The ‘Black Middens’ are a set of notorious rocks which lie at the mouth of the Tyne, below the cliffs at Tynemouth. Many vessels have foundered there over the centuries forced onto the rocks, which are hidden at high tide, by strong southerly winds and currents. Perhaps the most memorable shipwreck occurred in the late afternoon of 24th November 1864 when the steamship’Stanley’ was forced onto the rocks in a storm. The local lifeboats were launched but none could get close enough to the stricken vessel due to the high seas. The schooner ‘Friendship’ was also wrecked on the Middens. Thirty two people from the two ships and two lifeboatmen from the ‘Constance’ lost their lives that night. That the drama of the ‘Stanley’ disaster was played out so close to land and in full view of people gathered on shore, caused horror and outrage. A public meeting was called, following which the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was formed, the oldest organisation of its kind in the world.
The TVLB continues its work today, aiding HM Coastguard and other emergency services with coastal search and rescue and operating one of the last remaining trained teams for ship to shore breeches buoy rescue. It is based at the Watch House Museum in Tynemouth which displays artefacts, pictures and relics from old shipwrecks chronicling the history of lifesaving on out coastline since 1864.
Tyneside has given the world many distinguished mariners over the years but none more distinguished than Admiral Lord Collingwood. Originally from Newcastle, Collingwood had an outstanding naval career which included fighting alongside Nelson in several notable victories, including the Battle of Trafalgar, in which he assumed command following Nelson’s death. He had a large mansion built in North Shields, though circumstances dictated that he never actually lived there and the building eventually became a public house called ‘The Collingwood Arms’ now demolished. However a large monument in his honour overlooks the River Tyne at Tynemouth.