Cullercoats Life Brigade was formed early in the year 1865, and was the second Brigade enrolled in the United Kingdom. At that time it numbered 60 to 70 men. Nearly the whole of the members of this Brigade are fishermen, and it speaks well for their zeal and determination, when we find that not only do a great many of the original members still keep up their connection with the work, but that their numbers have increased to about 100 men.
The duty of the Life Brigade is to assist the Coast Guard in their endeavours to save life from shipwreck, by means of the rocket apparatus, and as this duty cannot be efficiently carried without a strict watch being kept in the stormiest of winter weather, and that frequently night and day, it will at once be seen that unless there is some means of shelter provided, the men must be exposed to the full fury of the worst storms. At Cullercoats the only shelter for men engaged in this duty was a stone wall, which was of comparatively little service.
For many years the question of having a place of shelter has been discussed, and it was finally decided, about two years ago, to appeal to the Board of Trade on the subject. Plans were drawn by Frank Wm. Rich architect, estimates were obtained, and the present site fixed on. The point on which it was proposed to build the house is the place where the Cullercoats fisher folk have been accustomed to assemble from time immemorial to watch the fishing boats go out and come into the bay, and in bad weather many have been the weary and anxious watched under the lee of the old wall which stood on this point, for the return of husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, when sudden storms have arisen, and precious lives have been “in peril on the sea”.
This being the case, it was quite evident that it would not do to appropriate this position for the use of the members of the Life Brigade alone, and the Board of Trade very properly came to the conclusion that as the look-out would be used not only by the Life Brigade but frequently by the fishing population in general, it would hardly do for the whole expense of building the Brigade-house and look-out to be paid for out of the Mercantile Marine fund. It was therefore decided that a considerable part of the cost must be raised in the locality. The original estimate was £385 15s 6d, and on a guarantee being given that £170 of this sum would be forthcoming, the Board of Trade at once ordered the work to go on. So soon as this was done, one or two gentlemen set to work to raise the money. As time went on, and the building progressed, several important alterations were proposed, which, whilst they have greatly increased the cost, have added much to the usefulness of the building; amongst others the Clock Turret. One great object in having a bell to the clock is that it may be rung in foggy weather to denote to the fishing boats their approach to land. It has already been used to this purpose, and with great advantage to the boats.
The clock works are those belonging the old Cullercoats clock, which some twenty years ago had, by the kindness of a few philanthropic individuals, been placed in the end of a private house for the use of the fishing population of the village, and with the consent of all concerned it was removed to the position in the new building which it now occupies. The Corporation of Tynemouth undertook to put the works in order, find a new dial, &c., and light it, the belfry, bell, and striking works being paid for by a further addition to the subscription list. In addition to these extras, were various others which were not contemplated when the building was projected the cost of which has been partly defrayed by the Board of Trade, and partly by additional donations from private individuals.
The very severe weather which prevailed last Winter showed clearly that it would be better to underset the Rock Point on which the house stands, and the architect, Mr J. W. Rich, has kindly looked into the matter, and he estimates that it will cost at least £70 to do this effectually. It is proposed at once to do the work, and it is hoped that many gentlemen who have not already given contributions may be induced to do so. In the house has been placed one of the most approved American stoves, with all needful cooking utensils. In very stormy weather it is usual for some members of the Brigade to keep watch with the Coast Guard, for vessels in distress, in order that if wrecks do occur immediate assistance may be rendered.
In such circumstances the stove will prove of great value, as it will not only enable those on watch to have suitable food without leaving their duty, but it will at once enable them to apply such warm restoratives to the unfortunate shipwrecked persons whom they may rescue, as may be most suitable to their cases. The widow of a fisherman who has drowned some years ago (Mrs Susan Storey), has been appointed as caretaker and cleaner of the House.
The ladies and gentlemen who have assisted by their contributions to erect the building would urge the residents in Cullercoats to do all they can to make it as useful as possible to those for whose good it is intended, and this may be accomplished in many ways; by presenting books for a library, by getting clever men to give lectures on popular and useful subjects, and they would suggest that a mixed committee of fishermen and other persons should at once be appointed whose duty will be to meet monthly, and discuss and arrange all matters affecting the welfare of the Brigade, and the proper management of the house. With this object in view a meeting will be held on an early day.
Finally, it may be stated that there will still be a small balance left in the Bank after all charges are paid, and this will go towards undersetting the cliff. As has been stated before, further contributions will be thankfully received toward this object, and also to start the Brigade with a small balance to cover expenses for the first twelve months. When the undersetting of the cliff is completed the account will be properly audited, and a statement sent to each of those who have so kindly assisted in the good work, which is now so nearly completed; and all persons interested in the opening of the new house are earnestly requested to assist carrying the matter to a successful issue.