The history of Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat station

Model of the 'Original', Henry Greathead's lifeboat built in South Shields in 1789

The Tyne Lifeboat Society established a station in 1790 with the lifeboat Original, the first in the world to be built, although in 1786 a coble converted into a boat for life-saving by Lionel Lukin, the London coachbuilder, was stationed at Bamburgh. It should also be noted that the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade is very active in this area, specialising in rescues from the shore. Until 1905 when the RNLI number two lifeboat station closed several men were members of both organisations.

The Tyne Lifeboat Society remained independent of the Institution, but in 1862 the Institution established its own station at Tynemouth. The station was destroyed by enemy action in April 1941 but was re-opened six months later.

Tynemouth was the station at which the Institution placed its first experimental motor lifeboat in 1905 under the supervision of Lieut H E Burton RE, afterwards Major Burton, holder of the Institution’s Gold (Rohilla service) and Silver Medals and the George Cross. He died in December 1944 and the Committee granted his widow a pension of £60 to be reviewed yearly.

1829 Silver Medal awarded to Henry Strachan, a Pilot, for rescuing a crew of five on 1 December 1828. A tide surveyor and four men who had been upset in the River Tyne at Newcastle in a Custom House boat would certainly have perished had not Mr Strachan and his son gone to their assistance in a boat not exceeding 14ft long.

1832 Silver Medal awarded to William Tully, a Pilot, for rescuing the Master and two seamen from the sloop Friendship wrecked off Spanish Battery, near Shields Harbour on 16 September 1830. Mr Tully with three other men tried to reach the casualty in a coble but it was impossible in the high seas, he landed from his boat and swam from rock to rock until he could throw a rope to the vessel which made it possible to save the Master and two seamen.

1839 Silver Medal awarded to T Thorp, storekeeper of the rockets, for rescuing by Dennett’s Rockets the Master and 10 seamen of the ship Progress that was stranded on 12 March 1939.

1843 Silver Medal awarded to John Cunningham for rescuing by rocket line an apprentice from the Constantia that was wrecked at Tynemouth on 23 January 1843.

1846 The Tyne Lifeboat Society lifeboat Providence capsized on 4 December whilst on service to the brig Betsy with the loss of 20 of her crew. They were Cox Launcelot Burn, John Bone, John Burn (Snr), John Burn (Jnr), John Donkin, Robert Donkin, John Marshall, Thomas Marshall, James Matson, John Phillips, Ralph Phillips, William Purvis, Ralph Shotton, William Smith, George Tindall, George Tinmouth, James Wright, John Wright, Henry Young and James Young.

1851 Silver Medal awarded to William Wheeler, a Pilot. Whilst piloting the Danish brig Margaretta up the Thames Mr Wheeler saw two of her crew thrown into the river from the ship’s boat. He immediately leaped over the vessel’s bows and managed to save one of them. The Committee also took into consideration Wheeler’s action in saving four of the crew of the brig Percy of Sunderland wrecked on the rocks close under Tynemouth Castle about three year before

Constance, the first Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat

1862 The RNLI established a station at Tynemouth’s Priors Haven and the cost of the lifeboat ‘Constance’ was met by George John Fenwick Esq. The official opening took place on Friday November 13th 1862.

Taken from ‘The Life-Boat“: LAUNCH OF A NEW LIFE-BOAT AT TYNEMOUTH. [Abridged from the Newcastle-on-Tyne Daily Papers.]

THE new life-boat, recently presented by GEORGE JOHN FENWICK, Esq., to the port of Tynemouth, was launched there on Friday, the 13th November, with an unusual degree of ceremony. The boat is 33 feet long and 8 feet wide. She was exhibited during the past summer in the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society, contiguous to the International Exhibition, as a specimen of a British life-boat thoroughly equipped for service. The weather being very fine, a large crowd assembled on the North Pier and around the Prior’s Haven, which was gaily decorated with flags. The new boat was placed on the stone slipway fronting the fine new life-boat and rockethouse, recently erected on the spot where a much smaller and less commodious one had stood for several years. The boat, which is large and handsome in appearance, was mounted on its carriage, awaiting the moment when it should be launched into its native element; whilst on either side of it were gathered its crew, a sturdy company of men, clad in the cork-jackets which have been found so useful on many a stormy voyage in similar vessels.

Lifeboat house at Tynemouth RNLI No.2 station1863 Lifeboat house at No.2 station constructed at a cost of £380.

1864 Silver Medal awarded to Lawrence Byrne, a Coastguard, in recognition of his gallantry and perseverance when on 24 November 1864 the Schooner Friendship and the steamer Stanley found themselves in difficulties in gale force winds off Tynemouth Point. Both vessels were driven onto the rocks with waves breaking over them. Mr Byrne set up rocket apparatus on the shore and managed to establish contact with the steamer and saved 38 people. In a simultaneous attempt by the lifeboat Constance, four of her crew were washed out and two, James Grant and Edmund Robson, were drowned. Committee of Management voted £100 to Local Fund.

1870 Slipway of No 2 station carried away by a stranded vessel in a gale.

1872 On 17 December 1872 members of the TVLB and coastguards were attempting to rescue the crew of the barque Consul which was attempting to enter the Tyne in severe weather. The barque struck a pier and within 15 minutes was reduced to matchwood. The rescuers on the pier managed to save some of her crew, but during the attempt it was believed that one rescuer had been washed away by the sea. A subsequent search found the body of Robert Thirlway Arkley. Mr Arkley, a customs officer, was not only a member of the TVLB but also an RNLI crew member.

1884 No 1 slipway extended and rocks levelled at No 2 station at a cost of £425.

1886 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain James Gilbert in recognition of his long and valuable service.

1890 Gas and water laid on to No 1 lifeboat house.

1897 Slipway widened and lengthened at a cost of £116.

1898 Silver Second-Service Clasp awarded to James Gilbert on his retirement as coxswain.

1905 No 2 station closed. Experimental motor lifeboat sent to the station for trials.

1913 Silver Medals awarded to Captain H E Burton, Coxswain Robert Smith (and Coxswain Anthony Nixon, Cambois lifeboat) for the part they played in rescuing the crew of the Dunelm, wrecked off Blyth on 11 January 1913. The Blyth lifeboat was unable to get out of the harbour. The Tynemouth lifeboat arrived just as the last man was being rescued by the rocket apparatus. Gold Medals and watches presented to each member of the crew on behalf of the public in the locality.


1914 Gold Medals to Captain H E Burton and Coxswain Robert Smith, and Silver Medals to Second Coxswain James Brownlee and Lt Basil Hall, Lifeboat Inspector, for rescuing the last 50 survivors from the hospital ship Rohilla that at 4am in a terrific east-south-easterly gale ran on to a dangerous reef at Saltwick Nab on 31 October/1 November. The lifeboat battled 45 miles down an unlit coast against the gale and took nine hours to reach the wreck near Whitby.

1915 When the Institution’s Medals, two Gold and two Silver for the Rohilla service were presented, the Tynemouth Trust gave special Gold Medals to all 12 in the lifeboat on this occasion.

1916 Silver Second-Service clasps awarded to Coxswain Robert Smith and Second Coxswain James Brownlee for the rescue of 16 people, in a dangerous operation, from the s.s. Muristan on 21 November after she ran ashore on 19 November 1916.

Major Burton awarded the American Cross of Honour for services and good seamanship, and of taking charge of the lifeboat when the Rohilla was wrecked on 31 October 1914.

1918 HM King of Norway awarded a Silver Cup to the coxswain and Silver Medals to the crew in recognition for rescuing the crew and passengers (118) from the Norwegian s.s. Bessheim on 19 November 1916. Medals were also awarded to the crew of the private lifeboat Tom Perry.

1919 Old lifeboat house at Priors Haven sold to Tynemouth Sailing Club for £130.

1921 Estimated cost of constructing a trolley way and adapting lifeboat house – £5,100.

1926 Bronze Medal awarded to Ordinary Seaman Michael Campbell RNVR, in recognition of his gallant conduct in plunging into the river and at great personal risk rescued a man who had been thrown into the water when his boat had capsized near the coble landing on 8 August 1926.

1941 Bronze Medals awarded to Edward Selby Davidson, Honorary Secretary of the Tynemouth Branch, and to Coxswain George Lisle in recognition of their gallant conduct in the rescue in two trips of 22 of the crew of the Norwegian motor vessel Oslo Fjord which was ashore south of the Tyne in a strong north-north-easterly wind with a very heavy swell on 8 December 1940.

Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat station destroyed by enemy action

The lifeboat station was destroyed by enemy action in April but was re-opened six months later.
1959 The Morley Medal of the Outward Bound Trust was awarded to crewman Kenneth Smith.
Robert Rutherford, a member of the lifeboat crew and also a Police Constable, awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Testimonial on Parchment for the part he played in rescuing an elderly man from the icy waters of the Tyne at North Shields in January.

1962 On 16 September the Duchess of Northumberland unveiled a stained glass window in the Seamen’s Chapel of Christ Church, North Shields, to commemorate the Centenary of the Tynemouth lifeboat station. The window, which was given by the coxswain and crew, incorporated a picture of the lifeboat named Original which was built on Tyneside and was the world’s first boat to be designed from the outset as a lifeboat.

On 22 September the Duke of Northumberland, the Institution’s Treasurer, presented to the station a certificate on Vellum to commemorate the centenary.

Tynemouth's first D class inflatable inshore lifeboat sent to station in April 1965

1965 Tynemouth’s first D class inflatable inshore lifeboat sent to station in April.

1974 Bronze Medals to crew members Trevor Fryer and Frederick Arkley in recognition of the courage and determination displayed by them when the inshore lifeboat rescued the crew of three and a boy from the tug Northsider which had been driven onto the Black Midden Rocks in a strong easterly wind and a rough sea on 10 March 1974.

The new Arun class all weather lifeboat George and Olive Turner was named in June by the Duchess of Northumberland.


1980 The new Arun class all weather lifeboat George and Olive Turner was named in June by the Duchess of Northumberland.
1982 The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum accorded to Helmsman Trevor Fryer in recognition of his determination and seamanship when nine people were rescued by the D class lifeboat from the vessel Blue Fin in a strong northerly wind and rough breaking seas on 11 April.
1986 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain John Hogg in recognition of the courage, determination and seamanship displayed by him when the lifeboat rescued the crew of three of the fishing vessel La Morlaye in an east-south-easterly gale and heavy, breaking seas on 15 April 1986.
1997 Construction was completed in February of a new building to provide the station with improved crew facilities.  Also constructed was a small extension to the rear of the existing boathouse in order to provide housing for an inshore  lifeboat and launching tractor coupled in-line.
1998 A Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman presented to Coxswain Martin Kenny together with a collective Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman presented to crew member Edwin Chapple, Assistant Mechanic Geoffrey Cowan, Mechanic Kevin Mole, crew member Michael Nugent for the service to the yacht Signature on 3 April.
The Tynemouth D class lifeboat capsized in surf whilst on service on 7 October.  No injuries to crew or damage to the ILB

1999 The Arun class lifeboat was replaced by a modern Severn class, which remains at the station today.

2003 A Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution presented to Helmsman Kevin Mole for saving the lives of two youths who were cut off by the tide a Frenchman’s Bay. The lifeboat had to be veered down amongst rocks with breaking waves over two metres high, on a lee shore against a sheer cliff face.

2004 Improved boarding facilities completed September 2004 at a cost of £20,151.

2013 The station celebrated 150 years of being an RNLI lifeboat station with a service on the 13th November at Christ Church, North Shields, where the centenary had been marked 50 years earlier. The Trustees of the RNLI presented the station with a vellum marking the anniversary.

Twenty-two medals have been awarded, two Gold, 15 Silver and five Bronze. The last voted in 1986.