Events 1886


2 January


THE usual MONTHLY DRILL of the Brigade will take place this afternoon at 4 p.m. This being the first Drill of the year, a full muster of this now World-Famous Life Brigade is expected.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 2 January 1886

15 January

The Annual Supper took place.

25 January 1886

Some strange lightning and a “fireball” were observed.

The Severe Snowstorm
 Rough Weather off the Tyne
Accidents on the Ice
The Tyne

During yesterday and Saturday the weather off the Tyne was of a stormy and wintry character. Heavy showers of snow, sleet, and rain fell with an easterly wind which caused a strong sea to run off the harbour and along the coast. In consequence of this, sailings have not been very numerous, whilst there has been a great increase in the number of vessels seeking shelter. Amongst these are the steamer Seaham Harbour, bound to Sunderland, and the sailing vessel Lina, from Blyth. Yesterday, about three o'clock, there were slight signs of improvement; but the change was only temporary. Towards the close of the afternoon the sky assumed a threatening appearance, the wind blew more violently than ever, and there were frequent drenching showers of rain, mingled with blinding falls of snow. At high water, about 6 p.m., the sea presented a fine spectacle, the piers being struck by huge breakers, and immense showers of broken water and spray being sent high into the air. There was a large crowd of spectators on shore, the storm drawing inland parties to the water side during the afternoon. The water in the harbour was very rough, being broken heavily on the surface the wind, in addition to the strong range and high tide.


After dusk the storm came away in earnest, and many times the wind blew a perfect hurricane. The squalls were much more frequent, and at intervals the rattling of the hail on the window panes facing windwards was terrific. There were also dense snow showers, the remains of which were afterwards washed away by rain. The storm seemed to be at its worst between 9 and 10 p.m. With the ebb tide the sea increased in violence, and huge curls of white water stretched across the harbour mouth, while the shore line and rocks were buried in a broad expanse of foam. Vessels entering the river called for the utmost skill of those in charge.

From Saturday night to yesterday morning strong watches were kept in the brigade-houses, at the piers, and during the night there were, as is customary on such occasions, frequent false alarms. About midnight, during a blinding shower of snow and had, the South Shields Brigade were much exercised on account of what were supposed to signals from a vessel in distress close under the South Pier end. Those on watch, just as the shower commenced, believed they had seen a vessel's lights. Whilst eagerly watching for a further sign, there were one or two blight illuminations of the surrounding mist and sleet. The light was of a pale hue, and was at once voted as that from some sky rockets. However, after a hurried journey had been made to the pier-end, and a fruitless search, it was found that the supposed sky-rocket illuminations were flashes of lightning. An evidence, of the force of the waves was had when the blinding mist passed away. It was dead low water, and the tide was a long way out; but every now and again great volumes of spray rose into the air, often over-stepping the top of the mammoth crane, standing on the pier end.

Another singular phenomenon was witnessed about this time on the pier. The Tyne Commissioners have erected some strong iron railings and a gate across the pier, a little distance from the brigade house, so that the crowds which usually gather may be kept back from the heels of the brigadesmen when they are down the pier. Along the railings and gate are numerous spikes, and it was noticed that each these was tipped with a little ball of phosphorescent light, such as are seen on vessels' mastheads at sea. The sight was marvellously beautiful, and lasted for some considerable time. Later on a “fireball" was also seen on the top of the mast at the brigade house. The remainder of Saturday night was characterised by successive snow, hail, and rain showers, the wind continuing to blow with undiminished force. As the hours passed by, the direction the wind gradually veered southward, finally making a stand in the south-east, from which quarter there seemed to come an apparently endless succession of ink black clouds, with occasional faint flickerings of lightning. For several hours it was impossible to see anything from the look-out without opening the windows, owing to the snow which was caked on to the outside of the frames by the wind. The only signs of shipping life over the waste of water seen during the night were some four more steamers which came up from the east in rapid succession, and made the harbour in safety.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 15 January 1886



2 March

Another description of the Brigade “on watch”.

On Watch with the Life Brigade

(By Our Special Correspondent)

Being minded to keep a watch with the volunteers who, in the house on the South Pier, assemble together when a rising gale comes moaning through the streets of Shields, I set out last night across the dreary waste of snow that lay drifted in fleecy heaps across Ocean Road and banked against the palisading which stands by the old sea wall. The light from the Brigade House shone ruddy and cheerful across the whitened pier and glinted on the surf rolling in on the sands, for the tide was half-flood, and each succeeding wave threw its long white arms further and further in around the boulders and along the strand. The sky above was dark and threatening, and beneath the wind-tossed snow swept down and over the pier to join the surf, leaving no line or trace to show where the white-clad earth ended and the sea began. The driving showers flying before the southeast gale made locomotion a game of blind man's buff, wherein I, the blind man, with vision obscured by icy morsels, plunged wildly on. The wind, lying in wait behind the large concrete blocks, sallied out and strove to turn from my purpose, and being defeated, bowled in furious mood as I lifted the latch of the warm and comfortable room which was the object of my pilgrimage. I was met and heartily greeted by a member of the brigade, who looked as if he had just been relieved from his trick at the wheel, or had descended after an hour's look-out from the forecastle head. Encased in oilskins, broad of beam, and altogether nautical in speech and gait, as I gazed on him it was difficult to believe that I had not, by some strange witchery, walked straight aboard of some gallant craft, homeward bound, way of the Lave and across the tops of the houses. This hearty watcher having disposed of my overcoat, and drawn a chair for me close to the fire, summoned the deputy-captain from some remote region up aloft. There was enough of the deputy captain to have made two sub-lieutenants, and with his embroidered guernsey, stupendous boots, and woollen cap, which stuck straight up like the steeple of a church, he only wanted a cutlass and a brace of pistols to convert him into the semblance of a bloodthirsty pirate. But he was the mildest-mannered pirate I ever encountered in or out of fiction. He was brimful of information and good-natured anecdote, and laughed a laugh that might have provoked a responsive smile on the wooden features of the figure-head that stared from a shelf with vacuous eyes into the glowing coals.

There is a curious blending of the ornamental and decidedly useful in this shelter house on the pier. On the beams and rafters which support the pitch pine roof are painted the names of vessels which have met their fate just close at hand, where the wind is howling and the white-topped waves are breaking with unceasing roar; circular lifebuoys, each with line attached depend from hook and nail, a harmonium in a polished case adorns one end of the apartment, and a signal rocket ready for instant use leans against the wall close to the door. There are engravings and woodcuts of ships, groups of men, and notable personages, and a sad reminder of the vanished hand, and the voice that is stilled for ever, hangs on the dark, stained wail in the form of a little drawing, entitled “ The Morning after the Wreck," and signed “Robt. Watson." A melancholy list, compiled by Mr H. A. Adamson, Town Clerk Tynemouth, records the names of the vessels which have been lost since 1840 at the entrance to the Tyne. Very simple, very pathetic, are the brief sentences in which the fate of ship and her crew is told in this calendar of disasters One runs:—"1849. Dec. 4- The brig, Betsy, of a Littlehampton, and the Danish schooner Aurora, drove upon the Herd Sand. The South Shields lifeboat, Providence, went to the assistance of the brig, and was upset. Twenty of her gallant crew were drowned; only four were saved." And another: “Feb. 23. Storm from NE. At 6 p.m. during snowstorm, the schooner Sir William Wallace was lost upon the Herd Sand, and her crew (seven men and a boy) and woman, all perished." And again: "1865. Oct. 10. Wreck of the Ringwood upon the rocks. The crew left her in their own boat, and three out of five were drowned. At 10 in the morning of the same day, the brig Medora of Shields, in coming across the bar, was struck by a tremendous sea which stove in her stern, and she foundered. Crew perished." Thus runs this mournful record of woe, suffering, and death.

There were only a few of the members of the brigade present when I entered the room, but as the tide rose to flood and the hands of the clock crept round towards the midnight hour, they kept dropping in in  twos and threes, and, donning their uniforms, sat down to smoke, play cards, read, or converse on divers subjects. Some fragments of the conversation reached me as I sat at the fire, and I heard the views of youthful volunteer on the " Religion of Humanity," and "The fall of the Roman Empire," mingling with the jocund laugh of my friend the Pirate, and the anecdotal chat of the mariner in oilskins. This latter gentleman was gravely relating the intense suffering he had once undergone at Bangkok, when the lively mosquitoes in increasing throngs so desperately attacked him in the fok'sle that he clad himself in a panoply of sea boots and sou-wester and fled aloft into the fore-top to escape his merciless tormentors. And, amid the buzz and hum of conversation, a musical member, seated at the harmonium, played softly the “ Kyrie," from Mozart's most glorious work, and then, relapsing into a secular mood of levity, he played a polka with a fundamental bass that shook the cups and saucers now arranged in rows on the long table.

In the midst of the ripple of talk and chink of crockery, the door is thrown open, and a snow-white watcher comes in with the news that a bright light has been seen off the end of the pier. The deputy-captain rising up, ascends a winding stair, and, curious to know whither his duty leads him, I follow him in total darkness till we reach the tower with its many windows, which look North, South, and East, but in which there shines no gleam of light, for all is dark without, save where the ruddy light at Tynemouth flashes its warning, intermittent beams into the blackness beyond, or where Souter light, burning clear and steady, marks the southernmost limit of the bay. "No light there" says the Pirate, closing the sash and descending the stairs. But in a few minutes the light is again reported, and with a yell as of triumph, and plunge and a snort, a big steamer sweeps in between the piers and on towards the harbour, leaving the howling blast and the tumbling sea far astern.

The Captain of the Brigade has arrived, but he simply looks in, and then tramps away down the pier to watch the steamer. That duty over, he returns and we all sit down to enjoy the delights of hot coffee, ship's biscuit, and cold meat. There is a noticeable decline in the conversation, and a solemn hush, broken only by the assiduous munching of "hard tack," pervades the assembly.

Supper over, I was shown the surgery. with its appliances all ready and at hand in case of accident, the bath room, with its tank of water ready heated for the purpose of reviving any hapless being who might be cast ashore or rescued helpless and inanimate, and the apparatus for drying saturated clothing. The deputy-captain explained the system of signals which is arranged between the brigade at Tynemouth and the South Shields tower. Two guns are fired from the battery and answered from H.M.S. " Castor" if a vessel takes the ground to the northward; 3 guns, similarly replied to, if the casualty occurs on the south side, and in the event of help being needed from Tynemouth, a blue light is burned on the pier, and in thick weather a rocket despatched as a call for aid. The rocket apparatus which is used for throwing a communicating line aboard a stranded vessel, is kept ready for instant use; the hawser, and the breeches buoy, all these things are at hand and nothing is left to chance, nor is anything left unprepared which might give the shipwrecked seaman a chance to escape from the cruel, angry waves. And above all these signs of ingenuity, foresight and invention, rises the noble and ennobling self-denial of the men who, foregoing rest and ease, keep watch and ward in the night lest their brother who steers across the sea should come to harm.

The tide is up and foaming and churning between the piers as I rise to take leave of my courteous entertainers. A nod from my friend in the oilskins, an agonizing handshake from the Pirate, a beaming smile from the Captain, a universally murmured "Good morning," and I open the door and plunge with clenched teeth and half shut eyes into the desert of snow without.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 2 March 1886

2 March

The Brigade remained on watch for a second night.

South Shields

When darkness set in last night the storm had not abated in the least, and a terrific sea was running at the mouth of the Tyne. Snow had ceased to fall, and kept off for the greater part of the night, so that there was not the difficulty experienced in watching for the craft that might happen to make for shelter. The wind had backed around considerably to the east, and being dead on the entrance of the river, there was unusually heavy sea on, the waves being of immense size, and sweeping along the inside of each pier with great force. The members of the South Shields Life Brigade mustered in goodly numbers, twenty-two answering to the roll-call. Captain Cottew, as on the previous night, was in attendance. 'The coastguardsmen, under their chief, Mr Hart, were also keeping a strict look-out. Two screw-steamers, between nine and ten o'clock, entered the harbour, without apparently experiencing the slightest difficulty in keeping a safe course. Nothing more was seen until one o'clock, when a light was observed off the entrance to the river. For a few minutes the light, which seemed to be unusually low, was discerned, rising and dipping with the pitching of the vessel, but it suddenly disappeared, and although night-glasses were levelled on the spot for nearly half-an-hour, and several of the coastguardsmen went out almost to the end the pier, nothing more was seen but the dark heaving waves, which now were breaking in greater volume than ever. It was high tide at two o'clock, when both piers seemed partly submerged with each succeeding sea, and whatever there may have been outside, nothing ventured to put into the haven except a screw-steamer, which went up the channel shortly after three o'clock. Between nine and ten o'clock this morning a schooner was seen in the offing, and with all sail set she made for the harbour. At that time the flood tide was making, though the bar was still very dangerous, A tug endeavoured to get out and meet the schooner, but the attempt proved a failure. The schooner came before the wind at a great speed, but she was managed with so much skill, that there was never any danger of the vessel coming to grief, and the seamanship displayed while she was being pitched forward by the huge rollers was the subject of comment among the people who had congregated on the south pier. It was generally surmised that the light seen early the morning had been that this schooner, and that she had put back, that the attempt to get into shelter might be negotiated under the more advantageous circumstances afforded after daybreak.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 3 March 1886

15 March

A comment on the visit by a special correspondent.

During the stormy nights that visited the coast at the beginning of last week a member of the fourth estate was perhaps more than usually assiduous in his duties, so much so that one coastguardsman began to have grave suspicions that his motive for "being there " was something very much other than to watch the phases of the storm, and report on any casualty that might result from it. The reporter, by the courtesy of the life brigade members, partook of the rations that were served out at twelve o'clock (midnight) and five o'clock in the morning, consisting of warm tea or coffee, a hard ship biscuit, and a piece of cheese or tinned meat. This a member of the coastguard had noted, evidently with alarm, and he was overheard confidently remarking to a companion, “Aa think that chep comes here for his grub." “What chep," asked his colleague. “That reporter," replied the economic coast-guardsman. Just fancy leaving a comfortable bed a whole night for a drink of coffee, and a hard biscuit Canny coastguardsman !

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 15 March 1886

17 March

Another stormy night required the Brigade to stand by.

South Shields

The gale which commenced early hour yesterday morning continued with unabated force all day and during the night, accompanied at intervals, with blinding showers, of snow, sleet, and hail. Last night the weather was extremely bad off the coast, and the mouth of the Tyne was in an extremely turbulent condition. There were several members of the South Shields Life Brigade on duty, including Mr T. G. Mabane, Mr Coulson, and Mr Potts, who remained the greater part of the night. The rocket van was taken along the pier in readiness to cope with any casualty that might occur to vessels that sought the shelter of the river. Several vessels came in, but except one or two cases, there was no need for anxiety as to their safety, so admirably were they managed. The gale this morning had in no way abated, and terrific seas were breaking over the north and south piers. Two or three tugs were paddling about the inside of the harbour, and but one had ventured to cross the bar and go outside, so ominous was the appearance of things from the wind quarter.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 17 March 1886



1 May

A new style of cap is introduced for summer wear.

Group photo showing summer caps

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade. —The usual monthly drill of the brigade will take place this evening, from the south pier, at 6 p.m. The members have provided themselves with a new cap for the summer drills. They are similar to those worn by the men of the Royal Navy, and are much more suitable for drill than the ordinary storm caps worn members those occasions. On the front of the caps are the letters “S.S.V.L.B.," with two crowns.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 1 May 1886

20 May 1886

Mr Wood is rewarded for his gallantry.

Honour to a Shields Man

Her Majesty the Queen, says the Standard, has been graciously pleased to confer the decoration of the Albert Medal of the Second Class upon Mr John Henry Wood (a member of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade) for his gallantry —at the imminent risk of his own life—in rescuing a boy washed off the pier at South Shields during a gale on the 24th October, 1885.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 20 May 1886


4 June


DRILL ON SATURDAY, 5th inst., 6 p.m. Presentation of ALBERT MEDAL to Mr J. H. WOOD. Full muster requested.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 4 June 1886

Gallantry at South Shields

This evening, an interesting ceremony is to be performed at the usual monthly drill of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade. Albert Medal, recently granted to Mr John H. Wood, one of the members, for gallant services on 24th October last, will be formally presented. J. W. Swanson, Ocean Road, South Shields, who on the same day risked his own life in the endeavour to rescue boy from drowning, has received a letter from the Board of Trade, stating that they have received a report from the Inspecting-Commander of the Coast Guard at Sunderland the gallant and praiseworthy services rendered by him, and expressing the high appreciation of the Department of the services in question, and conveying to him their thanks for the same.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 5 June 1886

Saturday was a red-letter day for the South Shields Brigade. One its members had earned, and what is something more unusual, had the distinguished honour of being the recipient of, the Albert Medal, which is said to rank with the Victoria Cross, a distinction very highly prized in the army. Mr Wood must have felt almost overpowered with the generous remarks made in connection with the presentation, and the hearty interest everyone present manifested in the proceedings. While fully deserving of the honour bestowed upon him, the references to Mr Dixon and other gentlemen found grateful recognition on the part of the assembled company, and it was the opinion of many that there should have been more than one Albert Medal bestowed, to have rendered adequate justice all concerned. However that may be, the local life brigade has ample reason to feel proud of the high place they take for courage and effectiveness in saving life among organisations of a similar kind along the coast.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 7 June 1886

Bravery at South Shields
Presentation of the Albert Medal

On Saturday afternoon a large Company assembled at the Brigade House, South Shields, to witness the presentation of the Albert Medal of the second-class to Mr J. H. Wood, for gallantly saving a boy from drowning during the storm which occurred on the 24th of October last year. There was a large muster of the Volunteer Life Brigade, of which Mr Wood is a member, the captains in attendance being Messrs M. Cay, W. Car, T. G. Mabane, and S. Cottew. There were also present Lieutenants Potts and Whitelaw, Mr S. Malcolm (secretary), the Mayor (Mr J. T. Eltringham) and Mayoress, Captain Vidal, chief inspector the coastguard for the north-eastern district; Mr Lordan, chief officer of the local coastguard; and a large number of ladies. The building was crowded, and a large number of the public, who had been attracted by the practice of the rocket drill, which had taken place before the proceedings commenced in the Brigade House, crowded around the building to obtain a view of what is going on inside. Capt. Vidal read the official correspondence relating to the granting of the medal, with the Right Hon. A. J. Mundella, Her Majesty's warrant, and other documents, including a letter from the Board Trade permanent Secretary of the Marine Department which stated “That the thanks of the Board have been conveyed to Messrs Dickenson and Swainston for their gallant and praiseworthy conduct on the occasion in question, and that the Board fully appreciate the valuable services rendered by Coastguardsman William Collins (commissioned boatman) and Mr Walter Ross, and the members of the brigade, on the occasion in question, and conveys the thanks of the Board for their valuable services."

The Mayor (who, was called upon by Captain Vidal) expressed the great pleasure he felt at being present at that interesting ceremony. He had the honour of presenting Mr Wood, as well Mr Dickenson, with Royal Humane Society's medal in December last for gallant conduct at the October gale, and that day he had the greater pleasure to witness Mr Wood receive the greater honour of the “Albert" medal from Her Majesty the Queen. He was sure that Mr Wood would value it in commemoration of his gallant conduct, as well as for the source from whence it came. The members of the brigade generally, ever since its formation had done gallant work: their annals were a record of lives saved from shipwreck. (Applause.) He well remembered being on the pier some years ago—he referred to the occasion of the loss of the steamer Tyne---when he saw the crews of three vessels brought ashore in the space of three hours—(applause)—all of whom probably would otherwise have met with a watery grave. (Hear, hear.) Gallant conduct in the brigade was so general—it was the rule without any exceptions (applause)—that it might be thought invidious to single out any one member; but he was sure all present would not begrudge their brother member, Mr Wood, his portion. (Applause.) His conduct was of the highest order—his courage was not to be beaten; but any other member who had had the same chance would have done the same. (Loud applause.) He had great pleasure in presenting Mr Wood with the medal, asking Mrs Vidal to kindly pin it on.

Mrs Vidal then, amidst vociferous applause, pinned the medal on, wishing Mr Wood much pleasure from the wearing of it, and expressing a hope that the brigade would earn many more of the same sort.

When the applause had subsided, Mr P. S. Wood, who thought that his brother would be in too delicate a position to make a befitting reply, expressed, on his behalf, warmest thanks for the medal and the kindness shown him. He tendered his best thanks to the Mayor for having spoken highly of his brother's exploit, and also Mrs Vidal for having pinned the medal on and for the kind sentiments which that lady had expressed. (Applause.) He had also to thank Mr Malcolm, Captain Vidal, and the other gentlemen who had interested themselves in his brother's behalf. (Applause.)

Mr S. Malcolm said he thought it would not right for them to separate without his offering a few words on behalf of the brigade. That was a red-letter day in connection with the institution. When the Albert Medal was founded by her Majesty in 1886 it was the sincere wish of all the gentlemen connected with the brigade that at some time or, other one of those medals should be awarded to one of them, and he was proud to say this was not the first Albert Medal that had come to South Shields. (Applause.) South Shields stood among the foremost towns in the kingdom for saving life by the lifeboat, but their gallantry was not confined to that institution alone, and the people of South Shields were proud of the life brigade, and such recognition of bravery they had that day was an encouragement for them to on, persevering in their efforts to save life from shipwreck. They had had the honour of living many lives, and it was their endeavour to maintain the high position the brigade had attained among institutions of that character. He hoped every individual member would feel his responsibility and take a personal interest in the work of the brigade, in carrying out the grand objects for which it was founded. (Applause.) It was one of those institutions in which people who took part had to act from the purest of motives, and they did not confine their services to the men of their own nation, but they made the best efforts to save the lives of men irrespective of their nationality. (Loud applause.) He was proud to express the feeling of the officers and members that that Albert Medal had come to the brigade. (Applause.)

Votes of thanks closed the proceedings.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 7 June 1886


1 July

The Annual Meeting took place.

SOUTH SHIELDS VOLUNTEER LIFE BRIGADE. THE ANNUAL MEETING will be held in the Watch House, FRIDAY, July 2nd 1886, at 7.30 p.m.

S. MALCOLM, Hon. Sec

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 2 March 1886

3 July


THE USUAL MONTHLY DRILL of the Brigade will take place THIS EVENING at 6 o'clock, from the South Pier.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 3 July 1886

5 July

The idea of producing a history of the Brigade is proposed.

That noble institution, the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, after twenty years of useful service, is still in a flourishing condition, judging from the report of the proceedings which appeared in the Gazette on Saturday. The idea of collating the reports bearing on all that concerns the institution since its commencement is a good one. There should be material in existence that will make very interesting reading, besides being very useful for reference. If placed in book form it will be all the better, though of course the question of expense would here arise; yet after the encouraging statement made by one of the captains this difficulty should be overcome.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 5 July 1886

28 July

The gazette prints an article on the development of the piers.

Tynemouth and Shields Piers

It is on record, says the Newcastle Chronicle, that at a meeting of the River Tyne Commissioners, held January 11, 1877, Ald. Stainton, of South Shields, remarked, in the course of discussion, that “he had no hesitation in stating that, at the present rate of progress, the youngest man in Newcastle would never see the piers finished." The foundation stones of the piers were laid amidst great public rejoicing—the ringing of church bells, the discharge of cannon, gay processions, banqueting, &c.—on June 15, 1854 although it was not until 1856 that the work was commenced. Up to the present date, 6.200 feet the North Pier and 4,850 feet of the South Pier have been constructed. In conformity with the original design of Mr Walker, 400 feet yet remain to be added to each promontory; so that, although the worthy alderman's prediction not likely to be realised, it is quite evident, if the present mode of progress be maintained, a few more years must elapse before this gigantic and costly undertaking reaches the desired stage of completion.

The principal militating cause has been that which necessarily arises from the nature of the work itself. The piers are exposed to a very long range from the extreme northern seas when it comes from the north-east, but the exposure and danger are all the greater when gales come away from the south-east. From the first, storms and heavy seas have been of frequent occurrence, these continuing, in many instances, days and nights in immediate succession, not only suspending all labour but undoing much of what had been accomplished under unusual difficulty. On more than one occasion the travelling cranes in use were thrown into the sea, and the year 1867 was conspicuous for the amount of damage done to staging subsequent on storms and gales. In 1882, a mammoth crane, designed by Mr J. P. Messent, was erected on the North Pier for extending the masonry superstructure of the pier without staging. This crane, the largest yet constructed, is capable of setting blocks of 40 tons weight at a distance of 75 feet beyond the supporting wheels, or in a radius of 92 feet from centre pivot. The work of constructing this monster was often impeded by the weather. On the 6th of March, 1883,  it was driven 50 feet back on the rails, the tremendous blows from successive big seas disturbing the supporting strutts used for its erection, which were then in process of removal. The crane could not again be used until June of the same year. On another occasion the owners of a steamer had to pay the Commissioners £7,000 compensation for damage done by that vessel to the staging, gearing, &c, at the South Pier. At one time it was suggested in the Commission that a charge of a halfpenny per head should be made on persons using the North Pier as a promenade; but the majority were opposed to a tax on the public's recreation, and both piers continue free to each and all.

Visitors to Tynemouth will doubt have been struck while descending the bank to the Haven on arriving there per boat with the sight of numerous huge blocks of concrete, stone, &c., which occupy a large extent of ground between the Collingwood Monument on the south, and Prior Terrace, Northumberland Terrace, and Collingwood Terrace on the north. This place is the buildingyard, where workmen of many kinds are daily busy. These concrete blocks, which vary in size from 26 to 40 tons, are made on the spot, and used in the construction of the North Pier, a similar arrangement prevailing at the south side. The limestone, which enters largely into their composition, is brought from the Trow Rocks Quarries, South Shields: keels, capable of holding between 40 and 50 tons, being used in their river carriage, and locomotives and waggons the road transit. Sandstone &c., also used in the manufacture of the concrete, is conveyed to the building yard from neighbouring quarries. No persons except those “on business" are allowed to enter the yard, and a policeman to enforce his condition is constantly on duty, his office or head-quarters being a tidy, well-supplied newsroom provided by the Commissioners for their workmen’s use.

As already stated, the piers were commenced at each side of the entrance to the river in 1856 for the protection of vessels from prevalent and destructive gales, varying from north-east to south-east, and for facilitating the removal of the bar, which latter was a great hindrance to navigation. The piers are formed each of a base off rubble stone, deposited by barges, and a superstructure of concrete and built stonework, the lower and larger portions of which are fixed by divers, of whom there are about fourteen employed, hailing from Cullercoats, Tynemouth, and North Shields. Some million tons stone, exclusive of lime and cement, had been used in these works, the construction of which, from their exposed position and the frequent interruption by rough seas, attended with great difficulty. As evidence of the advantages of these works, coupled with the removal of the bar, which the construction of the piers rendered practicable, may be mentioned the large use of the port as a harbour of refuge, 515 vessels, bound to other ports, safely entered the Tyne for refuge in one year, in addition to large number of loaded vessels put back for shelter after leaving the Tyne an account of which was not taken. The promenade at South Shields is the full width of the pier that on the north side only about 13 feet. It is notorious how greatly both promenades are enjoyed by residents and strangers, and what a vast source of attraction they constitute to all in search of health and recreation. It is gratifying that the privilege conceded by the Commissioners is rarely, if ever, abused as it was a few years ago, when the ill-conduct of a few suggested taxing of the public for the luxury of a stroll on the pier.

The work of superintending the colossal work has since the retirement of Mr Ure, devolved on Mr Messent, who has for his assistant at both piers Mr Cairns, of Tynemouth. The arrangements at both places seem to be characterised by punctuality and regularity; and, happily, there has been, considering the difficult and dangerous nature of the work, remarkable immunity from accident.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 28 July 1886

27 July

A planning meeting for the Show, which took place in South Shields, was held in the Town hall, and included a reference to the Brigade.

Durham Agricultural Society

An exhibition drill on the show ground by the members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade is expected to take place.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 28 July 1886


16 August 1886

The Brigade took part in a charity event for the poor of Newcastle.

Four Thousand Visitors to South Shields
An Appeal to the Public

Mr T. S. Alder, of Newcastle, writes as follows: — “I am bringing down to the seaside three thousand or more poor children, also from six to eight hundred of very aged poor. It is intended make it a day of pleasure for the poor little ones no less than to those very advanced in life. Your kindly and respected Mayor, on behalf of the Corporation, has generously placed at my disposal a part of your Marine Park, and allowed the erection of a tent for the aged poor to rest and have tea. Now I require one thousand cups and sauce plates, spoons, knives and fork, tea- maskers, &c., for aged poor. I also require four thousand pots or tins for the children, and six boilers. Can any of numerous readers assist me in this respect by lending part of these if so I should like at once to hear from them. I may observe the children and aged poor will land from the General Ferry Co.'s steamers some time about mid-day on Friday, 20th inst., accompanied by five bands, who will walk in procession to the park, where the three thousand children will sing to the aged poor, accompanied by the bands. If the committee of the South Shields Life Brigade could see their way to open the Brigade House, under proper charge, for our children and aged poor to see, am sure it would both instruct and interest them."  Mr Alder's address is 120 Bridge Street, Newcastle.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 16 August 1886

19 August

The Visit of Newcastle Poor to South Shields

Last night, a meeting was held in the New Bridge Street, Temperance Hotel, Newcastle when Mr T. S. Alder explained the final arrangements that had been made in connexion with the visit of poor people to South Shields tomorrow (Friday). He said he was happy to say that a very large number of volunteers had proffered their services. Each volunteer would be supplied with a rosette of the same colour as the division he or she was assigned to. In the event of the steamers not being to carry the whole of the 4,000 children and adults, negotiations had been entered into with the Tyne General Ferry Company to take some of the excursionists down by the earlier boats. The meat for the 4,000 sandwiches which will to-day be put up by the Misses Alder was last night in process of preparation in one the Rev. Moor Ede's cookers, and the consumption of beef will represent between 50 and 60 stones weight; whilst the bread, which is of excellent quality, has been supplied Messrs Hume. The Rev. Batchelor, the VVesleyans, the Co-operative Society, Messrs Lockhart, and others, belonging Newcastle, have very generously tendered the use of their boilers for making the tea; whilst Captain Deverell, of the Wellesley training ship, has kindly sent a very large supply of tins. Colonel Potter has also promised to lend the out-camping utensils, such as tin plates, pots, &c. The South Shields Public Library Committee have also granted the use of their utensils; and, providing the weather should prove wet on Friday, the committee have intimated that they will be glad to allow Mr Alder the use of the hall, together with hot water, tables. &c., for the old people's tea, free of charge. Through the kindness of the officers, and by permission of the Board of Trade, the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade will give a special rocket drill. The Tyne Port Sanitary Authority have placed the use of their steam launch at the disposal Mr Alder and the doctors ; and, judging from the amount of sympathy and support so generously forthcoming on every hand, it only requires fine weather to make the treat a successful and enjoyable one.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 19 August 1886

20 August


BY request, a SPECIAL DRILL will take place at the South Pier on Friday First, Aug. 20th, at 5 p.m., on the occasion of the Excursion from Newcastle-on-Tyne, organised by Mr T. S. Alder. Members will please muster in uniform.

S. MALCOLM, Hon. Sec.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 20 August 1886


25 September

A new composition is dedicated to the Brigade.

New Music

IN THE PRESS, and will be Ready shortly, the “V.L.B." QUADRILLES, (founded on popular airs, and dedicated to the officers and members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade), composed and arranged by Mr George Wilson, Author of the "Fair Student Schottische," the “Snow Drop Polka," and other Pianoforte pieces.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 25 September 1886


11 October

A local musician, Mr George Wilson, has composed and arranged a new set of quadrilles which are founded on popular airs, and dedicated to the officers of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade. Mr Wilson appropriately entitles the new music the "V.L.B." quadrilles. I learn that Mr Wigg has arranged them for the 5th Durham Band and also for the Wellesley Band, of which he was last week appointed teacher. As the Volunteer Brigade attains its majority about Christmas, the new quadrilles may probably be included as part of the programme in connection with the musical portion of the festive proceedings that are likely to take place in honour of the occasion.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 11 October 1886

16 October

The Brigade stand by during stormy weather.

The Severe Storm
Vessels Ashore
Narrow Escape of Sailors
Damage to Property
The Tyne

The storm which broke over the north-east coast on Thursday night continued with unabated severity throughout yesterday. The direction of the wind was from the SSE, causing a nasty cross sea at the entrance to the Tyne. The Black Middens at North Shields were, as result, covered with broken water, and this rendered the navigation of vessels entering the port for refuge extremely difficult. As the day wore on the weather became more and more threatening, the wind veered round to the east, and a drizzling rain began to fall. Notwithstanding these ominous signs of a bad night the hours of darkness passed without accident. A number of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade was in attendance at the Brigade House last night, it being the second division (Captain Cottew's) turn on, the officers present being Deputy-Captain Potts and Deputy-Captain Gray. As the weather was slightly more favourable the watch left about midnight. During the night the wind came away again with great force, having veered round to the north-east. The rain came down very heavily at times, and this state of things continued with very little variation until this forenoon. A number of steamers, came in and one or two small sailing vessels. A nasty cross sea was running, and the smaller vessels got a severe tossing. Two or three tugs, the Integrity and Dundee being of the number, put out to sea, and had a lively time of it while between the piers and for some distance outside, their decks at times being washed with the heavy seas.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 16 October 1886


6 November

A gale, results in the Brigades on both sides of the harbour being on watch.

Gale on the Coast

During yesterday forenoon the glass fell rapidly, and as the day wore on the sky assumed a heavy, threatening appearance. The wind, which was from north-east, gradually gathered strength until dusk, when it came away with considerable force. Before darkness set in the outlook was exceedingly ominous,, and gave unmistakable signs of an approaching gale. Rain, which had begun descend in the afternoon, fell in torrents during the night, the heavy downpour continuing from about half-past six in the evening until seven o'clock this morning. About midnight the wind began to blow with terrific force, from NNE, and continued with unabated violence till this forenoon. . A goodly number of the members of the Tynemouth Life Brigade put in an appearance at the Brigade House, and a strict look-out was kept. At the south side the harbour the members of the Coastguard were also on the watch for any casualty that might occur as a result of the bad weather. The night was dark as pitch, and the play of the elements was such as to doubtless cause much uneasiness in the homes of those who had friends at sea. Between ten and twelve o'clock several lights were seen off the harbour which proved to be those of stormbeaten vessels making for the Tyne for refuge. From the oscillation of the mast lights it was evident the vessels laboured heavily, and experienced a severe buffeting before getting into the harbour. At daylight the state the sea along the coast, so far as could be seen, was a mass of white foam. The waves were breaking with great force against the north pier the greater part its length, and also against the outer end of the south pier. Although it was not high tide till 11-55 this morning huge seas long before that were dashing incessantly over the north pier, and sending great clouds white spray. Two or three steam-tugs which made the harbour had a severe pitching, and at times only the funnel of the vessel could be discerned by those on shore. The sea for about a mile out was in an exceedingly tumultuous condition, and a screwsteamer coming from the south got the full benefit of it. She was first seen off Souter Point, making capital headway against the wind, but on making the turn for the harbour she began to experience the full effects of the gale, and her course was watched with the closest interest by those on the look-out. Several times she seemed almost on her broadside, but she was admirably managed, and came through the rough water outside the piers in splendid style. Other vessels were shortly afterwards seen in the offing making for the Tyne.

Vessels Put Back

The following vessels, which put to sea last night, have put back to the Tyne through stress of weather:—Alice H., coal-laden, bound to Whitstable; Odin s, in general cargo for Arendal; Huntley, in coal, for Seaham; Peter, in coal, for Seaham; L. C. Owen, in coal, for Portsmouth. The latter vessel has put to sea, and as often compelled to return consequence of the storm.

Tynemouth, 4 p.m.

Although during the forenoon and part of the afternoon the weather had considerably moderated, at the hour of writing the storm is raging as furious as ever. The wind blows with hurricane strength, and the sea is making rapidly on the bar, whilst in the offing broken water is everywhere visible. A number of sailing craft, which had been hovering off the entrance during the whole of the day, successfully entered the Tyne this afternoon. Several steamers have also made the harbour in safety since noon. A strict look-out continues to be -observed at the Brigade House.

Below is a list of vessels which have put into the Tyne, to-day, through stress of weather:-  Admiral, of and from Aberdeen, bound to Grimsby; Alert, from London bound to Leith; Guide, of and from Faversham, bound to Sunderland; Venus, from the Tyne bound to Faversham; Rob the Ranter, from the Tyne bound Exeter; Huntley, from the Tyne bound to Faversham.

South Pier, 5 p.m.

This afternoon three steamers entered the harbour. The wind, which had gone down somewhat late in the forenoon, freshened up again from one to two o'clock, and blew with hurricane force later in the and towards evening. A large staff of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade went on duty, and will probably stay during the night if the gale continues. At three o'clock, the rocket van was taken along the pier, and the gates were closed to prevent sightseers, from going too far while the storm lasts. The Commissioners' dredger was removed from its moorings in the harbour this morning, and taken up the river. At the time of writing the weather continues as bad as at any time since the storm commenced. The wind, which has veered round considerably from time to-time since last night, is blowing from the northeast, and accompanied by a great deal of rain. A nasty cross sea prevails outside the piers, and the rocking which vessels are subjected to when they are heading for the river entrance excites much anxiety, but as yet the run for shelter has in each case been made in safety.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 6 November 1886

10 November

This series of articles provides the basis for the “First Twenty One Years” section of the site.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade
Its History and Work

In January next the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade will attain its majority. By way of bringing the institution under the notice of the public, and at the same time recording in a definite and permanent form the doings of the Brigade, we intend to give a series of articles dealing with its history and work. The first of these appears today. The others will be published as early as convenient.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 10 November 1886

20 November

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade

Sir,—l hear that this Brigade will attain its majority some time in January next. It will then, of course, have been twenty-one years in existence, and must have been instrumental during that period in saving a great number of lives. Those who, like myself, have watched them at their labours, both day and night, only know the amount of good work they perform whenever their services are called into requisition. They must sacrifice many a good night's rest to struggle down the pier against the gale and then to watch patiently in the brigade house till morning. This demands more self-sacrifice than I think the majority of us would ever care about. We do not know much about the long nights of watching unless we notice a paragraph in the "Gazette" “that the brigade mustered in the Watch-House and remained on duty till morning." But I am digressing from my subject, which is to point out that the brigade attains its majority next January, and I think it would a very graceful way of recognising their 21 years of service in the cause of humanity, to devise some scheme of entertaining them at a public dinner some other form entertainment. I am sure such an idea only needs ventilating to meet with a hearty response in the way of subscriptions from the people of Shields. I am, Sir, yours truly,


South Shields, November 1886.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 20 November 1886


4 December

The new commander of the coastguards attends the Brigade drill.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade. —The usual monthly drill of the Brigade will take place this (Saturday) afternoon, at 4 p.m., from the South Pier. Capt. Paul, R.N., who has just succeeded Capt. Vidal, R.N., in command of the N.E. Division of the Coastguard Stations, has signified his intention to be present.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 4 December 1886

16 December

The Brigades are on watch due to a gale.

The Gale

The gale which came away early yesterday morning from ENE continued till early this morning. Rain fell the greater part of the time, and occasionally it came down in torrents. Yesterday morning an exciting incident occurred off Shields harbour, the particulars of which were not generally made known till last night. About five, a brig under sail was noticed, apparently drifting on to the Long Sands, behind the South Pier. Her dangerous position was seen by the pilots on the look-out, who immediately made signals to the lifeboat crews, and the lifeboat Tom Perry was launched from the ways at Salmon's Quay. On pulling down the narrows as far as the Herd Buoy, it was seen that two steam-tugs, the Joseph Hazel and Selina, had gone to the assistance of the brig. After some difficulty towlines were got on board, and the tugs brought the vessel safely into the river. The Tom Perry was thereupon rowed back to her station. The promptness of her crew is deserving of the highest praise. The storm developed in energy as the morning wore came away with great fury during the afternoon, and as darkness set in the sea was running very high. Shipping movements were in consequence very much interfered with, and a number of vessels were detained in the harbour. There were no sailings from Shields harbour after eight o'clock in the morning. Two vessels which sailed early in the morning put back during the afternoon. They were the screw-steamer Vildosala, of Newcastle, which left for Swinemunde, and the barque Ben Avon, which sailed in tow of the tug Sensation. Several other vessels which had sailed from or were bound for other north-east ports, found it necessary from the severity of the weather in the North Sea to put into the Tyne for refuge. Amongst them were the Londonderry s, of and from Sunderland, for Montrose, with coals; the Argo, of Denmark, from Rochester for Leith; the Curonia of Revel, from Calais: and the steamer Lambton, of Sunderland. The screwsteamer Runo, from Bilbao, with ore, arrived in the Tyne during the day. She experienced very heavy weather in the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel, during which she received some slight damage. The barque Hahnemann, from Quebec, also arrived, after experiencing very heavy weather in the Channel and the North Sea, which considerably delayed her. The Italian brig Cacciatore, from Sebastopol for Berwick, has put into the Tyne, and reports having received damage to boats and deck work from the heavy seas which broke over her. Last night the members of the Tynemouth and South Shields Life Brigades went on duty. The rain ceased about nine o'clock, but the wind continued to blow in strong gusts from the northeast. The sea broke with great violence between the piers, and frequently leaped over those great works dense volume. A few steamers passed into the harbour and the river, their lights being watched with close interest by those on the look-out at both sides of the river. In future, we are informed, the alarm guns, betokening that vessels are in distress will not be used. Owing to the river defence works at Tynemouth Haven, the battery there has been dismantled. The Coastguard on either side of the harbour will, if necessary, make their own signals by means of the gun cotton alarm signals. The latter are shot up high into the air, and then they explode; but the noise is nothing like equal to that of the old Tynemouth guns. There will be two signals for the north side, and three for the south, but the men of H.M.S. Castor will not repeat the signals as hitherto with that vessel's guns. Further, should the Coastguard find in case of wreck that there is a sufficient muster of brigadesmen on hand to work the rocket apparatus, no alarm signals whatever will be fired.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 16 December 1886