Lifeboats at Cullercoats were provided by donations from individuals until 1884, when the Co-operative Wholesale Society presented Cullercoats with a new boat built to celebrate the Society’s 25th anniversary. This was ‘Co-operator No. 1’, which remained in service until 1907, when the Co-op once again generously funded a replacement vessel of the same name. This boat was in service until 1937 and performed 102 rescues.
Up to this time, all the Cullercoats lifeboats had been propelled by oars, but in 1937 the first motor lifeboat was introduced. She was the single-engined ‘Richard Silver Oliver’, and had sails for use in the event of engine failure. This vessel had a short and tragic career: during a training exercise on April 22nd 1939, the lifeboat was overwhelmed by a freak wave off Tynemouth and six of the ten crew drowned.
In 1939 the lifeboat station closed, reopening the following year with a replacement lifeboat, ‘Westmorland’, when a tractor was used for the first time. This avoided having to have large numbers of people to launch the lifeboat. This vessel saved 95 lives during her career there.
The next lifeboat at Cullercoats was the ‘Isaac and Mary Bolton’, a twin-engined self-righter which continued in service until 1963, saving 31 lives.
In November 1963, a new lifeboat, ‘Sir James Knott’ was stationed at Cullercoats, provided by generous donations from its namesake, a private individual with local connections. About the same time the RNLI introduced the first inflatable boats, one of which was stationed at Cullercoats in 1965. With a crew of only two or three, these fast, inflatable lifeboats (known as ‘D’ & ‘C’ Class boats) were used in some notable rescues. One such boat was provided by North Shields Round Table but they were intended for summer duty only, and could not withstand winter seas and weather. As a result of an RNLI review, Cullercoats station was stood down from year-round duty and, in May 1969, ‘Sir James Knott’ was assigned elsewhere, having saved 14 lives.
With the introduction, in April 1984, of the Atlantic class of inflatable boat to Cullercoats, the station was able to return to all-weather operation. The first to serve at the station was ‘Guide Friendship I’, a relief boat which arrived in 1991. In October 1992, Cullercoats took delivery of its own brand new boat ‘Edmund and Joan White’. This boat took part in a number of courageous rescues which earned her crew the thanks of the RNLI, an award which recognises the courage, skill and seamanship of its recipients. The vessel was withdrawn from service in 2006 to be replaced in 2007 with a new Atlantic 85 type, named ‘Hylton Burdon’.
To date, the RNLI at Cullercoats has launched over 720 times and saved well over 840 lives, not counting those who it has merely ‘helped’. The crew of Cullercoats lifeboats were drawn from the fishermen of the village, who originally performed many rescues for the benefit of their friends and neighbours in the fishing community. Today, the lifeboats are crewed by experienced local volunteers, all of whom continue to act with selfless bravery for the benefit of others.
by Charlie Steel © 2012
Local historian and writer Charlie Steel has lived in Monkseaton for most of his life.
His published books include; ‘Monkseaton Village Vol. 1’, ‘Monkseaton & Hillheads’ and ‘Inns and Taverns of North Shields’ all of which are available from most local booksellers.