8 Interesting Facts about Coastguard Stations

1. The initial purpose of the Coastguard was revenue protection, but this changed during the 19th century to that of naval reserve.

Coastguard iha FIG 4.jpg
Coastguards posing with their life-saving apparatus in 1901. The rocket was used to fire a line to a distressed or sinking ship enabling the crew and passengers to be brought safely to shore

2. In the 1920s life-saving responsibilities became the Coastguard’s primary role, along with coastal observation.

A Coastguard and friend watching from the cliffs near Hartland Point, Devon. A lighthouse is just visible in the distance while in the vicinity, but out of view, is a signal station latterly a Coastguard station.
A Coastguard and friend watching from the cliffs near Hartland Point, Devon. A lighthouse is just visible in the distance while in the vicinity, but out of view, is a signal station latterly a Coastguard station

3. Over the last two centuries the number of stations has fluctuated, reaching a peak of over 500 in the early 20th century.

The Admiralty 'show station' at Ramsgate, built 1865, has cottages and watch houses ranged around a walled courtyard. The buildings are treated in a 16th century domestic style and are listed at Grade II
The Admiralty ‘show station’ at Ramsgate, built 1865, has cottages and watch houses ranged around a walled courtyard. The buildings are treated in a 16th century domestic style and are listed at Grade II

4. The more isolated stations were required to be self-sufficient and in addition to the accommodation and storage facilities there might also be a slipway, outbuildings such as carpenter’s shops, bakehouses, earth closets, wash houses and rain-water tanks.

The Grade II-listed watch house on Rocky Island, Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, was built around 1876 for the Seaton Sluice Voluntary Life Saving Company and later used as an auxiliary Coastguard station
The Grade II-listed watch house on Rocky Island, Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, was built around 1876 for the Seaton Sluice Voluntary Life Saving Company and later used as an auxiliary Coastguard station

5. As well as purpose-built premises the Coastguard used adapted or converted buildings such as Martello towers and hulks.

Her Majesty's Watch Vessel Kangaroo was a naval frigate that served as accommodation for Coastguards between 1865 and 1872.
Her Majesty’s Watch Vessel Kangaroo was a naval frigate that served as accommodation for Coastguards between 1865 and 1872.

6. Admiralty era stations needed to be defended from attack and it is believed houses were designed to be intercommunicating and the number of entrances kept to a minimum.

The Coastguard Station, Chapel Road, Isle of Grain, Kent was built by the Admiralty in 1900. The row of brick houses is orientated towards the river Medway; the larger northernmost house was for the Chief Officer
The Coastguard Station, Isle of Grain, Kent was built by the Admiralty in 1900. The row of brick houses is orientated towards the river Medway; the larger northernmost house was for the Chief Officer

7. Under the Admiralty signalling formed an important aspect of Coastguard activity and Coastguardsmen were expected to be proficient in Morse, semaphore and telegraphy.

The Coastguard Station at St Agnes, Cornwall, built in 1893,is a handsome example of an Admiralty era station, listed at Grade II.
The Coastguard Station at St Agnes, Cornwall, built in 1893,is a handsome example of an Admiralty era station, listed at Grade II

8. Since the 1970s the traditional Coastguard station has been increasingly superseded by rescue centres; essentially operation rooms.

By the end of the 20th century Coastguard stations had evolved into Marine Rescue Centres, their altered role was reflected in their different architectural treatment. This sub-centre at Tynemouth Priory, North Tyneside was designed by the Property Services Agency and opened in 1980
By the end of the 20th century Coastguard stations had evolved into Marine Rescue Centres, their altered role was reflected in their different architectural treatment. This sub-centre at Tynemouth Priory was designed by Property Services Agency and opened in 1980

Britain is a maritime nation, and since Roman times has had structures set along the coastline dedicated to maintaining a watch over shore and coastal waters. In recent centuries these have been constructed for various reasons including the prevention of smuggling, locating and coordinating assistance to ships in distress or as part of defensive facilities against attack or invasion.

The architectural history of Coastguard stations has so far received little attention. It is possible to give a broad outline of the historical development of the service and the extent, characteristic elements and design of the stations but there remains much that is inadequately understood. This short guide to Coastguard Stations provides an introduction to the history and development of coastguard stations in England. It is intended to support the listing selection guide on Maritime and Naval buildings.

Further Reading:

screenshot-www.english-heritage.org.uk 2015-01-09 11-42-07Free download: Introduction to Heritage Assets – Coastguard Stations

4 responses to 8 Interesting Facts about Coastguard Stations

  1. CoastalJoe says:

    Great to see such an introduction to Coastguard history.
    Sadly, today the Government are closing existing Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC’s) in a flawed plan to save a small amount of money.
    The ‘Modernisation’ plan has seen Forth, Clyde and Gt. Yarmouth MRCC’s close already and will see Thames, Portland, Solent, Brixham, Swansea and Liverpool close soon.

    Despite considerable opposition, these closures will see Local Knowledge, expertise and history lost.

    The rash way that the process has been executed has seen a complete demoralisation of the Coastguard service with many staff leaving and could signal the end of the service having any Coastal Operations sites.

    Coastal Rescue Teams which are staffed by volunteers will continue to be available and tasked by the Future Coastguard Service from new inland Ops Centres using new systems which (at the point of writing) are not tested or proven to work.

    Please visit http://coastguardsos.com/
    For more information & ways to help fight closures.
    Thanks @CoastalJoe1

    Like

  2. Lois says:

    Fascinating – I’ve taken photos of coastguard cottages in England and Northern Ireland – thanks for giving some background information!

    Like

  3. I live in the coastguard cottages at Portland Bill. The Bill cottages have only ‘back’ doors – facing into a central courtyard – and our recent renovations uncovered a bricked in original doorway between us and next door on the top floor. It’s not clear whether the door was originally open or made with a skin wall to break in an emergency. The wash house is still standing (and used for mending lobster pots) and the outline of the well can still be seen. When I’m trying to dry clothes and boots inside in winter I often think enviously of that wash house and drying room.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mick Galloway says:

    My surname is Galloway and I have always wondered how the old coastguard at Lydd Kent called galloways got its name.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s