A CURIOUS piece of coastal history is seeking a new life.

Hartlepool council is to consider a planning application to convert the run-down Rocket House at Seaton Carew into an unusual seafront shop. The Rocket House is a distinctive thin building at the entrance to the beach car park which bears its name.

One source suggests the Rocket House was built in the 1860s which was when hundreds of rocket houses were being constructed around the coast.

As the name suggests, all the rocket launching apparatus was kept in the Rocket House.

Lifeboatmen would fire a rocket from a sturdy tripod embedded in the beach to a ship that had run aground. The rocket carried a line from which was slung a “breeches buoy” – a canvas chair, that looked like a pair of trousers, which moved along the line carrying rescued sailors over the top of the waves to the safety of the shore.

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Seaton Carew from the sky in the 1940s. The slim Rocket House is at the top, to the right of the seafront road and next to the building with "cafe" marked on its roof. Below it is art deco bus station, opened in 1938 and at the bottom is the wooden rollercoaster that offered thrilling rides between 1926 and 1965

One of the most famous rocket rescues on the east coast was on April 2, 1866, when the South Shields lifeboat station, which had only been operational for a couple of months, pulled ashore seven people – including a woman and an 18 month old baby – from the Tenterden, a Sunderland schooner, which had run aground off the pier.

The Shields rocket house is now part of a lifeboat museum, as is the Newbiggin rocket house in Northumberland, which also dates from the 1860s.

It is not known how often Seaton Carew’s rocket was deployed, but around the British coast between 1856 and 1909, 17,446 people were rescued from stricken ships by rocket-fired lines.

Seaton’s rocket house has recently been used as a police station and a first aid post, but is now vacant and in need of restoration. The council is to consider an application to turn it into a retail outlet – let’s hope that when the pandemic eases, the new business goes like a rocket.


The Northern Echo: Seaton Carew beach, July 13, 1962, at the height of summer - although jumpers, hats and coats are the order of the day

Seaton Carew beach, July 13, 1962, at the height of summer - although jumpers, hats and coats are the order of the day