The history of organised fire-fighting is fascinating. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, when two square miles of the city were destroyed and thousands of people were made homeless, the need for an organised method of fire-fighting was recognised. The first fire-fighters were employed by private insurance companies and if you were insured by a particular company and its plaque was fixed to the outside of your house, their firemen would attempt to extinguish the flames. If not insured or the wrong plaque was displayed, then tough, they let it burn!
The first municipally funded fire brigade (willing to tackle any fire) was formed in Edinburgh in 1824 (Scots leading the world as usual), followed by London in 1832. Their effectiveness was somewhat limited by the short reach of the water jets, as pumps were hand operated and no-one had invented the hose! These difficulties were, of course, eventually overcome and by the late nineteenth century, steam powered fire ‘engines’ were being pulled by horses and manned by trained, uniformed firemen.
Victorians loved heroes and a number of magic lantern slide stories revolved around the exploits of brave firemen rescuing children and fair maidens. However, today’s photos, taken from magic lantern slides in my archive, are of real rather than fictional fire brigades.
The first is of men of the London Fire Brigade in training. Yes, the man on the roof really is jumping onto a sheet held by his colleagues. It’s like something out of a ‘Carry On’ film (sorry to non-Brits reading this, but it would take too long to explain this reference). The second photo is the well-equipped Fire Brigade at the Port Sunlight soap factory on the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool. They’ve probably just taken delivery of their new, motorised fire engine and are showing it off, alongside the old-fashioned horse-drawn one. I think this probably dates from around 1912. Finally, my favourite, is the local fire brigade taking part in a Summer Fete parade in Milnsbridge near Huddersfield (Yorkshire) in 1908. Wonderful images!