You are in [Themes] [Fires and Firefighting] [Fire Service 1910-1924]

Good though the Greenwich fire engine had been, it was getting increasingly difficult to get horses to pull the fire engine, and technology was rapidly advancing. The need for a self-propelled machine was evident. At the 18th Annual Fire Brigade Dinner on 2nd March 1910, the idea of obtaining a motor fire engine was proposed:

Marlborough Times, 4.3.1910: "Since its formation, eighteen years ago, the Hungerford Volunteer Fire Brigade has enjoyed the distinction of keeping thoroughly up-to-date, and the efficiency of the Brigade is well-known through out the district.

The Hungerford Brigade is on of the few remaining Brigades which are carried out by purely voluntary subscriptions, and the position the organisation occupies at the present time is one of which Brigades representing much large towns might be justly proud.

This position is largely due to their popular and efficient skipper Captain George Cottrell, than whom there is probably no more enthusiastic fireman in the country.
With the assistance of Mr. H. D'o. W. Astley, who until recently, occupied the position of Secretary a position he had held since the formation of the Brigade, Capt. Cottrell has kept the Hungerford Brigade thoroughly efficient, and to-day it is one of the beat volunteer organisations in the country having regard to its size, and scope.

As shewing the zeal and desire for efficiency, it might be stated that the Brigade started with a steam fire engine, although that is nearly twenty years ago.

The ordinary manual was not sufficiently up-to-date to satisfy the promoters of the Brigade even at the beginning, and it is therefore not surprising that with the same laudable desire to keep abreast of the times, the Brigade should now be seriously contemplating the introduction of a motor fire engine.

This may seem just a little too ambitious on the part of a comparatively small organisation such as this, but it must be remembered that the Hungerford Fire Brigade covers a very wide area and has much valuable property to protect in the neighbourhood.

Their work is by no means confined to the town of Hungerford, and it is more essential for a country brigade to have a petrol propelled engine than a large town.

This idea of embarking upon such an ambitious scheme is not put forward without good reason; indeed, it has become an absolute necessity, owing to the difficulty of horsing the present engine.

It is impossible to get horses in the town now. A striking instance of the difficulty of the situation thus created was afforded on the occasion of the fire at Welford Park, when, although the whole of the Brigade had turned out and were ready to start for the scene of action within seven minutes of the call, they had to wait aimlessly about for the greater part of an hour waiting for horses.

It will thus be seen that some change is absolutely necessary, and now that the Brigade has got the idea of securing a motor engine, there is no doubt that such an engine will soon take the place of the existing steamer.

The Brigade has been well supported in the past although perhaps, hardly as much as such an excellent organisation deserves, and there is no doubt that this new scheme will meet with general approval. It is purely in the interests of the public that there should be a motor engine and we have no doubt that they will accord Capt. Cottrell every support in this his latest effort to keep the Brigade thoroughly up-to-date, and to protect the lives and property of those living in the district which his excellent Brigade has so well served for the past eighteen years."

There was wide support for the new engine, and Hungerford set about raising the required funds.

One enterprise was around the new "First-class Skating Rink that was laid down in the Corn Exchange, and was due to open on Tuesday 15th March 1910. The floor was of Rock Maple, and was similar to the floor at the "Olympia" Exhibition Hall in London. The lessee of the Skating Rink venture, Mr Tufnail of Newbury, kindly promised to give the whole of the gross takings for the first six days to the Hungerford Fire Brigade.

Another key fundraiser were the Athletic Sports at the "New Recreation Ground on Hungerford Downs", held on Easter Monday 28th March 1910.

Two months before the new fire engine came to Hungerford, one of the brigade members, Mr Freddie Pratt, landlord of the Bear Hotel, was killed in a road traffic accident. A grand funeral was arranged, with his colleagues in the fire brigade pulling the funeral carriage from the Bear along Charnham Street to St. Saviour's church in Eddington. Follow this link for more on the Tragic death of Mr Freddie Pratt.

The community of Hungerford soon responded with a generous list of subscriptions. List of Subscribers. About £650 of the £900 required was achieved within six months.

The arrival of "The Dreadnought":

On Wednesday evening, 21st September 1910, the town took possession of a new and more powerful motorised Merryweather steam fire engine, named 'The Dreadnought'.


The new motor fire engine which has been built by Messrs. Merryweather and Sons, of London, is of the patent "Fire King" pattern, capable of delivering 300 gallons per minute.

A single jet can be thrown to a height of 150 feet, and two, three or four jets can be thrown simultaneously with effective fire extinguishing force.

Quick steam raising water tube boiler is fitted and the pumps and propelling machinery are combined in one engine, with simple gear for engaging the road wheels or the pumps as may be required.

The boiler is fired with oil fuel, through a special patent spray burner. Oil has been found to be far preferable to coal in the case of motor fire engines, as the flame from the burner can be readily adjusted to suit the requirements of either running or pumping.

With respect to the machinery, there are two inverted steam, cylinders driving a steel crankshaft and link motion reversing gear is provided. The pumps are placed below the crankshaft, the pistons of same being provided with quick hitching couplings so that they may be put in gear with the engine in less time than it takes to connect up the delivery hose.

The gear wheels are driven by sprockets and steel roller chains from a countershaft, with differential gear, which can be put into gear with the engine crankshaft by means of a sliding pinion. Protectors are provided over the chains.

The steering is irreversible, and powerful brakes are fitted, both on the countershaft and rear wheels.

The wheels of the engine are of the artillery type, shod with solid indiarubber tyres, those in the rear being of twin section.

A large box is fitted forward and provides seats for driver and firemen.

The engine is fitted with water tanks holding about 50 gallons for the supply of the boiler while running on the road, and, when the pumps are at work, these tanks are automatically filled from the main pumps ready for the home run.

The oil fuel is contained in tanks placed under the hose box, connected by copper pipes to the spray burner.

Suction hose is carried, connected to the pumps, with the strainer attached, ready for instant use, and 1,000 feet of delivery hose, together with branchpipes, standpipes and all fittings can be stowed in the hose box.

A powerful gong is provided, worked by the driver's foot. The engine is finished off in vermillion, the usual fire engine colour, with the metal work polished bright, so presents a handsome appearance, and a brass plate is fitted on each side, engraved "Hungerford".

The engine can travel at a speed of 20 to 30 miles an hour on the level, and hills as steep as 1 in 6 can be ascended with a full load of men and apparatus.

Six of these engines are in use in the London Fire Brigade, Liverpool has five, and Edinburgh two, whilst others have been supplied to Portsmouth, Plymouth, Brighton, Worcester, Tottenham, Cardiff, Penarth, Londonderry, Leyland, Heston and Isleworth, Widnes, Morley, Buckshaven, Clydesbank etc.......

The arrival of the new engine:

The new engine arrived at Hungerford on Wednesday evening. A detachment of the Brigade, consisting of Engineers Deer, Stevens and Clifford, took over the custody of the engine from the makers, Messrs Merryweather and Sons, and on their way down to Hungerford, on Wednesday, a demonstration of the pumping and water-throwing capacity of the engine was given at Newbury.

Yesterday's Inaugural Proceedings:

The engine was tested in the Wharf at Hungerford, yesterday, at half-past one, in the presence of many hundreds of people. The capacious Wharf itself was filled, while the bridge has probably never held so many people. The available space on the on the other side of the canal was also crowded, and as the new engine threw a jet of water 150 feet high, there was a good deal of cheering. Two jets were then fixed and water was thrown to a height of 120 feet, while four jets threw a spray of approximately 100 feet. Everybody was very pleased with the performance.

The Christening Ceremony:

The most interesting part of the day's proceedings was the christening of the engine. This took place outside the Town Hall, at half-past two, and was witnessed by a very large number of residents. The ceremony was performed by Miss Sawbridge, daughter of Captain Sawbridge, of Denford Park, who has been one of the best supporters of the project. A bottle of champagne, tied with tri-colour ribbons, appended to the steering-wheel, hung in front of the engine, but it was not until the third attempt that the bottle was broken."

The Public Luncheon followed in the Corn Exchange.

On 23rd September 1910 the new engine was christened outside the Town Hall. The entire town seemed to be there for the occasion. Miss Sawbridge, daughter of Captain Sawbridge of Denford Park, who had been one of the main contributors towards its purchase, lifted a bottle of champagne, and, at the third attempt, smashed it against the engine, naming it "The Dreadnought".

The engine went up the High Street to the top of Salisbury Road before returning to the wharf, where, remembering the fine demonstration put on in 1891 when the previous engine had been delivered, the fire brigade arranged a similar demonstration at the wharf, again attended by a large crown of town officials and the general public. Final preparations are well in hand; the inlet hose is already in the canal.

Another (anonymous) writer said: "Only six months after launching an appeal for funds a new Merryweather Motor Fire King had been bought. £250 was still outstanding from the bill of £900. The machine and pump were both driven by steam. It could reach speeds of 20-30 m.p.h., deliver 300 gallons of water per minute and send a jet up 150 feet. Thanks to a new coke fired heater, which maintains steam pressure at a cost of £10 per annum, the engine can turn out as quickly as a petrol driven engine, and is more reliable. It carries 1,000 feet of hose plus all the necessary nozzles and branch pipes, and has a powerful foot operated warning gong.

The engine was demonstrated on the wharf before a large crowd of onlookers. As many as 4 jets were in use at the same time. Owing to a sudden change in wind direction many people received a good drenching, and were not amused.

Then at 2.30, following a splendid lunch provided by Mrs. Pratt from the Bear Hotel, the engine was christened outside of the Town Hall by Miss Sawbridge, daughter of Captain Sawbridge of Denford Park, and one of the project's best supporters. At the third attempt a bottle of champagne was broken, and the engine named "Dreadnought" was handed over to Captain Cottrell. A bouquet was presented to Miss Sawbridge by Miss Barbara Astley, after which the party then took a short ride. The party also included the Vicar, Rev. and Mrs. T.S. Gray, The Constable Mr. A.E. Allright, and the Brigade Chairman Col. Willes and Mrs. Willes. Twice during World War One "Dreadnought" stood to, when air raid alarms were sounded, because Zeppelins were in the vicinity."

The Newbury Weekly News reported on 3 February 1921 that "The Hungerford Volunteer Fire Brigade were called out on Wednesday night to a singular outbreak of fire at Hungerford Park, the residence of Lady Emily Van de Weyer. It appears that a quantity of carbide hadd been placed in the trunk of a large tree to destroy rats, and it is thought that by spontaneous combustion a fire was caused. The flames went right up the trunk of the tree and set gire to the branches, and owing to the proximity of the house and surrounding shrubbery there was danger of the outbreak spreading. The brigade, therefore, turned out with their motor fire engine, and plenty of water being available, were soon able to get the fire under control."

Photo Gallery:

fire-02 fire-02
fire-03 fire-03
fire-04 fire-04
fire-06 fire-06
fire-07 fire-07
fire-08 fire-08
fire-11 fire-11
fire-13 fire-13
fire-18 fire-18
fire-21 fire-21
fire-22 fire-22
fire-33 fire-33
fire brigade-10
fire brigade-10 fire brigade-10
fire_merryweather 1910_01 fire_merryweather 1910_01
fire_pratt fune...
fire_pratt funeral_03 fire_pratt funeral_03
fire brigade-33
fire brigade-33 fire brigade-33
fire-05 fire-05
george cottrell
george cottrell george cottrell
people-George C...
people-George Cottrell_01 people-George Cottrell_01
people_05 Vic C...
people_05 Vic Caswell (Capt) people_05 Vic Caswell (Capt)
people_06 Harry...
people_06 Harry Giles (Fireman) people_06 Harry Giles (Fireman)
people_07 Alf M...
people_07 Alf Macklin (Fireman) people_07 Alf Macklin (Fireman)
town band-03 at...
town band-03 at fire station c1925 mapson town band-03 at fire station c1925 mapson
101-dreadnought c1920 101-dreadnought c1920
102-fire brigad...
102-fire brigade 1891 102-fire brigade 1891
103-dreadnought 1910 103-dreadnought 1910
104-dreadnought 1910 104-dreadnought 1910
105-dreadnought 1910 105-dreadnought 1910
106-pratt funer...
106-pratt funeral 1910 106-pratt funeral 1910
fire-38 merrywe...
fire-38 merryweather fire-king fire-38 merryweather fire-king
19100923 Christ...
19100923 Christening the Dreadnought 19100923 Christening the Dreadnought
19120000ca Davi...
19120000ca David Cookson 19120000ca David Cookson
20180414 Fire K...
20180414 Fire King model-a 20180414 Fire King model-a
20180414 Fire K...
20180414 Fire King model-b 20180414 Fire King model-b
19130627 West S...
19130627 West Soley fire 19130627 West Soley fire
19211227 Fire B...
19211227 Fire Brigade Ball 19211227 Fire Brigade Ball
19100923 Christ...
19100923 Christening the Dreadmought-b 19100923 Christening the Dreadmought-b
Fire - testing ...
Fire - testing the hoses Fire - testing the hoses

- The "Dreadnought" - Hungerford's Merryweather "Fire King" self-propelled steam fire engine. They were first introduced in 1899, and the last one was built in 1918. They had a top speed of 30mph (48kph) and were available with either coal- or oil-burning furnace.

- The Merryweather "Fire-King"

- Funeral of Mr. F.R. Pratt, 9 Jun 1910

- Hungerford's "Fire King", possibly in Newbury on Wed 22 Sep 1910 en route to Hungerford.

- Christening The Dreadnought outside the Town Hall, 23 Sep 1910.

- The "Fire King", 22.9.1910. Hand-over day, outside the fire station in Charnham Street. The driver is Mr Harper of Merryweather's, but the entire Brigade has managed to climb aboard, including George Cottrell (sitting on driver's left) and Rev Tom Gray (on his right).

- The "Fire King" outside The Bear. Again, Mr Harper is driving, probably 22 Sep 1910. [A Parsons]

- Three photographs of the "Fire King " being demonstrated on the wharf. 23 Sep 1910. [A Parsons] 'The Power of the Pump was Marvellous to Behold!' The town was justifiably proud of its new acquisition, and the wharf, with a ready supply of water, proved to be a perfect arena for the very large crowd who gathered. The engine could travel at speeds of 30m.p.h., deliver 300 gallons of water per minute, and send a jet of water 150 ft. into the air. Several of the wharf buildings can be seen in the background.

- The "Fire King" heading east along Charnham Street, now driven by one of the Hungerford brigade - concentrating hard! It now has "The Dreadnought" nameplate mounted on the front. ?Sep 1910.

- The HVFB outside the fire station, Charnham Street, c.1912. Back row L-R: Ted Stevens, Alf Macklin, then Harry Giles, J Whiscombe, Louis Clifford. Front: George Willis, Gresham, E Coles, Louis Beard, Rev Tom Gray, O Richens, Doug Wilmott, Harry Chapman.

- The Brigade at the fire station. Note the original engine house opening at right angles to Charnham Street. Back row L to R: Harry Champ, Alf Macklin, Harry Giles, J Whiscombe, Louis Clifford. Front: George Willis, Gresham, E Giles, J Beard, Rev Grey, O Richens, Doug Wilmott, A Chapman. [A Parsons]

- The ruins after the West Soley fire, 27 Jun 1913 [Albert Parsons]

- The HVFB in The Croft

- George Cottrell, Captain of the HVFB. [Mapson & Son, Hungerford & Pewsey]

- The 1891 Merryweather "Greenwich" fire pump on an exercise at Denford Mill (c1920). Mr Alfred Macklin (left) and Mr Harry Champ.

- The problem with leaking hoses is very apparent!

- The HVFB possibly with prizes won by Cottrell's Ironworks

- Hungerford Fire Brigade Ball, 27 Dec 1921. [Albert Parsons, labelled "No.2"](DM)

- Vic Caswell (Capt), c1912

- Harry Giles (Fireman), c1912

- Alf Macklin (Fireman), c1912

- David Cookson, Volunteer fireman, and Manager of Gas Works 1911-1917. Photo c1912.

- The Town Band outside the Fire Statiom Charnham Street, c1924. [Mapson]

- Fire Brigade Ball, 27 Dec 1921

The working scale model of the Fire King:

Through 2016-17, Werner Schleidt (in Germany) built a scale model of the Merryweather Fire King. This amazing piece of work reached fruition with the initial steaming and successful operation in May 2017. Werner put together three videos recording the project:

To give you an impression the links to the videos.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Update Apr 2018:

See also:

- Tragic death of Mr Freddie Pratt, Jun 1910

- List of Subscribers to The Dreadnought, 1910

Wedding of J W Beard (and death of Mr E A Allright), NWN, 2 June 1913.

- Fire Service 1890-1910

- Fire Service since 1924

- "When the brave men laughed", "Fire fighting in Hungerford had its light-hearted moments. Out and About, Winter 1991