Tynemouth Watch House Adapted for Modern Use
An unusual wooden building in Tynemouth demonstrates how an older structure can be sensitively adapted for modern use while retaining its identity and contribution to the surrounding area.
The Grade II listed Watch House dates back to 1887 and overlooks the infamous Black Midden rocks at the mouth of the River Tyne. The building jointly operates as the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade’s operational base and a museum, including pictures and relics from old shipwrecks chronicling the history of lifesaving on the Northumberland coastline since 1864.
The building has been updated over the years, but in 2014 it was given an extensive restoration (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (then Heritage Lottery Fund) and North Tyneside Council). The refurbishment had to comply with all new building codes and regulations, but in a highly sensitive manner in keeping with the existing structure and style of the building. For example, to bring the building up to date new power conduits were fixed along the lines of existing architraves and in a format that blended into the existing features of the building.
One of the other major challenges the Watch House faced was accessibility, and creative solutions were found to address this wherever possible. For example, the Watch House's viewing tower commands a panoramic view of the entrance to the River Tyne, but access is via a steep staircase. It wasn't possible to alter the structure for disabled access. Instead, a video camera has been installed in the upper tower that can be directly operated and viewed from the ground floor. This allows people who cannot climb the tower to appreciate the striking and historically significant view.
Through these sensitive measures the Watch House still retains its charm but now discreetly meets modern building requirements, serving local communities both as the headquarters of a lifesaving organisation and as a museum dedicated to a significant aspect of the area’s heritage.
Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade
Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was founded in 1864 as a body of men trained to recover people from stricken ships by means of the Breeches Buoy – a rocket-fired rope line used to transfer people from wrecked vessels to the shore.
The Brigade was the first in England of its kind, and since its foundation has evolved into a multi-discipline search and rescue team, on call 24 hours a day all year round and staffed entirely by volunteers.