You are in [Themes] [Fires and Firefighting] [18th century Fire Pumps]

It was not until 1708, over 40 yeas after the Great Fire of London that The House of Commons passed the Parish Pump Act ordering that every parish (in London) must keep a water pump and designated men to help extinguish fires.

Several people began to design fire pumps:


In 1712 the English inventor Richard Newsham (originally a pearl button-maker in London) came up with an effective design for a fire-fighting water pump.

In 1725 and 1735 he took out patents for improved fire engines. An example of his 1735 engines can be seen at South Molton (see Photo Gallery).

Early Newsham fire pumps were little more than open troughs with hand-powered pumps on wheels. The trough was filled with water using buckets. Inside the trough were two pistons attached to two large handles. Pumping the handles up and down squeezed the pistons and pushed the water out of a swivelling copper spout on top of the pump. The key element of Newsham's design was a 'gimble' - a chain mechanism that allowed the pistons to remain vertical while pumping. This made the pump far more powerful than other designs.

In 1720 a manual pump was constructed by Richard Newsham that could pump 400 litres per minute, in a continuous stream at flames over 40 metres away!

Richard Newsham patented his "new water engine for the quenching and extinguishing of fiers" in 1721 and went on to design further fire fighting equipment prior to his death in 1743.

His famous man-powered No. 5 engine would throw 160 gallons of water per minute to a height of 165ft. This formed the basis for pump design for many years to come.

When Richard Newsham died in 1743, he passed his company on to his son Lawrence. After Lawrence's death, his wife took over, and joined forces with her cousin George Ragg. So durable were these machines that Newsham and Ragg pumps were still in use in the late 1930s.


Following Newsham's death his pumps were widely copied. One such maker building to Newsham's design was John Bristow of London. , on the order of Royal Exchange Assurance in 1793. (The Royal Exchange Assurance specialised in fire insurance, provided fire fighting equipment to parishes, substantial industrial buildings and stately homes).

Adam Nuttall:

Adam Nuttall started his business in Longacre, London, in 1751. His engines were very similar to those by Samuel Phillips (see below). They can often only be distinguished by a makers plaque.

Samuel Phillips:

Another maker was Samuel Phillips of New Surrey Street, Blackfriars, London, who started making fire engines in 1760. His engines were very similar to those Adam Nuttall.

Surviving end-to-end Phillips machines are rare, with only 3 or 4 survivors in the country.

In 1797 the firm became Phillips and Hopwood; in 1811 it was James Hopwood; by 1818 it was Hopwood & Tilley; by 1825 Tilley & Co; and around 1853 Shand, Mason & Co. Merryweather & Sons Ltd took them over in 1928.

Maureen Shettle adds that wooden wheels tended to rot and town or parish authorities often didn't look after them very well so that might explain the use of swivel type wheels.

Some had, or were converted to have, drag handles so that it could be pulled by hand. The easiest way of transporting those with the fixed axles was to put them aboard a converted cart or wagon.

Rather than having hose racks, the hose was often attached to the pump using leather straps.

Pumps with fixed wooden wheels were still being made in the later 18th century at the same time as those with the metal, swivel type. Apparently it all came down to price and what the customer was prepared to pay.

Photo Gallery:

1793 bristow of...
1793 bristow of london 1793 bristow of london
aldbourne 1778
aldbourne 1778 aldbourne 1778
aldbourne brist...
aldbourne bristow aldbourne bristow
athelstan athelstan
bray bray
croftcastlepump croftcastlepump
fire-37 fire-37
harleston harleston
knaresborough knaresborough
newsham c1744-6...
newsham c1744-65 newsham c1744-65
south molton
south molton south molton
uktv uktv
waltham waltham

- A Newsham manual fire-pump said to date from c1735. (At South Molton). (Maureen Shettle adds that "I think its highly likely that the pump dates from c1749 as the Sun Fire Office contributed 3 guineas to the town in that year "towards purchasing an engine".")

- A Newsham manual fire-pump said to date from 1737. (At Bray) Note the pivoting front wheels. However, Maureen Shettle says (Feb 2013) that the axle and wheels of the Bray pump were later than the rest of the machine.

- Another Newsham manual fire-pump, c1744-65 (eMuseum website).

- Harleston's fire pump of 1764 by Bristows of London.

- One of two manual fire pumps by Bristows of London in Aldbourne, Wiltshire. This one is dated 1778.

- One of two manual fire pumps by Bristows of London in Aldbourne, Wiltshire. This one is undated.

- Manual fire pump by Bristows of London, sold by Bonhams in Jul 2009 for £2,300 inc premium. The narrow construction of these pumps was designed specifically to allow easy access along constricted corridors. It is said to have been supplied new to the Parish of Halesworth in Suffolk in 1793.

- Athelstan Museum's fire pump, c1760. It was built by Samuel Phillips for Malmesbury, and dates from 1760 or later.

- Another Samuel Phillips engine, which has the rear handles set across the machine, but at the front there is one on each side to prevent the pumpers falling over the drag handle.

- Another manual fire engine (of the Nuttall / Phillips design) at Croft Castle. The pumping handles are placed at the ends. The mechanism is simpler and less efficient than that used by Newsham. This is painted with a date 1843 (but this was probably the date of restoration or acquisition). [Kindly provided by Maureen Shettle]

- Another Phillips engine, which belongs to Knaresborough and bears the date 1774.

- Another undated 18th century manual fire-pump (UKTV website). Note the pivoting front axle. (Confusingly, it is wrongly ascribed to Newsham! It may be by Nuttall or Phillips?)

- Waltham on the Wolds restored fire pump, by Phillips & Hopwood, c1800.

Other 18th century fire pumps can be seen on-line at:

- Bicester (possibly Bristow, c1760)
- Hook Norton
- Lostwithiel (Nuttall, 1761)
- Manchester Fire Service Museum
- Plympton (Nuttall, 1765)