The Brigade At Work

24th February 1866 - Morpeth Herald "The first meeting since the formation of this Brigade took place on Saturday last. Under the superintendence of Captain Brand, the apparatus was promptly got into working order and the rocket was fired by Rev. Ashurst which fell a short distance beyond a strong post which did duty as a vessel in distress. The lines worked admirably and every man fulfilled the duties assigned to him with an energy and precision which augurs well for the future usefulness of the Brigade. Several parties were sent along the breeches buoy in succession amid the applause of the multitudes who thronged the adjacent banks."

23rd September 1871 - Newbiggin's Life Brigade and Lifeboat crew had a special turnout when an exercise was undertaken to test the ability to transport the Lifeboat to some distant part of the coast should the need arise. Accordingly at 1pm some six horses were yoked to the carriage of the Lifeboat which was gaily decked with flags and banners. They marched by Woodhorn round North Seaton and traversed the main street on their return. The exercise was considered a success.

8th February 1875 - At about 2am the Steamer Shotton of West Hartlepool got onto the rocks at Church Point, Newbiggin. The wind was strong southerly and it was snowing when a woman discovered the vessel ashore. She ran back home to rouse her husband who raised the alarm. The local Life Brigade attempted to put a line on board but was unsuccessful so the Lifeboat was launched at about 3am. The steamer was got off the rocks at about 5am and the Lifeboat by her prompt action had saved both the ship and eighteen men on board.

21st December 1876, 

During a ferocious storm in December 1876 a ship was seen riding out the storm in Newbiggin ‘Houp’, a few miles off the coast. For three days and nights the ship hove to with storm sail set. The rocket apparatus was promptly on the spot and several shots were fired. On the third day the ship was seen to cut away all masts and rigging in an attempt to save the vessel. In the darkness of night local fishermen knew there was imminent danger for those on board for tar barrels were lighted, the usual signal that crews made when things seemed hopeless. On the fourth day, at the break of daylight, the hull of the vessel Gem of the Nith was found grounded, on an even keel, near Beacon Point, at the north end of Newbiggin Moor. There was no sign of human life on board the vessel but storytellers told of a cat found safe and well. As the morning light cleared, bodies of four seamen were found out of a total of ten crew. When fishermen clambered on board the stranded wreck they found on the Captains table a Bible, opened at Psalm 69 verses 1,2 and 3 recently marked; 

Save me, O God; for the waters are come into my soul,

I sink in the deep mire, where there is no standing,

I am come into the deep waters, where floods overflow me.

I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried;

My eyes fail while I wait for God. 

Charles Victor and Michael Larwood with two others, their names and ages unknown, were buried. The burial record stating “Part of the crew, in number 10, of barque Gem of the Nith wrecked on the Fairy Rocks, near Newbiggin on December the 21st 1876”. 

24th December 1876

The schooner Mary and Jane of Sunderland came on shore at 9am. The vessel’s sails were all blown to shivers and she seemed to be in a most disabled condition. The crew (four in number), after great exertion, were landed by the rocket apparatus and taken to the nearest public house where every attention was paid to them. 

15th March 1888 - saw a barque from Shoreham run ashore on the Lyne Sands two miles north of Newbiggin. The signal gun was fired at 2am and horses were sent for to convey the Lifeboat to the wreck. However, owing to the delay in the horses arriving, the rocket team managed to evacuate the eight men off the wreck.

18th November 1893 - The Blyth News writes: 'Disastrous Storm - Wreck and loss of six lives at Newbiggin - Heart Rending Scenes - A heavy gale had prevailed on Saturday accompanied by blinding rain showers. At about 9am a cry a ship ashore was raised which brought out hundreds of people from their firesides to the beach. The distressed vessel was found to be a brig timber laden with sails tattered and torn with seven men clinging to the rigging. She first struck on the Beacon Rocks then dashed along the coast until she reached Newbiggin Church Point. The rocket apparatus was got out and with great difficulty the rocket was fired - it missed the ship. The vessel had been driven by a northerly gale and sea which was running mountains high, was removed to another place and the rocket was fired a second time. The line fell between the masts; the men came down from the rigging and secured the line to the main mast and a cheer went up from the shore'
During this time the Lifeboat had been launched and had battled its way to the scene of the wreck. Several attempts were made to get alongside but this proved an impossible task as the ship was too close to the rocks. Indeed it is additionally reported that on this service the Coxwain was injured.
'On seeing the rocket line on the ship the Lifeboat stood by for an hour until all was secure and the crew was no doubt that with the tide ebbing, the vessel grounded and the rocket line on board that the brig's crew would be saved so the Lifeboat was not needed and returned back to the shore. All was not well as the rocket line connection failed and the ship was lifted by a huge wave and carried back out into the swells and out of control carrying with her the rocket apparatus appliances.
Cries 'they are lost' went up on shore. The ship drove so quickly across the bay and ran onto the Needles Eye rocks. The poor fellows were literally washed off by the heavy seas. At last the vessel turned bottom up and the men were lost from sight apart from one who was espied on some timber tossed to and fro by the mountainous waves. Many willing hands at once rushed into the scathing waves and brought the man ashore. He was immediately taken to Mr. Henry Fenwick's at Newbiggin Gardens where his wants were attended to. Two bodies were subsequently found near St Mary's Island; both were badly disfigured. The vessel was Norway bound from Shields laden with timber and the vessel was named Posidon. At the inquest the survivor gave details through an interpreter and stated that when the rocket apparatus was received on the vessel they did not understand what to do and this delay was the undoing of the incident. Six crew lost their lives including the Captain.
15th December 1899 - In the early evening the screw steamer Tubular of Dundee with five persons on board ran onto the rocks at the Church Point, Newbiggin. The 53 ton vessel had a cargo of salt and had run aground in a heavy swell. The Lifeboat was launched and on arriving at the scene found that the Rockert Brigade had just connected so the Lifeboat stood by until the evacuation by the Rocket Company was completed. The Lifeboat report notes that the launch and recovery was assisted by some 50 to 60 helpers.

22nd March 1900 - During the early afternoon reports were received that a brig was out of control in the storm and would be running ashore soon. As it was evident that this vessel would not be able to reach the bay the decision was taken to haul the Lifeboat two miles south overland. Eight horses and drivers and a cart were sought and the Lifeboat now out of the boathouse began her journey south. There was a moderate gale from the east blowing, a heavy sea was running and the weather was thick and cold. On route it was ascertained that the brig Frederick of Bremerhaven was ashore near North Blyth and the Cambois Lifeboat was launching to assist. The Lifeboat therefore turned around and headed back to Newbiggin.

The Morpeth Herald comments in its edition that the women of Newbiggin gave great assistance to this rescue and in particular during the incident to the Frederick where they waded into the River Wansbeck to help the rocket team with their line boxes.

27th & 28th April 1903 - A Lifeboat service occurred over two days when in response to distress signals the Newbiggin Lifeboat Robert and Susan was launched at about 10.15pm. There was a moderate southeast wind blowing with a rough sea and poor visibility. The casualty, SS Atiki of Andros, Greece had run aground on the rocks at the Church Point and was badly damaged. Some 25 men were taken off the casualty by the Lifeboat and safely landed. The rocket apparatus evacuated one other man. The captain and one other man refused to leave and remained on board overnight. She was almost dry at low water and these two men made their own way back onto dry land.

9th December 1904 - The Anglia disaster. At about 5am the steamship Anglia bound for Sunderland ran aground near the Needles Eye Rocks at the south end of Newbiggin Bay. The Newbiggin Lifeboat was launched and a number of local fishing cobles also put off from the shore to render assistnce. One of these cobles, Henry and Jane, reached the Anglia but was struck by a heavy sea and capsized. The Newbiggin Lifeboat was quickly on the scene and rescued one of the coble's crew but the remaining 7 crew members drowned. As the weather worsened Newbiggin's Lifesaving Brigade established contact with the Anglia and rescued 15 of the 17 crew by means of the breeches buoy. Conditions were so rough that some of the crew were frequently buried beneath the seas before eventually being pulled to shore. The 2 remaining crew members lowered a boat and, after nearly being swamped on several occasions, reached the shore safely.

24th March 1909 - The SS Bavaria, a 3,000 ton vessel with 20 persons on board, whilst bound for the Tyne in ballast stranded on the rocks half a mile north of Newbiggin early in the morning. There was a moderate south/southeast breeze and a rough sea when the Lifeboat was promptly launched at 5am and on arriving at the casualty brought the 16 crew and their belongings back to Newbiggin.

The Morpeth Herald continues 'The ship was found to be in a bad position and that she had been holed near the engine room. Water had poured through the rent. From the 20 on board 16 went ashore, taken by the Lifeboat. Captain Falk decided to remain on board and his first and second mates and an engineer opted for the same course. Their safety was assured as rocket lines linked the ship to the shore.'

The Lifeboat report goes on; 'By means of a kedge anchor and tugs the steamer was got off at the next tide, the weather conditions having moderated and the vessel's crew were taken back to Blyth. The Lifeboat completed her duties at 2pm.'

27th November 1910 - Steamer ashore at Newbiggin - During dense fog on the northeast coast early on Sunday morning a steamer, Eleanor of Shields, bound from Sheerness to Blyth, overshot the latter port and ran onto the rocks at Newbiggin Church Point. The lifeboat was at once launched at 11.30am and rocket apparatus brought into action. In addition four cobles proceeded to the assistance of the stranded vessel and her crew. When the impact occurred the Eleanor was going dead slow, the sea was calm and the Captain, therefore, decided not to use the services offered but to await daylight and the flowing tide. Two tugs from Blyth were requisitioned and the vessel was safely got off the rocks leaving Newbiggin between 10 and 11 and apparently not too much the worse for her experiences.

22nd February 1914 - ARCTIC STREAM - A TRULY MEMORABLE SERVICE. See separate page


18th December 1914 - The Morpeth Herald carried the following article “An unknown steamer flying distress signals was sighted at Newbiggin on Saturday morning. She was labouring heavily in the gale and apparently at anchor, some 200 yards from the edge of the Outer Carr rocks, which lie to the north of the Church Point. Her bunkers were believed to have run out and she was also receiving the full blast of the fierce south easterly gale her position was regarded as dangerous. The Lifeboat’s crew were summoned under the direction of Coxswain William Robinson. The Lifeboat Ada Lewis was dragged across the moor to a more favourable launching spot, in the event of the storm abating. The life saving brigade also went on duty. They could do nothing however except remain, ready to render any assistance in their power should further emergency arise. The ship was about a mile from the shore so aid by the rocket appliances was out of the question.

As long as the anchor cables held good the danger of disaster to the ship and her crew was greatly minimised but in such a gale and sea, the wonderful thing was that the cables did not give way under the protracted and heavy strain. The steamer lifted her anchors on Monday morning and steamed away south. She proved to be the Cape Nor of South Shields.

19th July 1919 - In Newbiggin the Peace Celebrations were of a very successful character. The seaside village was liberally decorated with flags and bunting. Across the street, at the bridge, there was a triumphal arch, the inscription on one side being ‘Honour to our brave’ and on the other side ‘Welcome our brave’.

Large crowds lined the street to witness the Silver Model Band, the order of the procession was as follows, Discharged men, ‘tableau Britannia’, the Members of the Council, ‘tableau peace’, Friendly Societies, Freemasons, Buffaloes, ‘tableau Derby and Joan’, Sleeping Beauty, Old Women in the Shoe.

Then came the Lifeboat fully manned and on the way they gave a display of flare lights, Coastguard and Rocket Team, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. There was also a comic cycle parade for which prizes were offered.

There was a large bonfire at the Church Point. Hundreds gathered in the vicinity to watch the blaze and also the fireworks.


21st January 1924 -The Blyth News carried the following report; ‘A vessel stated to be the Dutch steamer Zeeland grounded in Cambois Bay near the mouth of the Wansbeck on Friday night (the Brig Head rocks). At 10pm alarm guns were fired and in response Lifeboats from Newbiggin, Cambois and Blyth were launched. The rocket apparatus was also brought to the scene but the vessel was too far out. The vessel was surrounded by Lifeboats and steam tugs and after two hours the vessel was observed to move seawards attended by the tugs. The Lifeboats were released and the Zeeland and her 34 crew were taken onto the Tyne’.

23rd December 1938 - Lifeboat records carry the following report for which the Blyth Lifeboat crew received an award; ‘First Service Call – At 5pm a call for Lifeboat assistance to the 600 ton Skarv was received and the Newbiggin Lifeboat was launched. The Blyth Lifeboat had also been called out and arrived on scene about the same time as Newbiggin. There was a fresh easterly blowing and a heavy sea running. The larger more powerful Blyth Lifeboat made a number of attempts to take off the crew as the vessel drove nearer to the shore. Several attempts were also made by the Newbiggin Lifeboat”.

Three persons were taken off by Blyth Lifeboat before the vessel crashed onto the Blyth Lifeboat damaging its steering. Despite attempts to carry on with the emergency steering Blyth was forced to return to Station.

‘Second Service Call – At 10.18pm a message was received that the Blyth Lifeboat had to return to Station and requested that Newbiggin be launched again. The weather was still as poor but with the low water there was significantly more broken water in Cambois Bay. The Lifeboat was launched at 10.30pm and on arriving the Coxswain made many attempts to get alongside the ship. However the ship was now in heavy broken water near the shore and the Rocket Brigade were firing rocket lines to her to achieve evacuation to the shore. Therefore the Lifeboat returned to Station at 1.00am the crew having been taken off by the Rocket Brigade’.

Ships where the brigade rendered assistance


1875         Shotton

1876         Gem of the Nith

1876         Mary and Jane

1888         Tagus

1893         Posidon

1894         Videle       

1899         Tubular

1900         Frederick

1902         Greenwich

1903         Atiki

1904         Anglia

1909         Bavaria

1910         Eleanor

1912         Cluny

1914         Arctic Stream

1914         Cape Nor

1924         Zeeland

1938         Skarv