Newbiggin Lifeboat Station 170 years old

Lifeboats News Release

Newbiggin Lifeboat Station will be remembering that 170 years ago a rescue took place with a group of local fishermen led by Philip Jefferson that was in fact the catalyst for the establishment of a lifeboat station at Newbiggin by the Sea.

Newbiggin's first lifeboat coxswain

RNLI/Richard Martin

Philip Jefferson

Philip Jefferson was the first coxswain of the Newbiggin Lifeboat Station, a volunteer just like the current volunteers who was happy to respond to a call for help anytime of the day of night, with only the basics of rescue resources.

Philip's role from the very distant past still shines in local folklore as he is the most decorated Coxswain at Newbiggin receiving two medals. More importantly he was the person who actually began the lifeboat service 170 years ago at Newbiggin as a result of his bravery along with four other fishermen.

On the 18th day of March 1851 in an open coble they had clawed their way back to the safety of the bay in a storm but on hearing about the plight of other local fishermen, put back out to sea in the coble risking their own lives but saving as a result some ten lives.

This act of courage was recognised by the RNLI and their President the Duke of Northumberland who provided a lifeboat and a boathouse for Newbiggin the following year. Incidentally the original 1851 boathouse that is the RNLI's oldest operational building is still part of Newbiggin's heritage frontage.

Philip also was one of a handful of crew and boys who attempted to rescue the crew of the wrecked Norwegian barque Embla in a storm early in 1854. During the rescue attempt the lifeboat was smashed about on the rocks sustaining damage to the hull and oars with the rescue failing as a result. The Embla crew all perished and they are buried at the east end of Woodhorn Church. The determination of Philip to help these poor souls despite failure was recognised by the RNLI with a bar to his medal.

Philip continued with service to the RNLI into the 1890s being credited with 30 years as Lifeboat Coxswain and he is even recorded as crewing the lifeboat when he was in his 70th year – the charity’s age limit for operational crew did not apply in those days.

Richard Martin from Newbiggin Lifeboat Station added: ‘This is a fantastic story of this local hero from our local history. Philip Jefferson was known as 'Big Philip' named as such as he used all of his strength on the lifeboat oars to get the lifeboat out to rescue and get back home safely. He always was there for the call and never turned back when conditions were beyond the limits.

‘Technology has certainly moved on over the last 170 years with the modern Atlantic 85 B class lifeboat Richard Wake Burdon providing a fast and nimble rescue platform incorporating modern technology with radio communications, direction finder, chart plotter and radar. What hasn't changed is the dedication of our volunteer team, always ready to help others in difficulty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Over 170 years lifeboats and technology have changed but the spirit of ‘Big Philip’ lives on in our dedicated sea rescue volunteers, helping others without hesitation.’

For more information please telephone Richard Martin, RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer Newbiggin on 07980 010544 or or Clare Hopps, RNLI Regional Media Officer (North East and East) on: 07824 518641 or, email: or contact RNLI Public Relations on 01202 336789.

If you would like to find out more about Newbiggin lifeboat station, its volunteers and its heritage then take a look at the local websites.

All that remains to remind us of this gentleman

RNLI/Richard Martin

Philip Jefferson headstone at Church Point
Philip Jefferson flanked by John Brown and Thomas Dawson

RNLI/Richard Martin

Newbiggin's Coxswains
Newbiggin's current Atlantic 85 B class lifeboat

RNLI/Richard Martin

Newbiggin's Richard Wake Burdon

RNLI/Richard Martin

William Hopkinson of Brighouse - Newbiggin's third lifeboat

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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