Friday, 18 February 2011

The UK’s First Volunteer Life Brigade (NZ374691)

Formed in 1864, the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was a true trailblazer in the annals of sea rescue. On 24th November of that year, a huge storm drove two vessels, The Friendship and The Stanley, onto the Black Middens rocks at the mouth of the Tyne and, amidst the confusion, none of the available lifeboats went to their immediate aid, each thinking the other had already launched. By the time a proper rescue attempt was made, lives were already being lost, until the count reached a total of 32 – all within yards of the watching crowd.

As a result of the confused rescue attempt, three men, John Morrison, and brothers, Joseph and John Foster Spence, got their heads together and decided that it’d be a good idea to train a band of locals to assist the ‘emergency services’ in times of need. The response at the specially convened public meeting of 5th December was huge, with over 100 men signing up on the spot.

The notion of ‘volunteer brigades’ became so popular that the idea was soon rolled out across the land, with the Board of Trade circulating the Tynemouth Brigade’s rule-book to coastguard stations throughout the UK. In time, dozens of new bodies were formed to offer their assistance to the local HM Coastguard Stations. Thus, the still-existent Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, established in 1864, can rightly claim to be responsible for the founding of the national Coastguard Rescue Service, which continues to perform its supporting role to the mainstream rescue services today.

The TVLB’s website can be found at

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