The severe fire in Eddingon, 1875:
On Tuesday 14 June 1875 there was a severe fire in Eddington. Seven cottages were destroyed - but only one was insured. Contemporary reports describe the fire engine as inadequate, and plans were made to obtain a new steam fire engine. It seems that nothing much changed, however, for some years, as the same machine was in use in 1890 - but by this time the pressure for change was increasing.
Further reports of the failing fire pump:
NWN 7.7.1890: "That antiquated machine, by courtesy called the Borough Fire Engine, was again brought out on Monday evening, and used for the purpose of cleaning the windows of the Town Hall. This task was most efficiently performed and the "brigade" subsequently recounted with pardonable pride over a social pipe and glass the wondrous deeds they had accomplished."
NWN 10.7.1890: "Quite a commotion was caused in the street the other evening by the appearance of our old friend, the fire engine, which happily is not often required to do public duty. On this occasion, however, it was brought out for an airing, and after considerable labour on the part of a band of men and boys, a decent stream of water was brought to play upon the adjacent windows. The result of the experiments went on to show that in case of fire the "extinguisher" would not prove of great service. Perhaps the exhibition may result in the organization of a body of men, who might be drilled to use the engine with as much efficiency as this antiquated machine will allow. Better still if it convinces the authorities that it is time to consider the propriety of something better in the way of a defence against fire."
Marlborough Times 12.7.1890: "The Town Fire Engine was taken out for practice on Thursday evening, and as regards the hose proved to be practically useless in case of a fire. Only the first length of hose was of any use, the other lengths bursting when the pumping took place. There is no doubt the High Constable will do his best to put things in a better state, so that should a fire break out we may in some measure be able to cope with it. What the town wants, however, is a really good engine, which might be confidently relied upon."
Plans for a new fire engine:
Marlborough Times 26.7.1890: NEW FIRE ENGINE AND FIRE BRIGADE - As will be seen by an advertisement in another column a meeting is convened for the 18th August, at four p.m., for the purpose of raising funds for the purchase of a new Fire Engine and the formation of a Fire Brigade. This is one of the pressing wants of the town, for, should a fire break out, the result would be most disastrous, as our present engine is practically useless. Apropos of the above, we were at a convivial meeting some time ago when a topical song was sung, the following satirical verse being part of it:-
This town it has the best fire engine
In all the land.
No steam for it is ever needed
Only our own strong hand.
No great fire can stand against it,
Once we get him there,
And the pretty way it squirts the water
Makes all the people stare."
We trust there will be a good meeting, which will result in the desired object being attained.
- "New Steam Fire Engine for Hungerford"
- The H.V.F.B. at the new fire station, 1893. On the left is Mr George Platt (Lieutenant) and with his dog is George Cottrell (Captain)
- The H.V.F.B. with the Town Band outside the fire station, c1910. [Mapson]
- Firemen and others with fire engine, unknow date (Moya Dixon collection).
From the advertisement for the Fire Brigade Jumble Sale, 4th Dec 1891:
Old Pots, and Pans, and Watering Cans,
Old Plates, and Ancient Jugs;
A Broken Chair that you can spare,
And Carpets, Mats, and Rugs.
Untidy Shoes that you would lose
If left to lie about,
Or you might spare that Coat you wear,
I'm sure it's quite worn out.
Those little Toys with which your boys
And girls no longer play,
Thos little Frocks, and Shoes, and Socks,
That some might throw away.
Please send them all, or we will call,
For nothing will degrade;
For what seems nought, will soon be bought,
And help our Fire Brigade.
A Public Meeting about the proposed new fire engine:
Invitations were sent out (with advertisements in the local papers) asking all interested parties to attend a public meeting:
Hungerford, 23rd July, 1890
As the present state of the Hungerford Fire Engine appears to be severely criticised in various Papers, we, the undersigned, have decided to use out utmost endeavours to form an efficient Volunteer Fire Brigade, with modern equipments.
To accomplish this we ask all interested to attend a Public Meeting at the Town Hall, Hungerford, on Wednesday, August 13th, at 4 p.m., when Col. Willes has kindly promised to take the Chair.
H. D'O. W. Astley
J. Beard, Junr.
Perhaps as a result of all this interest, there is a surge of reports in the local papers about fires in the area:
Newbury Express 31.7.1890: "On Wednesday morning a hayrick, the property of Mr Wilson of Chilton, standing in a meadow by the Chilton road took fire, through overheating. No application was made for the fire engine and it was therefore not brought into requisition.
Shortly after 11 o'clock on the same morning the fire bell at the Corn Exchange was rung, and on enquiry I found that the house of Mr Cassam Killick, who formerly resided here, but now lives at Shefford Woodlands, was on fire, and that a messenger had just arrived for help. The engine was got out and horsed, and in the space of about ten minutes after the messenger had arrived, the horses galloped briskly towards the Woodlands. On arriving there it was found that the flames had obtained a strong hold of the building, which was enveloped in flames. The engine was soon set to work but although nothing could be done to save Mr Killick's house, the fire was prevented from spreading to the adjoining post office and outhouses. As it was, the building itself was completely burnt down, only the furniture being saved. There was fortunately no lack of water, a large pond close at hand being filled by the recent rains. It is supposed that the fire originated in the bakehouse, where there was a fire burning. Mr Killick's furniture was insured in the Royal Farmer's Insurance Company, but it is not known whether the house, which is the property of the Marquis of Downshire, is insured."
The planned meeting received wide local support, and it is reported (Marlborough Times, 18.8.1890) that:
"Capt. Church and the Newbury Fire Brigade will come to Hungerford on that day, and will run out the hose at the Canal Bridge and extinguish an imaginary fire in Moon-lane. They will also give a display with four jets near the Canal Bridge at 3.30pm."
[On the day, the planned demonstration in Moon Lane did not take place. Whilst Newbury's steam fire engine "was quite capable of forcing the water to that spot, they were unable to obtain the necessary hose. A London firm had promised the loan of it, but a letter was received on Monday, stating they could not fulfil their promise unless the Hungerford people were prepared to buy the hose after it had been used. This they could not do, as it would have cost £170".]
The public "Fire Brigade" meeting duly took place, and was widely reported in the local papers. Col Willes presided, and amongst those present were the Rev J B Anstice, the High Constable, Mr T Fruen, Mr R Barker, Mr W H Dunn, Major Aldridge, Mr D'O W Astley, Mr G Cottrell, Captain Church (Newbury), Mr J Platt, Mr H J Beard, Gen Cherry, Mr A W Neate, Rev J F C Denning, Mr G Platt jun., Mr F Church, Mr F Low, Mr Kidd, Mr M Goulter, and Mr J Adnams. The Chairman explained that the town "had now two engines, whether one was made before the flood or shortly after he could not say, and the other, what they termed their newest one, was 168 years old"! [=1722. I believe this is actually the 1702 engine - HLP]
After some discussion on the merits of a "steamer" as opposed to another manual engine resulted in an agreement that a steamer was required - and Capt Church advised it would cost about £600. Mr G Platt offered to find "a proper house for it". A Committee was appointed (comprising Messrs Willes, Cherry, Anstice, Fruen, Adnams, Astley, Beard, Cottrell and Platt), and subscriptions started to come in, £107 being collected at the meeting.
The Committee advertised for further public subscriptions (aiming for £650), and the money was soon obtained or promised.
Marlborough Times 12.9.1891: A NEW FIRE ENGINE - The effort to raise money for the purchase of a new steam fire engine has been successful, the sum needed, £600, having been either collected or promised. The engine, which is to be a 3-horse one, will cost £400, and the hose and necessary appliances a further sum of £200. The order for the engine has been given to Messrs Cottrell and Co of the Eddington Iron Works. A fire brigade will at once be formed, and a great need will this be satisfied."
Parish Magazine 1.10.1891: The Committee have ventured to order a Steam Fire Engine, though all the money required has not yet been raised, in the hope that some further donations will come in before the end of the year. The following Fire Brigade has been formed: Messrs G Cottrell (Captain), G E Platt (Lieutenant), J Beard (Sergeant), W Sperring and A Deer (Engineers), H Hoskings, H D'O W Astley, A Killick, J Adnams, A Cundell, F Jessett, and W Alexander."
Such was the excitement in the town at this time, that there were even false alarms:
NWN 24.9.1891: "A dense volume of smoke was observed issuing from the hamlet of Leverton yesterday morning, and which was thought to augur a journey for the 'Spitter', but some members of the anticipated new brigade, promptly harnessed a horse, and with a wagonette, made all haste to the seat of the supposed fire. Upon their arrival, they found no faire, but the promptness of their turn-out may be a precursor of what we may expect when a call is received, after the formation of the new brigade."
Newbury Express 29.10.1891: "THE NEW FIRE ENGINE - An old Hungerfordian write: "Last week I paid a visit to the Naval Exhibition at Chelsea, and among numerous interesting objects I observed the new fire engine, which was tome the most interesting object of the whole exhibition. It stood on Messrs Merryweather's stand, with a card attached, stating that it was fitted with all the latest improvements, and was made to order for the Hungerford Fire Brigade. Quite a thrill of pleasure ran through me....."
Marlborough Times 7.11.1891: "The new fire engine will arrive shortly, and the Brigade purpose having a public trial on Wednesday the 18th inst, at 4 o'clock, in the High Street. A public dinner will be held in the evening." (at 6.30pm. Tickets 5s (exclusive of wine). Morning Dress.)
The new steamer arrived in the town on Monday 16th November 1891. It was a Merryweather 'Greenwich'. The "Greenwich" had taken Gold Medal at the National Inventions Exhibition, and had all the latest improvements, and 1000 feet of canvas hose. (See Parish Magazine 1.12.1891). Messrs Merryweather & Co charged £526 13s 7d for the engine, and there was still £50 to raise in December 1891, when a Jumble Sale was held at the Corn Exchange.
Parish Magazine, Dec 1891: "The great event of the past month was the arrival of the Steam Fire Engine, and the display given by the Fire Brigade of Wednesday, November 18. The engine has been purchased of Messrs. Merryweather, at a cost of E500.
It is of the celebrated Greenwich pattern, which took the gold medal at the National Inventions Exhibition, and it is supplied with all the latest improvements, and with a thousand feet of canvas hose. The Volunteer Brigade consists of the following members: Captain, Mr. G Cottrell; Lieutenant, Mr. G. E. Platt; Sergeant, Mr. J Beard, Firemen, Messrs. J. Adnams, W.Alexander, A.A.Cundell, Hoskins, F. Jessett, and A Killick. Messrs. Dear and Sperring, Engineers; and Mr Astley, Honorary Secretary.
The Brigade is fully equipped with a smart and serviceable uniform and helmet, and with all necessary implements and appliances. In spite of the liberal response made by the town and neighbourhood to the appeal for subscriptions, there is still about £50 more required; and it is announced that an American Fair and Jumble Sale will be held in the Corn Exchange."
Berkshire Chronicle 21.11.1891: "THE NEW FIRE ENGINE - The new steam fire engine is now in the possession of the newly-formed Volunteer Fire Brigade, under Captain Cottrell and Lieutenant Platt. A public demonstration of the power and capabilities of the engine was made on Wednesday . The engine was well horsed and with the brigade, a parade was made through the town. Halt was made at the canal and steam got up in seven and a half minutes. A thousand feet of hose was run as far as the Town Hall. A jet was thrown from thirty to forty feet over the building. The demonstration was under the supervision of Messrs Cleaver and Harper, from the renowned firm of Messrs Merryweather, who have supplied the engine. Amongst those present were Captain A Church (of the Newbury Fire Brigade), Captain Ayres (of the Reading Brigade), Captain S Mortimer (Trowbridge) and Captain Hill (of Ramsbury). A number of the Newbury firemen were also present. The new station is at the Tannery, through the kindness of Mr Platt. The uniform of the brigade is similar to that of Newbury. The fittings, in connection with the engine, are all like the Newbury complement, so that at any time the two brigades could work together, if required, without the least delay. About £100 is still wanted to fully equip the brigade. A dinner was held in the evening at the Corn Exchange, at which Colonel Willes presided. About one hundred sat down and the company included the chief residents and tradesmen of the town. Mrs Free, of the Swan Hotel, catered."
On 18 November 1891 a public demonstration of the new Greenwich machine was staged at the Town Hall. Four fine horses hauled the engine at a gallop along the street from the fire station in Charnham Street to the canal wharf. One thousand feet of hose was extended up the street, and within seven and a half minutes, the pump was at full pressure, and able to throw a jet of water 30 or 40 ft. over the Town Hall. When tested back at the wharf, it achieved a jet of about 150 ft., and the admiring crowds cheered enthusiastically. To celebrate the event a dinner was held in the Corn Exchange, about one hundred gentlemen being present.
Newbury Express 19.11.1891:
HUNGERFORD VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE
DEMONSTRATING THE NEW STEAMER
The elements unfortunately were not propitious, but nevertheless the public assembled in large numbers in the afternoon axiously anticipating the result of the trial, and we may say so far as the local Volunteer Fire Brigade is concerned it was a "red letter day,' or to use the expression of a well known local man a "resurrection day".
The members of the brigade, under the command of the popular Captain Cottrell, mustered at their new fire station about 2.30. Here it may be stated that the station has been kindly lent by Mr. J. Platt,and is nicely fitted up with every convenience for the purposes of the brigade. The members of the brigade present in addition to the Captain, were Lieutenant G. Platt, Branchmen Beard, Hoskins, Alexander and Jessett; Chief Engineer Sperring, Engineer Deer. Firemen Astley (hon. sec.), Cundell, Adams and Killick.
Having "put to" four splendid horses (lent for the occasion by Messrs. Platt and Cottrell), with new harness, they started at a gallop up the town for the scrutiny of the public: after which the engine was taken down to the canal, and the order was given to get to work. The fire was lighted, and in the short time of 7½ mins. 100lb. pressure on the square inch was raised.
Meanwhile the members of the brigade had run out 1000ft. of hose, which extended some distance up beyond the Town Hall. This was done in the time of about four minutes, which was considered very creditable for a young brigade. A powerful jet, 7/8 in. in diameter, threw water some 30 or 40ft. over the top of the Town Hall, amidst the cheers of the general public. The hose was then continued farther up the street, and a powerful stream was thrown over the higher houses, and subsequently the engine delivered two 7/8 in. jets. The hose was then taken down to the canal, where a further display was given, an eighth inch jet sending the water a height of several hundred feet, notwithstanding the high wind. Two, three, and four jets also played simultaneously, showing the wonderful power of this engine.
The Fire Station: Mr Platt has generously placed premises at the Tannery at the disposal of the brigade, and her a very cosy and well-arranged fire station has been provided. The engine is on the ground floor in readiness for a turn-out, and there are rooms on the first floor for the accommodation of the brigade and their equipments. The place is lighted by gas, and every plan has been adopted to further the efficiency of the brigade, and to effect promptness in responding to calls.
There were present superintending the demonstration Captain J H Cleaver on behalf of Messrs Merryweather and Sons, Capt Hill (Ramsbury), Capt Ayres (Reading), Engineer T Chapman (Maiden Earleigh), Capt S Mortimer (of Messrs Palmer and Mackey's, Trowbridge), Mr T. H. Lawrence; the following of the Newbury Volunteer Fire Brigade were also present: Capt. A. Church, Branchmen Harrison and Freebody, Firemen C Adey, Booth and White.
The engine was driven by Engineer Harper, of the firm of the makers, and the whole of the experiments were carried out in a perfectly satisfactory manner. The engine has been purchased by the Hungerford Brigade; it was one of the steam fire engines lent to the Naval Exhibition in case of fire, and it is very creditable that a town like Hungerford should be in possession of such a magnificent engine.
A description of the new Merryweather "Greenwich" Fire Engine:
The following is a description of the new engine, which is of the well-known "Greenwich " pattern. It is a double cylinder machine, having two steam cylinders, driving two direct and double acting pumps, and the machinery is bolted to the two parallel bars of Lowmoor iron which form the frame, thus giving great rigidity and strength. The pumps are cast in one piece out of gunmetal, and the piston rods are of steel, cased with brass to prevent rust. The valves are of gunmetal, and are placed in a chamber below the pump barrels so that grit or stones cannot get into and injure the barrels. The waterways are large, so that the pumps are filled at every stroke, even when the machine is running at full speed, thus avoiding jars to the machinery. The boiler is of Merryweather's quick steaming type, capable of raising steam to working pressure in from 6 to 8 minutes from time of lighting the fire. The fire door is behind and a footplate for engineer being provided, the fire can be stoked while travelling, thus saving several minutes of valuable time by having steam raised on arrival at the scene of a conflagration. Driver's seat, large hose and implement box, coal and water bunkers are fitted, as well as a double lever brake to action both hind wheel. The machine is handsomely painted, with "Hungerford" on each side of the hose box, while the polished metal gives a bright look to the whole.
The 'Greenwich" pattern engine was first invented by Messrs. Merryweather in 1885. when it took the gold medal at the International Inventions Exhibition and it has since been supplied to municipalities and fire brigades in all parts of the world. Amongst English towns now possessing this type, may be mentioned London (5 large engines throwing 4000 gallons per minute), Manchester (5 engines), Wolverhampton. Coventry. Loughborough, West Hartlepool, Nuneaton. Bootle, Ramsbottom, Bedford. Salisbury, Nottingham, Pontefract. Hull. Wimbledon, Portsmouth (on order), Inverness. Richmond, Wigan. Bath, &c., &c. The chief points in favour of the machine are its lightness in proportion to its power, its great strength of construction, its steadiness in working, its fewness of moving parts, simplicity of design, and its easy running. Messrs. Merryweather employ none but English workmen and the materials used are of the very best and when we say that the firm has been established some 200 years, it will be seen that the Hungerford authorities have taken the best way in procuring their engine from a firm which has a reputation to keep up, and that a very high one indeed.
In the evening a public dinner was held in the Corn Exchange to celebrate the event, at which about 100 sat down, the catering being excellently carried out by Mrs Free, of the Swan Hotel. Col. Willes presided, being supported by the Rural Dean (Rev. J. B. Anstice), Major Ricardo, the Constable (Mr T. Fruen), Dr. Major, Captain A. Church, Messrs. G. Chapman, J. Adnams, H. J. Beard, J. Platt, J. Westcombe. and T. Alexander. The vice chairs were taken by Lieut, Platt and Sergt. Beard, Amongst the others present were:—Messrs. Pegler. Coombes. Chapman, Bryant, Richings, Hughes,, Knapp, Lawrence, Hissey, Cundell, Pigott, Adnams Love, Osmond, L. Beard, Fowler, Wren, Buckeridge, McKerlie, Davidson, G. Edwards, Waddington, Clifford, Allright, jun., Hawkes, Jesset, Newhook, Higgs, Neate, H. Poole, Chisel, J. Westcombe, Lewis, Oakes, K. Killick, R. Baverstock, Astley, Gilbert, Penny, C. Edwards, the representatives of the Newbury V.F.B., &c.
After the dinner the following toast list was gone through: "The Queen", "The Prince of Wales and the rest of the Royal Family" were all proposed by the Chairman ; ''The Bishop of the Diocese, and Clergy and Ministers of all Denominations" proposed by the Chairman, and Rev. J. B. Anstice responded. "Army, Navy, and Reserve Forces" proposed by Dr. Major, responded to by Major Ricardo, Lieut. Platt, Lieut. M. Platt, and "Corporal Hawkes. "Success to the H.V.F.B." proposed by the Chairman, and responded to by Capt. Cottrell and Hon. Sec. Astley. " The Subscribers" proposed by Mr J. Platt. "The Neighbouring Fire Brigade" proposed by Lieut. Platt, responded to by Capt. Church; "The Constable and Feoffees of Hungerford" proposed by the Chairman, responded to by the Constable (Mr Fruen). "The Ladies" proposed by Mr J. Adnams, responded to by Fireman Cundell; "The Chairman" proposed by Capt. Cottrell, responded to by Colonel Willes.
We are unable to give any of the speeches owing to having to go to Press early.
A Cash Book covering the receipts and expenditure of the Hungerford Volunteer Fire Brigade between 18 Nov 1891 and 1905 is in the HHA Archives. The first page is reproduced here:
The Official Minute Book of the Hungerford Volunteer Fire Brigade (including Members meetings, 22 Sep 1891 – 19 Feb 1912; Provisional Committee 7 Sep 1891 – 1 Feb 1892 and Executive Committee AGM 25 Nov 1892 – 13 Feb 1912) is in the HHA Archives.
This includes the original "Rules of the HVFB", dated 29 Sep 1891, which were signed by all members.
The memoirs of Mr. Astley, the local solicitor, include:
"Another event of note was the start of the Hungerford Voluntary Fire Brigade in 1891. Previously there was no brigade. There were four of us, George Cottrell, owner of the Iron Works at Eddington; George Platt, the brewer; myself, and John Beard, the coal merchant. I must confess I thought we were aiming rather high when we decided to go in for a "steamer". However, our project was well supported by the residents of the town and neighbourhood and we soon had sufficient money to purchase the engine and equip the brigade. You can imagine how proud we all felt when we first appeared in our new uniforms and shining brass helmets!".
Marlborough Times 28.11.1891: " THE FIRE BELL - With the organisation of a new fire brigade, and the purchase of a new engine, the arrangements for giving an alarm promptly have received attention, the fire bell under the Corn Exchange having been made to ring. The rope is encased in a box, with the key hung on a nail. Should a fire occur, the person who is first at the Exchange has instructions to break the glass, pull the rope out and ring the bell."
After a couple of false alarms (at Bagshot Mill around 3rd Dec 1891 and East Court Farm Shalbourne on 1st Dec 1891), the brigade had a practice on 29th December:
NWN 7.1.1892: "The Fire Brigade had an outing to Mr Curnick's farm at Standen last week, but there was not a full muster of firemen. After going through the drill a start was made for home. The horses became restive and some damage was done to the harness, and Fireman Jessitt has a narrow escape. However, nothing more serious happened and the return journey was made with two horses instead of four. It is these little mishaps that necessitate frequent practice, so that when a serious call to duty is received, the brigade may be able to render good and valuable assistance."
A decision had to be made regarding the charges for calling out the fire brigade. It was announced:
Marlborough Times 6.2.1892: "The following authorised charges will be made by the brigade for use of appliances against such person as shall summon the Brigade to turn out:
- To use of Steam Fire Engine and Appliances for every twelve hours or part: £6 6s. 0d
- Horses and Drivers for same, as per account incurred.
And such outside assistance as shall be engaged by the Brigade, and all incidental expenses incurred, shall be charged in the claim.
At the meeting of Members on 18 Jan 1892 it was agreed that "any Member requiring refreshment whilst at the Engine House, shall pay one penny for every glass and two pence for every pint of beer."
Fire at Town Mills, Newbury:
The first "proper" call for the newly formed brigade was on the evening of 30th March 1892 when "one of the most destructive fires which has taken place in Newbury" occurred at the Town Mills. "While the fire was at its worst it was thought desirable to send for the Hungerford Volunteer Fire Brigade, but it was found impossible to get a telegraphic message through". Eventually a message did get through to Hungerford Railway Station, and the Brigade was summoned. "The Hungerford Brigade made a start about one o'clock, and arrived on the scene, under the command of Captain Cottrell, just at two o'clock, being lustily cheered as they passed the Newbury Bridge. They got to work on the smouldering ruins in a remarkably short space of time."
Fire at The Plough, High Street:
On the evening of 29th March 1892 the brigade was called to attend a fire at "The Plough" Inn in the High Street:
Marlborough Times 2.4.1892: "On Tuesday evening the fire bell rang out between 7 and 8 o'clock, a fire having broken oout at the rear of the "Plough Inn". It appears that in a shed or cart house where Mr Winkworth kept his traps a lamp had been left standing on a barrel. It is supposed the lamp was blown down by the wind, which was very gusty, and set fire to the place. Mr Winkworth was not at home at the time, and his son had left a short time previously. Mr Batt, who lives next door, and Mr C Harding climbed over the gateway and, with help, succeeded in confining the fire to the shed, by pouring buckets of water upon it. The contents of the shed were destroyed, namely three traps, a wheel-barrow, two or three tar barrels and other articles. The loss is covered by insurance in the "Sun Fire Office", having been effected with Mr Hidden about six months since. The Volunteer Fire Brigade got their engine ready, but their services were not required."
Fire at The Workhouse, Park Street:
The next big fire was on 16th September when fire broke out at the Hungerford Workhouse in Park Street:
Marlborough Times 2.4.1892: "About one o'clock on Friday morning last, the fire bell rang out and the shrill whistles of the policemen were heard, much to the alarm of the inhabitants, and when it became known that the union workhouse was on fire, the feeling became intensified. The fire brigade answered the call with commendable promptitude, and they had their fire engine out in four minutes. They did not stop to get horses, but went into harness themselves, and drew the engine over the canal bridge, and along the canal path as far as the drawbridge. The then drew it through Mr Andrews' meadow and placed it in position close to the canal, immediately opposite the workhouse. From this spot it required nearly 1,000 feet of hose to reach the fire. This was quickly played out, being carried across the railway and the meadow beyond, over Park Street, and through the union grounds, until the front entrance was reached, whence it was passed through the house to the read, where the fire had broken out. The jet was soon playing on the burning building. By this time, through the energetic efforts of Mr Fowler, the master, some of the inmates and other willing helpers, the fire had been nearly subdued, and the efforts of the firemen were chiefly directed to prevent its extension to the main building, which happily they were able to do. The fire broke out in the cooking room. There was a quantity of oil, among other stores, which helped to feed the flames, and this place was burnt to the ground. The outbreak was discovered by some tramps who were locked in the tramp ward, which was nearly close to the cooking room. They had to break the door down before they could give the alarm. The master, having been awakened, ran down without stopping to dress, and did his best to put out the fire. Fortunately there was a good supply of buckets and water on the premises, and the fire did not extend beyond where it originated. Mr Fowler, the master, had one of his feet badly cut while running about with no boots on, and has been laid up. The tramp who gave the alarm rendered splendid service in putting out the fire, having worked most indefatigably. Captain Cottrell, Lieutenant Platt and the other members of the brigade deserve credit for the smart manner in which they did their work, and those who rendered service with buckets are worthy of much praise. The splendid capabilities of the engine were exemplified most thoroughly, as the water had to be pumped up hill all the way, a distance of a thousand feet."
Fire at Cottrell's Ironworks, Eddington:
A disastrous fire occurred at Cottrell's Works in Eddington on 23rd December 1892. The Parish Magazine of January 1893 records: "This fire must have convinced the most sceptical of the absolute necessity of an efficient organisation for dealing with accidental or incendiary fires. Had it not been for the prompt and energetic action of the Fire Brigade with their powerful Steam Engine, the whole of the extensive premises and probably all the houses in Eddington must have been destroyed. As it was, the damage done was most lamentable, and must be the occasion of considerable loss and inconvenience to the Firm, to whom Hungerford owes so much of its prosperity. The fire appears to have originated in the foundry, where casting operations had been proceeding a few hours previously; and the flames rapidly extended to the pattern room, which contained patters valued at many hundred pounds. The casting stores were completely destroyed, and portions of the showroom and blacksmith's shop were also burned. The damage done is estimated at £2,000. With his usual consideration for his work people, Mr Cottrell has arranged to find employment for those who were engaged in the casting and moulding departments, so that none will be out of work in consequence of the fire."
On Friday night one of the most destructive fires that has occurred in Hungerford broke out at Messrs. Cottrell and Co's foundry at Eddington. The foundry formed a compact range of buildings of considerable extent, and are surrounded on three sides by the dwelling houses which constitute the hamlet of Eddington. and it is at these works where the celebrated elevators so well-known throughout the agricultural world are manufactured.
The fire was first observed at about eight o'clock p.m. by Mr Frank Jessett, whose garden adjoins. Mr. Jessett. who is an active member of the fire brigade, soon gave the alarm. The fire bell being rung, the engine was got out and steam up in an incredibly short time. Fortunately the river Kennet runs through Eddington, and the engine was placed in it as near the fire as possible. The engineman had steam up by about 8.15, and the firemen ran out the hose and soon had four jets playing on the buildings, which were now burning furiously. The flames were first noticed issuing from the pattern loft, which adjoined the foundry, where casting had been going on during the day. Ladders were placed against the walls, which were scaled by firemen and others, and every means were used to stay the progress of the devouring element. On the roofs of the pattern room and showroom were piled large stacks of seasoned spokes. One of these stacks was burnt, but a risky, though successful effort, was made to prevent the others from igniting, and they were, by willing hands, thrown pell-mell into the adjoining gardens and the stream which runs by. Had these caught nothing could have prevented the whole of the showroom and the oil stores being destroyed, and the adjoining house must also have gone. The proprietor of the Iron Works, Mr. G. Cottrell, is also captain of the fire brigade, and by his judicious orders, which were promptly carried put by the brigade, much property was saved. As it was, however, there was a large amount of damage done, including all the valuable patterns used in the works.
It is estimated that the amount of damage done is £2,000. The moulding shop, two store rooms, and the pattern loft were totally destroyed, and portions of the showroom, smithy, and some other sheds burnt. The property was partially insured in the "London, Liverpool and Globe".
It is gratifying to find that none of the workmen will be thrown out of employ at this inclement season of the year, but that full work will be found for all of them.
The work of destruction, owing to the inflammable nature of the property, occupied but a small time, namely, about two hours. At one time it was thought impossible that the house near the showroom, occupied by two maiden ladies, the Misses Toomy, could escape, and all the furniture was removed into the street. One of the ladies had been bedridden for a long time and had to be removed bed and all on the shoulders of men. Mr. Henry Gibbons, of the Kennet Iron Works, kindly gave her shelter. Through the efforts of the brigade the house was saved, as were also many other buildings and much valuable property. Had it not been for them the whole of the works must have gone, and probably the greater part of the hamlet would have been destroyed. The brigade are deserving of the highest praise.
It was strange that within so short a time after the annual dinner that the Volunteer Fire Brigade should called upon to give such a practical test of their smartness and efficiency. Certainly the Brigade have never had a better opportunity of showing what they can do in an emergency than on Friday night, and gave a valuable object lesson as to the use of a steam fire engine. Such a fire in the days of the old manual would have been nothing less than a catastrophe, and surely there will be none to begrudge a donation to maintain the efficiency of so an institution.
A new Fire Station:
In 1893, George Platt announced that he had decided to sell the Brewery, and as until then the fire engine had been housed there, it was unexpectedly necessary to find a new fire station for the brigade:
Marlborough Times 29.4.1893: "NEW FIRE BRIGADE STATION - The Fire Brigade, being under the necessity of finding fresh accommodation for their engine, have decided to build a commodious station in Charnham Street. The site has already been acquired and the work commenced."
NWN 10.8.1893: "A handsome weather vane was erected last week on the bell turret of the Fure Brigade's new engine house in Charnham Street. The vane is painted red and gold and adds materially to the appearance of the structure."
Marlborough Times 16.9.1893: "The new fire station is in an advanced stage of completion, the steam fire engine was on Friday evening last removed from its old quarters, at Mr Hoskings' to the new engine house in Charnham Street. A large number of interested spectators were present at the removal. The event was afterwards celebrated by a dinner in the upper room of the station, at which the members of the brigade and committee were present.
Hungerford can now boast of one of the best fire engines and one of the best appointed and convenient stations in the kingdom, and of a brigade who are striving to gain the highest of efficiency.
Mr Johnson of Newbury has kindly presented the Fire Brigade with a clock for use at the Fire Station, and it has been put up in the engine-room."
At the AGM in December 1893, "the engine house now being finished..." and "..being obliged to leave our old station, and no other being available, we were compelled to purchase a site and build a new station." Thanks were expressed "..to their kind friend Mr Platt they were indebted at first for housing the engine ("stable room"). The premises having been sold they had to look out for fresh quarters, and having the opportunity of acquiring the present site, they found a friend in Mr Westcombe, who advanced the money, and now they had, admittedly, one of the best appointed stations in the South of England."
NWN 21.7.1894: "A handsome new lamp has this week been erected at the Fire Brigade Station, in Charnham Street, and is quite an ornament".
In their first year, the HVFB attended five fires:
- Eddington Ironworks
- Mr Higgs:
- West Woodhay
- Sep 1893 - Hurstbourne Tarrant, and
- Sep 1893 - Crown Brewery:
Fire at the Crown Brewery:
Marlborough Times, 2.9.1893: "FIRE AT THE CROWN BREWERY - On Thursday night, about a quarter past ten o'clock, two young men, named Anthony Bowsher and Joseph Vincent, were passing along Church Street, and noticed flames issuing from the Crown Brewery. They at once ran to the Corn Exchange, and, breaking the glass, rang the fire-bell. The appeal was soon responded to, both by the old and new brigades. The old manual engine, which is kept at the Corn Exchange, within a few yards of where the fire broke out, was naturally the first to arrive, and Bushnell, who deserves commendation for his promptitude, soon had his engine in working order and playing on the burning mass. The supply of water and the smallness of the jet were quite ineffectual in putting out the fire, but delayed its extension until the arrival of the steam engine, with its energetic fire brigade. Within ten minutes of the call, the brigade had assembled at the fire station, and they were on their way to the fire by 10.25. The engine was placed near the Canal Bridge and the hose was run out up the High-street to the fire. One section was carried through the passage of Mr. Love's house and the other up Church-street, and the jets, one in front and the other in the rear of the Brewery, were brought into play. Within a few yards of the Brewery was a large thatched store place, belonging to Mr. Wren, and it appeared as if it could not possibly escape, but Bushnell so persistently directed his jet on it that the fire was kept at bay until the steam engine was brought to play. The rapidity with which the fire was subdued when once the steamer's jets were brought into action was marvellous. Within five minutes the fire in the Brewery was got under, and by eleven o'clock every cause for anxiety wag over.
It is fortunate that the night was so calm, as if there had been a high wind the fire would have been much more disastrous. The brewery was in a line with a long range of buildings, extending into the High-street, and the adjoining building was covered with thatch, while the Corn Exchange is only a few yards off. The only water obtainable for the manual was from Mr. Killick's well, and had to be put into the engine in buckets. The men who did the pumping worked well, and deserve praise. The operations of the Steam Fire Brigade were most skilfully and effectually carried out under the direction of Capt. Cottrell and Lieut. Platt.
The cause of the fire is unknown. There had been a fire in the furnace all day, which waa banked up at night. The buildings and plant are insured."
Mr Love (of the Crown Brewery) appears not to have paid his £6 6s for the fire brigade's attendance - and a special letter had to be sent to persuade him to pay. As a result of this, Frank Love resigned as a member of the brigade.
Other reported fires include:
- Jul 1894 - Two cottages at Sanham Green
- Jan 1896 - Oxford Arms, Newtown. Following this, Mr Russell of Little Hidden had made
"certain false statements concerning the Members of the Brigade as to their behaviour
when attending the Fire at the Oxford Arms which cast reflection on their moral conduct.
It was decided that a letter should be sent to Mr Russell asking him to apologise for his
remarks". Mr Russell did apologise, and his apologies were accepted.
- May 1908 - Great Shefford
- Dec 1908 - Church Street
- Dec 1908 - Great Shefford
- Dec 1908 - Kirby Farm, Inkpen
- Mar 1909 - Bear Hotel
- Nov 1909 - Welford Park
The brigade was also called upon to help pump out at times of flooding. A notable flood occurred in Charnham Street in 1894.
In Sep 1893 it was resolved to use the Fire Station as a Social Club, supplied with daily and other papers (they selected "The Daily Graphic", "The Evening Standard", "The Fireman" and "Fire and Water"). Membership subscription was 2/6d per quarter.
A squad representing the HVFB went to London on 9 Nov 1895 to attend the Lord Mayor's Show! Merryweather's provided a Steam Fire Engine for their use at the Show.
In 1897 there were beginning to be difficulties in finding horses suitable for pulling the fire engine. It was recorded on 27 Jan 1897 that Mr Osmond of The Bear had written "declining to find horses for the Engine...". Mrs Osmond said she would do her best, but could not promise to find horses.
A new set of Rules was introduced in Oct 1902, when the word "Volunteer" was omitted from title of the Brigade.
Regular annual Fire Brigade Dinners were held at this time - and in 1895 it is recorded that there were no fewer than 12 toasts! At the eighteenth Annual Fire Brigade Dinner at the Bear Hotel on Wednesday 2nd March 1910, it was proposed to obtain a new motorised fire engine.
The topic of the "Motor Fire Engine" was discussed at each meeting of Members of the Brigade from 4 Jul 1910. This story is continued in the next section, under Fire Service 1910-1924.
(With thanks to Andrew Macey for access to the Fire Service Scrapbook 1890-1913)
- Parish Magazine, esp Jul 1875, Dec 1891.
- HVFB Minute Book 1891-1912 [HHA Archives K]
- HVFB Station Duty Book [HHA Archive K]
- HVFB Cash Book 18 Nov 1891 – 1905 [HHA Archive K]