The RNLI has operated a lifeboat station in Blyth for an impressive 180 years but the town got its first lifeboat in 1808, before the charity was formed.
The lifesaving craft was paid for by local landowner Matthew Ridley, who, after the first coal station was built in the town, had become concerned about the volume of shipping regularly using the harbour.
Sir Matthew also built a boathouse close to the High Lighthouse – another of his contributions to Blyth.
Two years later, however, the lifeboat was wrecked while on service. All but 2 of the 28 men onboard drowned, including the 11 rescued fisherman. It was not until 1826 that the town got another boat – this time via the recently-founded RNLI. It was another 40 years though before the organisation took over the lifeboat station, run until then by Blyth Lifeboat Association.
The town sadly experienced two more losses of crew in the 19th century, both due to the lifeboat capsizing. The first, in 1841, resulted in the death of 10 of its 12 crew; the second in the death of Second Coxswain Mark Fairhurst in 1898.
But Blyth’s lifeboat history is not all tragic. There have been many episodes of bravery, acknowledged by the presentation of four Silver Medals prior to the RNLI’s involvement and, after that, eight Silver, three Bronze and a Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum.
Other significant events include the arrival in 1921 of the first motor lifeboat, the 1927 closure of Blyth’s second station (known as Cambois); the establishment, in 1965, of an inshore lifeboat station with a D class lifeboat and the withdrawal of the all-weather lifeboat in 2004.
In the present day, improvements to the boathouse and installation of a new davit are now complete to ensure the continuation of Blyth’s 200-year tradition of sea rescues.