CULLERCOATS WATCH HOUSE AND LIFE BRIGADE
The Grade 2 Listed Cullercoats Watch House was built in 1879 for the use of the Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade which had been formed on Dec. 8th 1864 , three days after the Formation of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade. These were the first two Volunteer Life Brigades to be formed in ‘Her Majesty’s Dominions’ (so probably the first in the world). The National Government at the time dragged its heels over such a ‘first’ so it was mid 1865 before both were enrolled by the Board of Trade.
About 40 Volunteer Life Brigades were soon formed around the British coast in the late Nineteenth Century of which only three now remain – Tynemouth (formed 1864), South Shields (formed 1866) and Sunderland (formed 1877). They are all registered charities and are on call by the Coastguard 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year. Unfortunately, Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade was disbanded in 1923 and its duties are now undertaken by the Tynemouth Brigade. All the Life Brigades had Watch Houses built so that their members could mount a constant look-out for ships in distress. However, only four of these Watch Houses now remain (all listed buildings) - Cullercoats, Tynemouth, South Shields and Seaton Sluice (originally home of the Seaton Sluice Volunteer Life-Saving Company, founded in 1876, now a museum).
The CVLB originally numbered between 60 and 70 men (almost all of them fishermen) but by the time the Watch House was build this number had grown to 110. All of these men were trained in working the Rocket Apparatus newly installed in the nearby Rocket House (built in 1867). This was used to perform ship to shore ‘breeches buoy’ rescues working in conjunction with seaborne rescues for the many shipwrecks off the North East coast at that time.
Cullercoats Watch House was built at an estimated cost of £385. 15s. 6d although this was later increased by the addition of a clock tower with a bell which could be rung in foggy weather as a guide to the fishing boats. Half of the costs were raised locally and the rest was provided by the Board of Trade. This was because the premises were to be jointly used by the Life Brigade and the local fishing community. A stove was installed for use of the look-outs and to ‘provide warm restoratives to the unfortunate shipwrecked persons rescued’.
Mrs. Susan Storey, widow of a drowned fisherman was appointed caretaker and cleaner of the Watch House.
The building is now desperately in need of major repairs and all donations would be very gratefully received.