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There was an enforced requirement in some towns during the early 17th century for householders to have buckets or water containers next to any wells to assist with fire protection.
In 1707, the Parish Fire Act was introduced by the Government which deemed that a parish should have a fire combatting equipment conspicuously available although, in the most sophisticated cases, this was nothing more than a crude hand pump. In Burton, fire hooks and buckets were maintained out of town lands money and kept in the market place, next to the original town hall.
There is known to have been a Burton manual fire engine in 1791, when a new one was acquired by subscription. A second engine was given in the same year by Robert Peel, the owner of cotton mills at Bond End and Winshill. The engines were maintained out of a parish rate, which in 1807 paid a retaining fee of £2 to the man who worked the engine and £1 every time he was called out; he also received 3 guineas for keeping the engines in good repair.
Eight assistants were each paid £1 as a retainer and 10s. for a callout. There were also fees for four annual practice sessions. In 1835 one engine was kept in Horninglow Street opposite Holy Trinity church, and by 1844 the other was kept in the gatehouse of the former monastic precinct near the market place. A replacement engine was acquired in 1839.
By 1841 the engines were maintained jointly by Burton and Burton Extra townships, but support from the parish rate was evidently later withdrawn and in 1854 it was stated that the engines had been kept for several years by the feoffees of the town lands. The feoffees stopped payments that year and responsibility passed to the improvement commissioners. A new engine house for both engines was opened in 1855 in the former gas works in Station Street.
It was replaced in 1879 by one on the west side of Union Street. In 1876, while situated in Union Street, Burton Fire Brigade finally took possession of thier first Steam Fire Appliance, a Shand Mason and Company Fire Engine – although the steam was used to drive a pump not for traction; it was a horse drawn vehicle requiring two horses in harness which were borrowed in the case of a fire from local merchants!
Below is one of the very few surviving pictures of the Union Street firemen, together with their steam appliance. It wouldn’t normally make it through quality control but it is just too good to omit!
Aside from being Burton’s most effective available fire-fighting appliance, it provided a convenient stage for this later group photo, with helmets polished for the occasion.
The Burton Steamer survives to this day and is still proudly displayed at the present day fire station.
Brewery Fire Brigades
In the 1850s Michael Thomas Bass established a fire brigade for his brewery. Allsopp & Co. also had one by 1904, when it was agreed with Burton corporation that neither brigade would turn out unless requested to do so by the town brigade and that they would attend a fire outside a 5 mile radius from St. Modwen’s church only if the premises involved belonged to a partner of one of the companies. The Bass fire brigade survived until 1970.
In 1884, a fire broke out at a property in Sydney Street, Horninglow. Burton Fire Brigade failed to attend. Instead, the Allsopps Brewery brigade had to attend but were late on the scene. Following this incident, the town’s authorities agreed that a number of Hose Reel Stations should be strategically placed around the town with a hand pulled hose cart which could act as a first line of defence where necessary. These were locked with a notice informing who the custodian was.
Stations were positioned as follows:
The last example can be seen in the below photo.
The idea of a new ‘more fitting’ Fire Station to replace the one in Union Street was first raised with the Borough Council in 1900. It was met with some enthususiasm and a number of possible land purchases were considered. The favourite proposal was for properties in New Street and Park Street, as long as a right of way could be established between the two. This done, the land was acquired and local building companies were invited to tender. Five tenders were submitted, the winning bid was submitted by R.Kershaw for £6,150.
The station was completed in 1903 and the Grand Opening was scheduled for Friday, October 30th. The opening ceremony was performed by the Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, Harold Rugg. This full list of those who received official invitations such as the one shown above was: Deputy Major – J.R.Morris; Aldermen – Austin, Bassett, Croad, Glover, Hall, Harlow, Hutchinson, King, Lathbury, Lowe, Ordish, Parker, Rowland, Samble, Stack, Thanely, Tresise and Wilkison; Borough Surveyor – Mr Lynham; Town Clerk – Mr Whitehead.
Representing the Fire Brigade were Superintendents Robert William Gooch (Burton Borough Fire Brigade), Bailey (Allsopps Brewery Fire Brigade) and Bradshaw (Measham Fire Brigade). The opening also attracted very good support from the town’s residents. This was to be a good year for Burton crowds for the new tramway system had been opened to much acclaim a couple of months earlier.
The aforementioned Mr Gooch together with Alfred Wilkins (Engineer) and Ralph Harvey (Coachman/Driver) had accommodation within the new station. There were however, teething problems with faulty or incorrectly designed chimneys which rendered many parts of the building smoke logged rendering them uninhabitable until new taller chimneys could be built.
Full time firemen were employed for the first time and new uniforms, including bright new helmets were issued, though the latter proved to be unpopular in service.
Two versions of the Burton Fire Brigade badge are a slight mystery at the moment thanks to an eagle-eyed visitor. I had imagined that one was introduced when the New Street station opened, to be later revised but, as has been pointed out, both bear the hand holding the saltire of Saint Andrew (as an allusion to the early medieval chapel on Andresey island founded by Saint Modwen) which was not added to the Burton Crest until the Grant of Arms in 1928, prior to that, it was simply a crown (answers welcome).
Both badges bafflingly show the hand holding the saltire of Saint Andrew not added to the Burton Crest until the Grant of Arms in 1928.
As a boy, I can remember seeing the Fire-Engines in their bays, not unlike the picture here. It is easy to forget that when the Fire Station was opened, no such vehicles existed. This was still very much the age of horse drawn transport with motorized transport only just beginning to become available. When the station opened, it only had one Shand, Mason & Co. Steam Fire Engine as shown below, together with one hand pump engine which could only produce a limited jet, unable to reach higher levels of buildings.
The Fire Brigade also now had its own horses instead of having to ‘hire’ them for each emergency!
Below shows the Burton Steamer, preserved in excellent condition at the present day fire station.
The bays initially dwarfed THE Steam Fire Engine. Fortunately, it was built large enough to accommodate some of the early Fire Engines but the Station’s eventual downfall was that the bays were simply too small to accommodate modern appliances.
In 1920, the first motorized Fire Engine was purchased. It was a 45hp Dennis Motor Pump and cost Burton Corporation the princely sum of £2,650 with a loan to be paid back over 10 years. It could also replace horses by towing the existing Shand Steamer to larger incidents where both pumps were called for. A second engine was delivered later in the year, this one being equipped with a wheeled ladder. A ‘proper’ fire engine at last!
By the 1960s, a variety of appliances were at the brigade’s dispossal.
New Street Fire Station was finally closed in 1973 when it was transferred to the new Fire Station in Moor Street. For some years, the old Fire Station has been the home of T.L. Darby the Volkswagon car dealer who have made a beautiful job of keeping one of Burton’s favourite buildings in excellent order.
All of the Edwardian stonemasonary, once again, proudly featuring the new Coat of Arms, now make a very attractive feature.
Burton Fire Brigade was transferred from New Street to Moor Street in 1973. The new station was opened on 6th June by the Town Mayor, Harry Buckingham who was also Chairman of the Watch Committee.
March 31st 1974 marked the end of Burton Fire Brigade. With Burton no longer a County Borough and now coming under East Staffordshire District Council control, the brigade became part of the Staffordshire Fire Service.
A museum is proudly maintained at Moor Street Fire Station and may be viewed by the public by appointment.
In pride of place is the original Burton Steamer, which can be viewed through the window the next time you happen to be passing.
On the wall hangs the commemoration plaque to John Bennett, lost in service, as a reminder of the possible perils of the job.
SHAND MASON – MERRYWEATHER STEAM FIRE ENGINE
Whilst the steam Fire Engine had made its appearance in the early nineteenth century it was not until the latter half of the eighteen hundreds that it had developed into an efficient Firefighting machine.
There were two major makers in Britain. Mem weathers, and Shand Mason and Co. Research into Newspaper archives and local History sections at Burton Upon Trent Library uncovered a delivery of a steam Fire Appliance to Burton Corporation in 1876.
When Burton’s steamer reached the end of its days with the Brigade it was sold off, and acquired by a Sir Thomas Stafford Bazley, Bart. This change of homes probably occurred during the late twenties or early thirties.
In 1963 a Mr Bob Bonner founded the Fire Brigade society, and one of the earliest members, a Mr Geoff Bottomly was appointed as Museum Secretary, and started a two year project to acquire items of interest.
Early in 1966 Geoff discovered that an old steam Fire Engine was situated at Hatherop and negotiations with its owner, Sir Thomas Bazley resulted in the Engine being loaned to the Fire Brigade Society.
In November 1967 custody of the steamer was passed to Geoff and the Engine joined the now growing fleet of Appliances known as The Transville Fire Collection. The steamer was to remain in the fleet for twenty five years until its return to its home town of Burton upon Trent in 1992.
In the Summer of 1972 the steamer along with other Fire Appliances was featured in a Granada Television Film about the Fire Brigade Society.
On January the 29th 1992, Geoff was informed that the Engine was to be sold in a Sotheby’s auction at Hendon on 30th March. Concerned about its fate if it went to auction, Geoff thought that it should end its days in some appropriate locality. So at the beginning of March he wrote to Gloucester and the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and to Bass Museum in Burton upon Trent informing them of the machine’s existence, and of its proposed disposal by auction at the end of the month.
A reply came from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service expressing an interest that if funds could be raised, it might be worthwhile contacting Sir Thomas with a view to a direct purchase. As an end result, it can still be enjoyed on display at the present day fire station.
Finally, a treasured photo that reminds that it was once a serious fire fighting machine, seen here on exercise in the New Street fire station yard.
This series of group photos provide a lovely glimpse of the Burton Fire Brigade through its history. The pictures and names are made possible through the research of Robert Cox and are a very small sample of the photos featured in his book. They appear here by his kind permission.
One of the oldest photos of the Burton Fire Brigade at the end of the ninteenth century. Though in poor condition, it is just too nice not to feature.
1892 Burton Fire Brigade at Union Street Fire Station
Back Row: John Watson, Albert Simnett, Samuel Smedley, Robert Gooch
Middle Row: Norman Hird, William Hird, Armshee Wallace, John Pass, David Twigg, George Green, Thomas Roberts, John Bennett, Harry Basford
Front Row: James Cox, William Thompson, Charles Siddals
1908 Burton Fire Brigade at the Town Hall
Taking parade is Superintendent Robert Gooch. Facing him from left to right are:
John Bennett (Killed in service), Jack Inwood, Albert Simnett, George Green, James Smith, Armshee Wallace, George Shepherd, Joseph Ridgard, Fred Holford, William Gooch, William Hamp, Norman Hird
1919 Burton Fire Brigade at New Street Fire Station
Back Row: William Webster, Norman Hind, Ralph Harvey, Roland Paskin, Joseph Felthouse, Armshee Wallace, John Bennett
Middle Row: George Green, John Inwood, William Green, William Gooch, Edwin Tooby, Thomas Fletcher
Front Row: Joseph Croshaw, Timothy Banton, James Smith
1929 Burton Fire Brigade at New Street Fire Station
Back Row: Percy Clarke, John Williams, Albert Sumsion, Noah Pegg, William Green, Herbert Paley, Olly Taylor
Middle Row: George Shepherd, Jim Sherratt, Joseph Croshaw, William Grice, John Neal, Roland Paskin, Charlie Dyche
Front Row: Sydney Marler, Harry Shelley, John Inwwod, Joe Felthouse, William Gooch (Supt.), William Hamp, John Yeomans, John Dyche
1947 Burton Fire Brigade
Back Row: Bill Haywood, Sidney Cliffe, Tom Bivens, Harry Appleby, JOe Chamberlain, Harry Porter
Third Row: George Ryder, T02, Bill Oakley, T04, Bill Binley, Alf Crampton, Reg Baldwin, T08
Second Row: Bill Gill, Arthur Beech, S03, S04, Les Wood, S06, George Lowe, S08, Fred Thorpe
Front Row: Fred Stimpson, George Roden, Charlie Dyche, Charlie Elliott, Fred Carnwell, Dick Edwards, George Bentley, John Dyche
At 5:15pm on the Saturday afternoon of 1st November 1924, Burton Fire Brigade was called to assist the Bass and Allsops brigades at a large fire at the English Grains Warehouse in Derby Road. The warehouse was packed full of highly flammable dried Barley grain. After a few hours, the blaze was almost under control when an increase in wind from a changed direction fanned it back to life, re-igniting areas that had already been extinguished. The occasional crash could be heard as internal walls collapsed. Two firemen, William Hamp and Deputy Superintendent John Bennett were working off the flat roof of an adjacent building. John Bennett noticed that the nearby wall was starting to collapse, caused by the swelling og the grain due to being soaked in water. He shouted to his comrade warning that they should flee but John was struck by falling debris. A heavy coping stone and fallen across his legs.
William and other colleagues return to frantically get him clear and apply a tourniquet to his right leg which was bleeding badly. He was rushed to Burton Infirmary where he was diagnosed as suffering from a severe compound fracture. The decision to amputate was deferred and he was presented with a bottle of champagne in hospital to celebrate. The celebration proved to be premature however; after the build up of toxins, his leg had to be amputated and he deteriorated, dying a few days later with his wife and son by his hospital bed.
John Bennett’s funeral procession started from his house in Park Street to the Weslyyan Chapel on the corner of Union Street and Station Street and from there to Stapenhill cemetry. Hundreds of people lined the route. The cortege has headed by both members of the police and fire brigade. The coffin was carried on a Corporation fire engine. On top were John’s helmet, fireman’s belt and axe. A Bass engine followed covered in wreaths and tributes.
John came to Burton from Warwickshire and had been in the town’s Fire Brigade for 37 years and risen to Deputy Superintendent. This was the first ever fatality in the history of Burton Fire Brigade. In commemoration, a brass plaque was provided and hung in the fire station. It was unveiled by Captain Mitchell by removing a Union Jack and may still be seen in the existing museum at New Street Fire Station.
On the evening of February 8th 1832, Burton Fire Brigade carried out a practice drill. Thirty-five year old fireman, John Williams, who had been with the brigade for six years having joined from the Bass Brigade, was suspended by a rope and belt from the 60ft drill tower at the rear of the fire station in New Street.
The exercise was taking place in failing light, illuminated by search-lights. A number of successful similar exercises had been carried out in daylight.
Fireman Percy Clark was the turntable ladder operator for the exercise. It was one of the latest Merryweather motor turntables with a reach of 80ft. After a signal from John Richard Williams, he began to elevate the ladder away from the building. Unbeknown to Percy, one of the ladder’s extending wires had become snagged on a ledge of the building. Colleagues on the ground watched in horror as the ladder suddenly began to strain before giving way with a loud snap and the upper half plummeting to the ground with a crash, narrowly missing some of those observing. John fell to the ground from his position at the top of the tower to the concrete surface with the escape ladder falling on top of him. Dr Davidson appeared on the scene fairly quickly but pronounced John dead at the scene.
John was married with one child and had served in WWI as a transport driver stationed in France. His funeral took place St Paul’s church with a guard of honour being formed by his colleagues.
It is well beyond the scope of this website to provide a full and comprehensive history of the Burton upon Trent Fire Brigade; if however, you find these pages of interest, you would certainly enjoy the complete history in this excellent book available directly from the author.
The book is larger than A4 with over 180 pages of easy reading and many photographs.
“While being the scene of a “Great Fire” long before London’s headline grabbing effort, Burton upon Trent, with its undisputed title of “Brewing Capital of Britain” has also been able to boast of being in possession, throughout its years of prosperity, of one on the finest, if not the finest Fire Brigades in the land.
Formed more than 160 years ago, the Burton Brigade evolved from its purely voluntary roots to become a polished, professional, County Borough Brigade, right up to the cessation of local control in April 1974.
The recounting of the history of the Burton Brigade is not just a backward glance at time past, it is a walk through a period long gone.
All told with a Fire fighters detail and working knowledge, not to mention his observance of some of the more absurd aspects of the job. Illustrated throughout with page after page of evocative photographs.
The title came from a section of the first contract drawn up for the for Burton’s Firemen in 1854, which they all had to sign. Complete with an index of those who served, and a list of appliances that have seen service in the town.
To obtain a copy – Click Here.
The first Permanent Library, at a property owned by Mr. R. R. Bellamy in Bridge street, was opened in 1838. It was supported by a number of shareholders and just over 70 subscribers, and contained around 2,000 volumes. The shares were £10 each together with an annual subscription of 16 shillings. Subscribers who were not shareholders were allowed to join for a Guinea (21 shillings) a year subscription making it a fairly exclusive club.
The Burton Literary Society, High street, commenced in 1844 and had a reading room and a library of about 1,100 volumes mostly, but not exclusively, of a scientific nature. It was supported by a subscription of £1 per annum for first class, 8s 8d for second class, and 5 shillings per annum for third class. First class had the privilege of attending the reading room at all hours of the day, second class in the evenings only from 5:00 to 10:00pm, third class only had restricted access. The reading room also had London and provincial newspapers available together with most of the popular periodicals of the day. The Secretary and Librarian was Mr S. Simnett.
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Guild street, established around 1846, introduced a reading room, and library containing about 1,400 volumes. Mr. John W. Lomas was Secretary. In 1867 the (Church of England) Young Men’s Christian Association was transformed into the Mechanics’ Institute. By 1868 it had a reading room and a library of 4,000 books, and by 1871 it had been moved to premises in Station Street.
In 1876, the Mechanics’ Institute and the Burton Literary Society were amalgamated as the Burton Institute. This moved to new premises in Union Street in 1879. A very tall in its day, narrow building of four bays designed in Italian Gothic style, by Reginald Churchill of Burton as seen above. The institute occupied the ground floor with a library of now nearly 8,000 volumes and a reading room; the second floor was occupied by the School of Art and part of the third floor by the School of Science.
The institute grew from 650 members in 1888 to 966 in 1896, when it was dissolved and its premises were acquired by Burton Municipal Corporation for use as Burton’s first Free Library, available to everyone. By this time, the collection had grown to 19,000 volumes together with an additional reference only section of 1,700 books.
Part of the building and 3,000 books, largely technical, was reserved as a subscription library. This had three levels of membership; first class at 21 shillings, second class at 10s 6d and third class at 5 shillings for an annual subscription, the different classes of subscription again being used to determine what hours of access were permitted.
In 1902, the Borough Librarian had salary of £120 plus an additional £45 for his additional duty of Secretary for both the Schools of Art and Design. If that wasn’t enough, he was also absent for some hours to fulfil his other duty as Museum Curator just up the road on the corner of Guild Street. At this time, the library was investing something like £50 a year on new books.
Aside from the main Union Street library, due to lack of space, branch reading rooms for newspapers were established at Uxbridge Street and Victoria Road schools which were open in the evening from 6:00 – 9:30pm.
Towards the end of its time, the Union Street library was hopelessly inadequate and the later librarian, Kenneth Stanesby spent most of his energy leading campaigns for a replacement library (added to his duty of ejecting schoolboys from playing in the lift which was a popular free entertainment of the time). The new Burton library was finally opened in 1976 at Riverside, off High Street on the redundant Bass Maltings site. The Union Street building was unceremoniously demolished in 1977.
The Market Hall is the most evident clue that Burton is officially a market down, requiring that at some time, it was granted a charter to operate as such by the crown.
The existing market hall opened in 1883, occupying the same site as the original built in the fifteenth century, has a stonework depicting King John (younger brother of Richard (Lionheart) I, accompanied by two knights, granting the charter to the kneeling abbot in the year 1200.
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