A Short History of River Tyne Pilotage by John Bone (Jr)
Just how far the Institution of Pilotage upon the River Tyne goes back, it is not possible to trace, but from early records we find it was originally confined exclusively to members of the Trinity House of Newcastle upon Tyne , which City for long held a stranglehold monopoly upon everything connected with the river. Pilotage was incorporated in a Charter granted by Henry VIII, on 5 th October 1536, but it is probable that Trinity House had control of pilotage prior to that date, as the oldest existing order book of the ‘House’ commencing in 1539, while making several references to pilotage dues termed ‘Loadmannage’ in those distant days, refers to still earlier entries in the ‘Owyld Lodmannage Bouk’ now lost.
South Shields (Tyne) Sea Pilots of the latter half of the nineteenth century, were the real aristocracy of the river’s work force. These men could genuinely afford to dress well, and long retained their distinctive ‘stove pipe’ hats when afloat.
These they knew, with a knowledge born of generations of men who, with little other than skill, had brought countless ships to a safe anchorage, the work involved great responsibility and was fraught with many difficulties requiring coolness and ability. This they had in plenty as is witnessed by the innumerable sailors who daily entrusted them, without so much as second thoughts, with their lives.
In the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, the River Tyne was a vastly different river to what it is today. In fact it was a tortuous stream, full of sand banks and curious currents, and possible to ford at Newcastle at low water.
At its mouth in spring tides, the harbour had sufficient water for vessels of 500 tons, but local records show that on August 26 th 1824 there was the lowest tide ever remembered on the Tyne, and three pilots, R. Burns Jnr., J. Harrison and W.Tully walked across, from the south to the north side on Tynemouth Bar, a circumstance believed never to have occurred before.