Before the advent of steam cutters, each pilot had his own coble, manned by himself and his apprentice. In these they cruised up and down the coast on the watch for ships bound for the harbour of Shields . This was commonly termed as ‘seeking’ and it was a common occurrence for cobles to sail as far south as Flamborough Head and in some cases Yarmouth Roads, when vessels were reported making for the Tyne.
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.
Exactly how old is the institution of pilotage on the Tyne it is impossible to say. Originally pilotage was confined exclusively to the members of the Trinity House of Newcastle which was incorporated by Charter of Henry VIII, dated October 5 th 1536, but it is probable that the Trinity Brethren had charge of the pilot service before that date, since the oldest existing Order Book of the House, commencing in 1539, not only makes several references to pilotage – the pilot dues being called ‘loadmannage’ – but also refers to still older entries in ‘the owyld loadmannage bouke’ now lost.
We are extremely grateful to Ken Lubi for permission to reproduce the following work he has produced following his many hours of study and research into this unique and magnificent service.
Whilst employed by the Tyne Pilotage Authority, as coxswain on the pilot cutters from 1968 to 1988, I became interested in their history and decided to delve into their past.
The individual photographs of the pilots taken by myself, and also the bulk of my information, was amassed during research carried out in the early 1980’s
Additional material was added at later dates
I would like to express my thanks to the various pilots who supplied photographs, licences and other paraphernalia; also the South Shields Local History Library who allowed me access to their records and old newspapers which have enabled me to compile what I have simply called ‘Tyne Pilots’