Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade 1864 -1923

Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade [CVLB] was formed three days after the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade [TVLB] on the 8th December 1864. The Tynemouth Life Volunteer Brigade, as it was originally known,was formed at a public meeting held on the 5th December 1864, which is rightly cited as its own date of establishment. The Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade was the second Volunteer Life Brigade established in 'Her Majesties Dominions'.

Following the Town Hall meeting held on the 5th December,The Shields Daily News of December 6th 1864 carries a very large amount of information as to "the propriety of establishing a Volunteer Corps for assisting the Coast Guard in working the rocket apparatus in case of a wreck". The meeting was strongly supported by the local dignitaries, and they included the Reverend F. W. Wheeler, the first vicar of St Pauls Church, Whitley, the local parish church for the inhabitants of Cullercoats. Reverend F. W. Wheeler was a highly educated man, son of a London Banker and a graduate of Cambridge University [6]. He was very involved with the welfare of the local community, and he later became the Honorary Secretary [1] of the CVLB - a position he held until his retirement from the parish. The Reverend F. W. Wheeler organised a public meeting on the 8th December 1864, and from that it was agreed that the men Cullercoats would form its own Life Brigade and for it to co-operate with the newly formed Tynemouth Life Volunteer Brigade.

The Reverend F. W. Wheeler then wrote a letter on the 9th December 1864 to the newly formed committee for the establishment of the 'Borough of Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade' [mentioned in the report, The Shields Daily News of 10th December 1864] The letter to the committee meeting of the 9th December 1864 by the Reverend F. W. Wheeler is as follows:

The Parsonage, Whitley, North Shields. December 9th 1864

Dear Sir,

I am very sorry to say that an engagement in Newcastle will prevent my being with you tonight at the meeting of the Volunteer Life Brigade. I am sure that you will not put down my absence to any want of sympathy with the movement. My chief objective in writing this note is to say that the Cullercoats men will be most glad to co-operate in this movement.
We propose to form a Cullercoats Brigade & some of the best & steadiest men in this place who will always be ready at any time to go out with the Rocket Apparatus which is kept here. I need not say anything as to the value of a set of well disciplined men accustomed to the sea for such a service as this.
Of course our plan is entirely subject to the approval of Capt. Robertson - and we desire in any & every way to co-operate with the proposed Tynemouth Brigade as may seem desirable on further consideration.

I am faithfully yours,

The Chairman,
Borough of Tynemouth
Life Volunteer Brigade

[transcript of letter provided by the TVLB archives,drawn 2012]

[Note:The Borough of Tynemouth Life Volunteer Brigade committee met on the 9th December 1864, when a sub-committee was formed, which met on the 13th December 1864, and the letter is mentioned again when the Secretary read out the minutes of that previous meeting.]

Enrollment: Having applied the same criteria to the establishment of the Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade as has been applied to the formation of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade it can be seen that the CVLB was formed three days after the TVLB. There is some confusion with the fact of the enrollment of both VLB's, by the Board of Trade, which took place in 1865 in order of formation dates. While there was considerable support from local government officials,local dignitaries and the town's Member of Parliament, the national government bureaucracy confronted with a first of its kind seemingly 'dragged its heels' for many months. The result being that the new VLB's were not 'inrolled' by the government appointed body until the middle of 1865. Read more here
circa1866 circa1880
The photograph left shows the new boathouse built 1866, with the t-shaped wall on the Bank Top above that the brigade members of the CVLB stood behind on watch duty. This is a section of a photograph that does not show the Hudleston Arms (1870) as yet built. In the second photograph, circa 1880, shows the newly built Watch House (1879) occupying the same ground as the wall formally stood. This building was to be the Brigade headquarters until February 1923, when the CVLB was disbanded [2] and the duties taken up by the TVLB.

The CVLB went on to become famous between 1870 - 1890 due to a number of factors; The daring and brave expolits of Joe Robinson, the Brigade Captain, and the men of the CVLB reached around the world through their publication in the relatively new illustrated weekly newspapers. Joe Robinson[3] featured in editions of The Graphic which "In addition to its home market the paper had subscribers all around the British Empire and North America. The Graphic covered home news and news from around the Empire, and devoted much attention to literature, arts, sciences, the fashionable world, sport, music and opera. Royal occasions and national celebrations and ceremonials were also given prominent coverage." The brave deeds of the CVLB also featured in The Illustrated London News - "the world's first illustrated weekly newspaper". The heroic deeds of the Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade also became popular subject matter for the growing colony of renowned artists [4] who painted at Cullercoats. Due to the high number of ships that were wrecked on the north east coast, the skill and bravery of the CVLB, and that of their near neighbours the TVLB, were in constant demand. Photo below of the CVLB circa 1900 .



Notable CVLB mentions, 1871 and 1872 [from the TVLB Archives] - Read more Here

Board of Trade Wreck Chart - British Isles, first six months of 1873 [from The Graphic, January 23rd 1875] - Read more Here

Rocket Practice - Prince and Princess of Wales 1884 visit to Tynemouth - Members of the Cullercoats Life Brigade present

'The Rocket Brigade and Apparatus House'[5] "The Life Brigade, whose duty it is to work the rocket apparatus,numbers 110 efficient members,who are drilled in the last week of each quarter at the point opposite Beverley Terrace" Built in 1867, sometimes referred to as 'Rocket House',it was vacated after the disbandment of the CVLB in 1923,and it is now used as a motor repair garage, the 'Rocket Garage'. (photos below taken 02.05.13)
1867 life brigade house
[1] 'Cullercoats Remembered', Cullercoats Local History Society,2003, p48.
[2] Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade archives, 2012 and 2013.
[3], [4], [5] 'Historical notes on Cullercoats Whitley and Monkseaton', William Weaver Tomlinson, 1893.
The Shields Daily News items retrieved from: North Shields Library,Local Studies records, 2012 and 2013
[6] Research archives of Peter Burns,2008