History of the TVLB
History of the TVLB
History of the TVLB
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The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade (TVLB) is one of only 3 remaining active Volunteer Life Brigades in the UK, and is the oldest of these organisations. The TVLB was formed following the tragic loss of 32 souls from the stricken ships of the S.S. Stanley and the schooner Friendship on 24th November 1864 at the Black Middens Rocks at Tynemouth. Despite the efforts of a small group of Coastguards and the bravery of the crew of the lifeboat Constance, the tragedy occurred within yards of hundreds of spectators who were powerless to help.  

Mr John Morrison

One of those watching was John Morrison, an officer in the military volunteers based in Tynemouth Castle. He believed that, had there been a body of volunteers trained and disciplined to assist the Coastguards, the breeches buoy apparatus might well have saved all of the people from the ships. He approached John Foster Spence and his brother Joseph Spence, who were local civic dignitaries, and they called a public meeting in North Shields Town Hall on 5th December 1864. There was a huge response at the meeting and the result was the founding of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade as a team who would be trained, ready and willing to assist HM Coastguard to save life from shipwrecks. Over 100 men signed up on the spot.  

Poster announcing a public meeting following the tragic loss of 32 souls on the 24th November 1864

The Board of Trade was highly impressed with the principle and the performance of TVLB and they circulated their rules to all Coastguard stations around the coast of the U.K. with instructions that similar teams were to be formed at every station in areas where there were sufficient enthusiastic people to take on the responsibility. In other areas, the Coastguard would recruit teams, which would be run and administered by the local Coastguards and would be known as Volunteer Life Saving Companies. Thus, the TVLB can rightly claim to be the foundation of today’s Coastguard Rescue Service. 

The Modern Brigade

Over time, the need for breeches buoy rescue has decreased and in recent decades the Brigade has developed into a multi-faceted organisation

The Brigade is a registered charity and has a Committee of Directors who oversee the management of all aspects of the organisation. We have three officers – our Secretary, Treasurer and Watch House Director –who have additional obligations for ensuring the responsible running and development of TVLB.


The Brigade practicing a breeches Buoy exercise from the Spanish Battery to the North Pier

The Brigade has three specific written objectives:

(1) To save life and aid persons and vessels in distress on the coast and elsewhere and in the case of shipwreck by any means necessary including, but not limited to, the provision of a declared facility to Her Majesty’s Coastguard.


(2) To conserve and develop the Watch House, associated properties and artefacts and to record, maintain and disseminate information on the history of the Brigade for the benefit and education of the community.


(3) To promote coastal safety and to educate children and other persons of the dangers inherent to the coast in order to safeguard the community.


The provision of our Rescue Team allows us to meet our first objective. Led by our Watch House Director, our Watch House Team works to meet objective 2, with both teams working together with all members of the Brigade to promote sea and water safety, achieving our third objective.

This is only possible by ensuring we receive donations and grants and organise fundraising activities. As well as the volunteer rescue team there is also a dedicated volunteer support team including, directors, fundraisers, museum guides and friends of the TVLB who give their time, money and commitment to support the Brigade. 

The Brigade has annual running costs of over £30,000. However, we also operate a balanced responsible financial policy which dictates that the Brigade keeps 3 years running costs in reserve. The Brigade is strongly supported by North Tyneside Council and the local community who run events and provide their services and facilities to fundraise for the Brigade.