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Newbiggin Lifeboat Station is the oldest operational boathouse in the British Isles and Ireland. The catalyst for the establishment of a lifeboat station for Newbiggin began in March 1851 as a result of a fishing disaster when ten fishermen lost their lives. However the fishermen, John Dent, Henry Brown, Philip Jefferson, William and Robert Armstrong, were subsequently each awarded the RNLI silver medal.

Additionally the Duke of Northumberland supported the lifeboat service on the Northumberland coast and provided the first Newbiggin lifeboat and boathouse, and so our lifesaving began. Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted service to the brig 'Embla' in 1854.

A larger replacement lifeboat arrived at the station in 1860 retaining the name 'Latimer' and she in turn was succeeded by the self-righting lifeboat 'William Hopkinson' of Brighouse. Over the years the lifeboat launched many times to local fishing boats in difficulty, as well as ships aground or wrecked. One such rescue in 1881 to the 'SS Northumberland' in north east hurricane conditions led to Coxswain John Brown receiving a silver medal. He received a clasp in 1885 after completing his 35 years of service with many gallant rescues.

The fourth Newbiggin lifeboat the 37ft 'Robert and Susan' arrived in 1885 and was to carry out life saving until 1906 being replaced by another 37ft lifeboat 'Ada Lewis'. During one remarkable service the 'Ada Lewis' was hauled 2 miles over land on February 22nd 1914. A three masted sailing ship 'Arctic Stream' went aground in Lyne Bay, the lifeboat rescued the 19 crew and passengers transferring 6 to the Cresswell lifeboat which had also launched.



These efforts were recognised with the issue of 'Thanks on Vellum' both to the Newbiggin Coxswain Watson T Brown aged 72 and to his brother, the Cresswell Coxswain William Brown.

The period of the First World War provided some different types of casualties for the lifeboat including stranded naval patrol boats, a submarine, as well as a grounded sea plane.

Another medal service came in 1926 when Coxswain William Robinson carried out a difficult service in rescuing 9 men from the trawler 'George R Purdy'. The lifeboat 'Arthur R Dawes' arrived at the station in 1931. One interesting service occurred on Christmas Eve 1933. The 'SS Glenrose' ran aground on Outer Carrs carrying a cargo of dynamite. The lifeboat went alongside and the Captain advised "if she bumps we shall all go West!" Fortunately the ship refloated and continued on her journey. The 'Augustus & Laura' lifeboat arrived in 1938, the first motor lifeboat at Newbiggin.



No account of Newbiggin's lifeboat service could be complete without special reference to our women. Before the advent of the lifeboat tractor, launching and recovery would be assisted by the women shorehelpers. Their exemplary record was officially recognised on the Institution's 'Thanks on Vellum' in 1927 and again in 1940.


In 1927 the Lifeboat required the help of 25 women in a service to the fishing fleet. Most of the regular crew were out in the fishing boats, so a scratch crew was put together consisting of miners who had just come off their shift.
But for the help of the women it would not have been impossible to get the lifeboat afloat in the heavy seas. In order to keep the boat straight many waded waist deep into the surf


A short Story Booklet about the Women Lifeboat Launchers of Newbiggin by the Sea is avaiable from the Ladies Guild, Newbiggin.

The 1940 service to the crew of the stranded ship 'Eminent' also saw second Coxswain George R Taylor awarded a silver medal. The lifeboat was launched in darkness on a stormy morning after receiving a distress call from the 'Eminent'. However the lifeboat was unable to make headway through the very heavy sea and returned to shore. Undeterred, the lifeboat was put back on the carriage by the shorehelpers,among whom were thirty women,and hauled one and a half miles over moorland and launched from a safer shore where the eleven crew from 'Eminent' were rescued.

The "Eminent" ashore at Beacon Point, Newbiggin by the Sea, 1940

The age of mechanical haulage for the lifeboat came to Newbiggin in August 1949 in the form of a lifeboat tractor - RNLI Tractor No. T50 (she returned to Newbiggin in 1996). She was sent to Newbiggin for the launching of the larger motor lifeboat 'Richard Ashley" which arrived in 1950. Newbiggin's last offshore lifeboat 'Mary Joicey' arrived at the station in 1966 and remained here until 1981.



The 'Mary Joicey' lifeboat succeeded the 'Richard Ashley' lifeboat in 1966. Coxswain George Dawson and his crew were awarded 'Thanks on Vellum' in 1975 for a service to a capsized rowing boat. Another such award was received in 1976 for a service to a cabin cruiser stranded in the surf on the notorious 'Wansbeck' tidal bar in difficult sea conditions. The lifeboat rescued the four occupants of the cabin cruiser.

The 1975 service saw the lifeboat, along with a local coble 'Margaret Lisle', launched to the aid of two men in the water, after their rowing boat capsized. Both men were transferred to hospital after being plucked from the water, however only one survived. Coxswain George Dawson was awarded a 'Thanks on Vellum' with the crew receiving Vellum Service Certificates. The coble skipper Jack Lisle Robinson also received a 'Thanks on Vellum'.

Following a review of lifeboat cover, the 'Mary Joicey' lifeboat was withdrawn in 1981 being replaced by a faster relief Atlantic 21 class lifeboat, then our station Atlantic 21 'Kirklees' arrived shortly afterwards. This lifeboat carried a helmsman and a crew of 2 or 3. Over the years many service launches have been carried out by 'Kirklees'which has been involved in many different types of rescue.

The Atlantic 21 class lifeboat was replaced by the current, larger Atlantic 75 called 'CSMA 75th Anniversary' during 1998 which continued the important role of voluntary life saving at Newbiggin.
To accommodate the new class lifeboat the station house was refurbished and extended. At the same time new crew room facilities were added. A time capsule was placed inside the new construction to be hopefully found by future generations. Inside the capsule, made from heavy-duty gas pipe sealed at both ends, were placed several items including lifeboat journals, local newsheets, photographs, and a three page message written by Richard Martin. The capsule is buried under a new concrete floor.



Newbiggin by the Sea Station has seen many different lifeboats come and go over its long history. Tthey were all modern lifeboats when they arrived, though it's sometimes hard for us to look at old pictures and think of them as modern boats!

In Newbiggin by the Sea's service with the Lifeboat Institution 10 medals have been awarded, 9 Silver, and 1 Bronze.

There have also been a number of rescues recognised with Thanks on Vellum and recently noteable rescues were recognised by a Letter of Thanks from RNLI Headquarters.

Modern technology is very much a part of today's lifeboats and at Newbiggin we have VHF radio, satellite navigation, night vision equipment etc, all available on the lifeboat.

The Ladies' Guild of Newbiggin continue their important role as fundraisers for the station carrying out fundraising events throughout the year. Ladies' Guilds at Ashington and Morpeth also fundraise to support the RNLI.

One unique fundraising attraction at Newbiggin is the display of our first lifeboat tractor, a Case L.A. Crawler Unit, No. T50, which was eventually recovered and brought back from Ireland in 1996 by the Station Mechanic Richard Martin and his father, Tim Martin, a former Deputy Launching Authority. It was originally used by Newbiggin Lifeboat from 1949 until replaced. Tim and Richard have restored the tractor back to first class order and is often to be seen at station events and vintage rallies.



The official naming ceremony for the new lifeboat (operational number B745) was held on 22nd. August 1998, when she was named "CSMA 75th Anniversary".
It was an important and exciting day for the town and especially for all the crew, officials and helpers at the Newbiggin station.


The Cretewheel Tug

A concrete tug was one of the casualties of the Newbiggin coast which is still talked about today, mainly as the wteckage is still visible nd discussions have continued on a project to reconstruct the tug. The date of the wreck was 14th October 1920


Rescues since 1851 - click here to download PDF

Visit the Galleries to view some historic pictures of our Lifeboats over the years