by Joseph Armstrong
was a child I spent a day at Newbiggin on the coast of Northumberland
with two coachloads of families from our neighbourhood. It
was a sunny day
and I had a photograph taken with my mother, now lost. I never
again until the 1960s when the two visits I made coincided
with really heavy
thunderstorms. It hadn't changed much.
next came to my attention when browsing through the John Sykes
records of small events in the northern counties of England:-
Newbiggin in Northumberland, Mr. John Armstrong, aged 104
Armstrong served in His Majesty's navy during the American
item was dated 1842.
of information lingered in my memory for years and after I
joined the Trust and began to do research on the census returns
it came back to me when I reached Newbiggin. In 1861 there
were twenty-one Armstrong families living there, all fishermen.
Their ages ranged from young men with just a wife to middle
aged ones with families and even some oldtimers in their seventies.
Only one was put down as being retired.
On a visit
to High Mill at Westgate in Weardale this year I was looking
through the Trust parish records for Northumberland when I
spotted an entry which showed three Arnstrongs buried on the
same day, all drowned. Bells began clanging at the back of
my mind and visions of gravestones in Newbiggin churchyard
flashed into my memory, something to do with a shipwreck.
Several long, tedious porings through old newspapers brought
to light the details I was seeking.
long battle with the sea, Kipling's 'Old grey widow maker',
coast of Northumberland had its share of the grief and glory.
purpose- built lifeboat by William Wouldhave of South Shields
was the result
of a competition to find a craft that would stop the carnage
on the Black
Middens and the Herd Sands (Black Middens on the north shore
and Herd Sands
on south shore of Tyne estuary, now inside the piers, of course.
some accounts name the Anglia's Captain as Tellefson or Teffelson.
whole world knows of young Grace Darling who saved the crew
of the S.S.
Forfarshire in sight of our Patron's castle at Bamburgh, 1838.
fishermen of Newbiggin had played their parts in deeds of
heroism many times
but on December 19th, 1904 their luck ran out.
Ill fated Friday morning the steamer S.S. Anglia was feeling
through a misty heavy swell en-route from Hamburg to Sunderland
when it ran
aground at Needle Point, Newbiggin, on the south side of the
fishermen put to sea immediately and a flotilla of cobles
headed out before
the lifeboat could be crewed and launched. The first one on
the scene was
that of George Armstrong and witnesses were later to say that
coble went alongside the stricken vessel several times and
seemed to take place. In spite of the hideous danger to both
his crew and
their would-be rescuers, Captain Teffelson of the Anglia would
not give up
so that his ship could be claimed as salvage, they thought
that the ship
could be floated off at the next high tide. After putting
in and sheering
off several times the coble capsized and eight men were thrown
into the sea.
The old grey widow maker notched up six more husbands and
a son. Only one
man was picked up and he was unconscious.
John Armstrong was the son of George who owned the coble,
and on recovery
he told the men who saved him that he was the only one of
the eight who was
able to swim, perhaps because of the old custom of seamen
not wanting to
learn, for fear of prolonging their deaths in the event of
a ship sinking
with no prospect of rescue.
time the other cobles drew near it was becoming apparent to
the ship was in danger of breaking up -so when Captain Deldridge
came an the
scene with his men in the lifeboat, they rigged a line from
shore to ship
and by this means took off 15 of the crew of 17.
remaining men took to a ship's boat in their panic and turned
whole affair into a near farce, which could have ended in
tragedy but for the
shouted instructions from all quarters, which finally got
them and the boat
the 12th the body of Edward Armstrong was recovered. He was
the son of George the owner whose body was pulled in on the
day after the
disaster. The body of William Brown Armstrong was seen but
swept away by
strong currents. Strangely, the 19 foot by 4 and a half foot
found undamaged at the other side of the bay at Needle's Eye.
By this time
the Anglia was turned around and parts of the hull were ripped
away by heavy
seas so that she was in danger of total loss.
had gone wrong it seems as only a few weeks earlier the very
same men had successfully helped a stricken vessel from the
same rocks to safety. This rescue was much referred to of
course with the usual apocryphal stories, two men (not named),
one of whom was in the coble and changed his mind and one
who was on his way to work in the local coal mine until he
heard of the alarm and took his place.
for the fables, the facts speak for themselves, six women
children to be provided for from the fund.
had seen the best side of men, they were now to see a more
day of the funeral thousands poured into the village on the
trains to satisfy their macabre curiosity, and there were
ugly scenes in the
tiny station as the staff tried to cope with the unexpected
rush. When the
time drew near for the funeral to start they all began climbing
to get out of the station and swarmed into the village to
line the route the
procession would take to the church on the very edge of the
sea. (it's even
nearer now due to erosion).
Gray and Howie of Northumbria police were brought in with
help control the crowds and the men of the Lifesaving Brigade
roped off and
manned the graveside area to make room for the families of
the victims of
in his eulogy said that, "John, who was saved, and those
were those who took part in the memorable launching to the
'Samuel & Ann' to
save the crew in the storm of November 12th 1901, and were
among the bravest
and best an the coast".
Minister conducted the service for John Dent and the Vicar
Newbiggin gave his service for the Armstrongs in the village
accommodate the vast crowd.
60. George Armstrong, 60. James Armstrong, 53, John Armstrong,
48. James Armstrong, 29. Edward Armstrong. 29.
All buried together but for William Brown Armstrong.
Armstrongs were not the first to lose a family to the sea
the following report in the John Sykes records indicates.
7th. 1810. "Tbe Cullercoats fishing fleet was caught
in a storm off
Hartley. The Blytb lifeboat was launched and took the crews
vessels. The lifeboat struck a rock sideways and was broken
after being swamped. Only two men survived out of 27. The
were Thomas Lilly and an unknown Swede. A man named Armstrong
four sons were lost".
still going out there for our fish and the Armstrongs are
still playing a major role in a tough adventurous job, out
there where the action is.