Cullercoats Life Brigade was formed in 1865 and consisted of between 60 and 70 men, nearly all of whom were fishermen. The concept of the Life Brigade was to assist the Coastguard in saving lives from shipwreck, by means of the rocket apparatus, however this duty could not be carried out without a strict watch being kept throughout storms and rough seas, both night and day.
At this time, the men were exposed to the weather and the only shelter at Cullercoats was limited to a stone wall overlooking the bay, which was of little help. As a result, the proposal for a place of shelter was discussed, and accordingly in 1877, the Board of Trade were approached with architectural plans and designs being drawn up by a Mr Frank Rich.
It was proposed that a Watch House would be constructed on the same spot as the many Cullercoats fisherfolk would assemble to observe the fishing boats leaving and entering the bay, and where they would also keep vigil for the return of their families and loved ones during storms or bad weather.
The Board of Trade directed that because the shelter should be shared by members of the Life Brigade and the fishing community, the majority of the cost should therefore be raised and borne by the fishing population of the village, with £170 being contributed from the Mercantile Maritime Fund. The original building estimate was £385 15s 6d, and as soon as the money was raised, the Board of Trade ordered work on the new Watch House and Lookout to go ahead.
As building work progressed, several important alterations were proposed, which increased the cost substantially. Amongst these were the Clock Turret containing a bell which could be rung in foggy weather to assist fishing boats with their approach to land. Various other changes which were not contemplated when the project was planned added to the cost, which was partly defrayed by the Board of Trade along with additional donations from private individuals.
The Watch House was completed and opened in 1879. It was equipped with stoves and essential cooking utensils which ensured that those members on watch would have suitable food without leaving their duty. The stoves would also give heat to the building and provide a source of warmth to any rescue victims.
Mrs Susan Storey, the widow of a Cullercoats fisherman, was appointed as the first caretaker and cleaner.
All the rescue apparatus was stored at the Rocket Brigade and Apparatus House. This small building is situated on the corner of Beverley Terrace and John Street, and is now a garage and car repair business.
by Charlie Steel © 2014
His published books include ‘Monkseaton Village’ Vols 1 & 2, and ‘North Shields Public Houses, Inns & Taverns’ Parts 1 & 2, all of which are available from most local booksellers.