifying indeed to learn that there is every probability that the excellent Volunteer Life Brigade formed at Tynemouth will soon have a sister Brigade on the south side of the river; and, considering the number of stalwart, trusty fellows resident on the south side, who possess all the constituent elements necessary for such excellent and humane service, we do not see anything to prevent the south side Brigade, once it is formed, speedily being able to compete with that on the north side, now so successfully established. At a preliminary meeting held at the Mechanics' Institution (kindly granted for the occasion by the committee) on Saturday evening last, and attended by a few energetic gentlemen, it was unanimously agreed that a Brigade be formed, and a deputation, consisting of the Town Clerk (Mr Salmon), Mr Alderman Glover, and Mr Archibald Stevenson, was appointed to meet with the pilots to explain to them the principles which the corps must, in terms of the orders of the Board of Trade, be formed. Mr Archibald Stevenson and Mr Malcolm were appointed joint secretaries; and we shall be greatly disappointed if we have not the pleasure of reporting on an early day that the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is au fait accompli.
Source: Shields Daily Gazette 19 December 1865