Historic lifeboat returns to South Shields

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27 September 2017

The historic Tyneside lifeboat Bedford has returned back home to South Shields, after business leaders backed a bid to safeguard its return.

Businesses including the Port of Tyne, BT South Tyneside, Colman’s, J Barbour and Sons, JML, M I Dickson Ltd, South Tyneside Council, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Ward Hadaway joined forces to cover the cost of buying the Bedford and its transport back to Tyneside.

Originally stationed at the coble landing in South Shields, the 131 years-old, 10 metre long boat left the town in 1968 when a home was found for her at Exeter Maritime Museum in Devon, under the care of the International Sailing Craft Association – she was later moved to Lowestoft, Suffolk. And until recently the Bedford was part of a collection at the Eyemouth Maritime Centre.

When the centre closed its doors earlier this year (2017) the Bedford was part of an online auction of the museum’s contents.

Susan Wear, Port of Tyne Director of Corporate Affairs, said: “We were first approached by the North East Maritime Trust to help see the boat return home rather than it end up anywhere else in the world.

“Fortunately in partnership with eight other local businesses we were able to support the Bedford coming back into public ownership in South Shields.”

Led by the North East Maritime Trust the bid to save the Bedford was successful and with the support of the Port of Tyne, arrangements were made to see it safely transported from Scotland into temporary storage at the Port until the Trust can find a permanent home for her.

Councillor Alan Kerr, Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council with responsibility for Culture and Leisure, said: “We were delighted to support the return of the Bedford to her rightful home in South Tyneside.

“The Borough has such a long and proud shipbuilding and seafaring heritage, being home to the world’s first purpose built lifeboat and more recently celebrating 150 years of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

“Given the town’s significant role in the early development of sea rescue, it is wonderful that local organisations have come together to help safeguard the Bedford’s immediate future and prevent her from being lost forever.”

The Bedford was built by Lancelot Lambert at the Lawe and was launched from the Lawe Building Yard, on December 21st 1886.

Miss Bedford, who lived in the South of England, bequeathed £1,000 (around £468,900 in today’s money) to the Lifeboat Society Trustees for the lifeboat to be named Bedford in memory of her brother Benjamin who was an engineer with the Tyne Improvement Commission (predecessors of the Port of Tyne) after he was tragically killed during the construction of the Tyne piers.

Jerry Dudman, Secretary of the North East Maritime Trust, said: “The Bedford was launched more than 55 times, saving 50 lives over the course of her career, making it an important part of the maritime heritage of the region.”