Volunteers planning to tell a part of Newbiggin’s maritime lifesaving traditions have received a cash boost.
The Rocket House project has been awarded a development grant of £26,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
We see the project as a unique opportunity to not only restore the building but equip it very much as it would have been 150 years agoRichard Martin, chairman of Newbiggin Heritage Partnership (NHP)
The project includes the repair and conservation of the Rocket House, located at the rear of Newbiggin’s lifeboat house.
Volunteers aim to re-open the Rocket House – used to store life saving apparatus for when a stranded vessel was too close to shore for the lifeboat to be launched – to the public in 2016, marking the 150th anniversary of its original opening in 1866.
Officials from the Newbiggin Heritage Partnership (NHP) are keen to restore the building, re-create the cart used to haul the heavy lifesaving apparatus and develop exhibition material.
Chairman Richard Martin said: “We see the project as a unique opportunity to not only restore the building but equip it very much as it would have been 150 years ago so we are delighted to learn of the Heritage Lottery Fund support.
“In that way we will be able to open it to visitors and schoolchildren to help them better understand the role of the local Volunteer Life Saving Bridge and the countless lives they must have saved.”
The NHP is a community-based organisation that four years ago led the development and opening of the award-winning Newbiggin Maritime Centre.
The development of the Rocket House forms part of the NHP’s long-term goal to record, interpret and make more widely accessible the heritage of Newbiggin and, in particular, its links with the sea.
Barry Mead, local historian and archaeologist, who has been appointed as the Rocket House Project Manager, added: “As well as preserving this unique building for future generations we hope its re-opening will increase the visitor footfall into the Maritime Centre and the town in general and complement the work being undertaken through the Portas initiative to attract more visitors into Newbiggin.
“Many generations of Newbiggin folk either volunteered for or supported the work of the Volunteer Life Saving Brigade until the Rocket House closed in the 1970s.
“They – or their families – will have lots of stories to tell which we can record and preserve for the benefit of future generations.
“If you have any photos or artefacts related to the Newbiggin Life saving Brigade or the Rocket House, we would love to hear from you.”
The very first Rocket House in the country opened at Tynemouth just a year before the Newbiggin building first saw service.
The Newbiggin Rocket House may be a unique survivor of its kind, however, because it is attached to the lifeboat station and not located in a separate building as was generally the case.
Rocket Houses became a vital part of seafaring rescues. A rocket with a line attached was fired from the shore to stranded sailors and passengers on ships that had run aground.
The shipwrecked mariners would then be brought safely to shore in a breeches buoy life ring hauled along the line.
Between 1856 and 1909 some 173,528 lives were saved from shipwrecks off the UK coast – 17,446 using rocket fired lines.