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Between the Wars part 1

Nov 1918-1929

Between the Wars part 1

It had been back in January 1918 whilst the War was still being fought that the fire brigade first put to the Council the possibility of obtaining a motor fire engine to replace the horse-drawn machine.  In July a deputation of firemen went to inspect a motor chassis that Samuel Fox’s were selling, because it was thought it could be adapted for use as a fire tender. It turned out that there were two chassis for sale, and the cost was £50 for one or £80 for the pair. It was agreed at the August Council meeting to purchase both, one for the use of the fire brigade and one for haulage purposes. At the Council meeting of December 1918, it was reported that both motor chassis had been purchased, but the fire brigade had asked that they would both be used solely by them. I have read in various places that Fox’s presented the town with the two vehicle chassis, which implies that they were a gift, but newspaper reports confirm that they were in fact purchased by the Council. One of the firemen, Ernest Berwick, who worked as a mechanic and driver, then turned the two chassis into fire engines, aided by some of his crew. In his book History of Stocksbridge, Jack Branston writes that these two engines were named Hope and Victory. However, one of the engines was definitely named Peace, and I have been unable to confirm the name of Hope. The old horse-drawn engine continued in use until the end of 1919.

1919: tragic firework accident, 14 July

Official Peace Celebrations were scheduled for July 1919. On Monday 14 July Gunner Horace Hartley of the Royal Garrison Artillery went into Knowles’ grocer & confectionary shop at Langsett Terrace, Horner House, to purchase some fireworks. The shop belonged to Seth Knowles, and on this morning his wife Florence Ellen was working in the shop and looking after her grandson, three-year-old Norman Knowles. Somehow the box containing the fireworks exploded, and both Mrs. Knowles and young Norman were badly burnt. The fire brigade were called, but neighbours had managed to extinguish the fire before they got there.  The two casualties were taken to the Sheffield Infirmary in Fox’s ambulance, but sadly Norman died two days later from his injuries. The cause of death was recorded as being septic pneumonic due to burns; death by misadventure.

At the Coroner’s Inquest there was some disagreement as to how the fireworks came to go off. Mrs. Knowles said that she saw that one of the fireworks was broken, and threw it on the fire. Gunner Hartley told a different story. He said that the box containing the fireworks was open, about three feet from the fire. Norman was sitting close by on the rug. Hartley noticed that one of the fireworks, a “Prince of Wales Feather,” was broken. When he pointed this out to Mrs. Knowles, she removed it from the box and lit it, and handed it to the child. The sparks fell into the box and the whole lot exploded. His wife confirmed his story. The Coroner told the jury that if they found that Mrs. Knowles had been guilty of negligence in giving the child a lighted firework to play with, it was their duty to censure her. They returned a verdict of “accidental death” but did not wish to blame the grandmother because they thought it had been a misadventure. The Coroner said he accepted the verdict but did not agree with it. He did not believe Mrs. Knowles should be prosecuted, but he thought she was deserving of censure for her carelessness in handing a lighted firework to the child. A very sad ending.

The Brigade took part in the Peace Celebrations 19 July 1919 (see previous section). Three weeks later the men were among the mourners at the funeral of Harry Sunter, a son of the late Councillor Sunter. Harry was 39 years old and had never recovered from his war-time experiences. He had broken a blood vessel and been badly gassed, and had been sent to Suffolk to recover, but sadly he  succumbed to meningitis.

1919: Fire at Fox Glen, 17 August

Since its opening in 1911 Fox Glen had been subject to acts of petty vandalism. In 1919 a careless smoker caused a fire which did a great deal of damage to young trees and undergrowth. The Fire Brigade managed to extinguish the flames using a single line of hose connected to a nearby hydrant, and prevented the fire from spreading to around ten acres of ripening corn in nearby fields. The installation of hydrants had made their life a lot easier, but as a later fire would prove, they were not always easily accessible, although they were all inspected at intervals.

Meanwhile, work had been ongoing converting the first chassis, which was ready to use by November 1919. A successful trial run was made with it on 29 November, and to test its capabilities it was taken on a route with the steepest gradients, up Hole House Lane to Bolsterstone and on to Broomhead Hall. The firemen were accompanied on their initial trip by Councillors Fred Coultas, Joseph Sheldon, David A. Truman, and J. Hattersley. The motor had been fitted with up-to-date equipment and brand new hose and ladders at a cost of just over £254. It attended its first fire on 3 February in the spring department at Fox’s, and another fire in the wire-drawing department a few months later.

Work continued on converting the second chassis into a fire tender. In 1920 a new pump was priced at £295, but the Council were still discussing the cost in July, by which time the price had risen. The brigade also needed permission to purchase a suction pipe with gearing and other fittings. An estimate had been made of £195 for the thorough overhauling of the chassis. They would also require a new magneto. The total cost would be £700 at the outside but at least one Councillor was not happy with these estimates, suspecting that costs might well rise even higher. They Council, ever mindful of how it spent the ratepayers’ money, wanted a detailed statement about the cost of overhauling the chassis.

1920: Fire at Damflask Farm, 5 October

There was a fire at Mr. Merriman’s Damflask Farm one evening, and Captain Jackson and the men were on scene with their new motor engine within thirteen minutes of receiving the call. Upon arrival, they found a large amount of corn ablaze, and directed their efforts to preventing the fire spreading to the other farm buildings, which contained most of the recent harvest. They were somewhat handicapped by a shortage of water, with only the farm’s normal supply being available. The new engine also attended a fire at White Lee Farm in 1921, a charge of £5 being made for the use of the engine.

1921: Fireman killed after accident involving the fire engine, Saturday 9 April

The second engine was ready by April 1921, and a demonstration was arranged for Saturday 9 April. The full team of firemen were proceeding on their first motor engine to Hawthorn Brook where the test was to be carried out, but when they got to Chapel Hill (near the Congregational Church) the vehicle skidded. The rear of the engine swung round and one of the back wheels struck a telegraph pole, throwing the men off. Several firemen were badly injured, one of them being my great grandfather Wilfred Donkersley, the other being George Whittaker. The family story is that the engine lost a wheel and overturned, and that Wilfred spent several days laid up in bed. Wilfred had a bad head injury and Whittaker had fractured right arm and left wrist, and a lacerated scalp. The Captain, Ernest Jackson, hurt his back, Fireman Haigh got a cut above one of his eyes, and the remainder – John Adams, Samuel Allott and Harry Samson – all suffered shock and minor injuries. Adams was thrown onto his head, his brass helmet saving him from more serious injury (although the helmet was destroyed). The men were attended to at the scene by Doctors Robertshaw and McIntyre.

Newspaper reports stated that this was not the first accident to occur at this spot.  The driver, Norman Knowles, thought that the greasy state of the road, caused by the continued showers, had caused the engine to skid. He did not apply the brakes, knowing full well that would have made it worse. The wheel of the engine was replaced, but there was no other damage done and the engine was driven back to its shed and the display abandoned. The newspaper reported that this event “caused quite a feeling of gloom in the district, the injured men being well known and highly respected inhabitants of the district.”

A week after the accident Donkersley and Whittaker were both said to be “progressing favourably,” but sadly George Whittaker died two weeks later, on 25 April, from his injuries. He was 44 years old and had been a member of the brigade for about twelve years. He had  lived at 765 Hawthorn Brook and had been married to Sarah Elizabeth. His widow told the inquest, which was held at the Victory Club, that her husband had left home at 2pm and was brought home at 4pm, conscious but “broken up.” He had been receiving medical treatment and everyone thought he was doing well, but he took a turn for the worse and started to have trouble breathing; he died before the doctor arrived. Cause of death was due to embolism of the pulmonary artery, the result of his injuries, but not necessarily the fractures. Norman Knowles of the Central Co-operative Stores, who had been driving the engine, said that he was travelling at about 15mph, although there was no speedometer on the vehicle.  The car skidded three times, and crashed into a telegraph pole on the third occasion. The accident was due to the greasy state of the road, caused by showers, and steel studded tyres upon the road. He told the inquest that he had eight years’ experience as a motor driver of both heavy and light vehicles. Captain Ernest Jackson and a Mr. W. Robinson also gave evidence. The jury, without retiring, found that death was due to pulmonary embolism (a blood clot blocking the flow of blood to a lung), the result of injuries sustained during the accident, and that no blame was attached to anyone. A verdict was returned accordingly.

George had been privately insured with the Sheffield Independent’s Insurance Scheme, and his widow received a payout of £10 [which the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator estimates to be worth just over £400 today]. Mr. Whittaker was registered for his insurance with Mr. Howson of Stocksbridge Post Office, and under the scheme Mr. Howson received the sum of £1 when Mrs. Whittaker was paid out. George had been a colliery deputy, and he left behind seven children. At the Council meeting on 30 April, it was decided to take out insurance on the engine and appliances, but there was no mention of insuring the men.  It had been back in 1891 when the Council took the decision not to insure the firemen, and they had to pay their own insurance. In 1909 the men were allowed 5 shillings per year by the Council towards their membership of the Sick and Accident Society, and they had to provide proof that this was what they had spent the money on. George was buried at Bolsterstone, and the funeral procession was headed by members of the Fire Brigade under Captain Ernest Jackson. It was suggested that a fund should be opened to assist his widow and children.

The delayed fire engine demonstration took place a week after the accident, and was spread over two days, Saturday 16 and Wednesday 20 April. Without Wilfred Donkersley and George Whittaker, the brigade was down to five men, under the charge of sub-Captain Adams. Stocksbridge Councillors, including the members of the Fire Brigade Committee, were present at the demonstrations, which took place at the river Don at New Road, Hawthorn Brook, and at Unsliven Bridge. The men were testing a Merryweather three-throw suction pump. For those that would like the technical details: at Hawthorn Brook, with 35 feet of suction, and a vertical lift of 27 feet, a delivery of 50 feet was obtained on three jets; and at the Unsliven Bridge, with a 25 feet suction and a vertical lift of 16 feet, a height of 60 to 70 feet was obtained. The tests in all cases proved satisfactory and the brigade were said to be fully equipped to deal with any fire that might arise.

In December 1921 the Ministry of Health sanctioned a payment of £12 10s. to Captain Ernest Jackson and £9 17s. 6d. to Fireman Wilfred Donkersley, which was both a compensation payment and a reimbursement of medical charges. The Bank of England Inflation Calculator estimates £10 to equate to around £402 today.

As a bit of light relief, the fire brigade were among the guests at the opening of the new Picture Palace by the Schofield Brothers in May 1921. The local paper reported that “rarely have such crowds and enthusiasm been witnessed in the town.” In September they joined the usual annual parade for Hospital Sunday.

1921: Fire at Yew Bank, Bolsterstone, 4 August

The brigade responded to a call to a fire at Mr. F. Shaw’s farm at Yew Bank, Bolsterstone. They managed to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby corn.

1921: Fire at the Council’s tip at Deepcar, 2 October

The brigade were called around 9.30am on Sunday 2 October to a fire at the Council’s tip at Deepcar that had been burning for several days. It was found necessary to leave firemen in charge for a few days to prevent the fire from spreading.

In August 1921 a letter was read out at the Stocksbridge Council meeting from the Sheffield Corporation stating that all the fire plugs [hydrants] in the district had been examined and were found to be in perfect order. Unfortunately, by November this was not the case.

1921: Fire at the Congregational Church, Wednesday 16 November

A serious fire completely destroyed the Stocksbridge Congregational Church at the bottom of Hole House Lane and its destruction was partly due to the fire brigade being unable to access the nearest fire hydrants.

The fire was discovered shortly after 2.30am by police constables Graham and Mills, who went to fetch Captain Jackson who lived nearby on Rimington Row.  He was roused at 2.53am and instructed them to cause the fire buzzer to be blown at Fox’s works to summon the men. Three members of the brigade turned out at 3am. One of the drivers did not turn up, so Captain Jackson called Mr. G. C. Knowles’ sons. They arrived at the fire at about 3.10am with four fire extinguishers, but owing to the ferocity of the fire these were found to be useless. The stove house, the vestry, the organ chamber, and the aisle of the church were well ablaze when the brigade arrived. When the extinguishers were found to be useless the captain ordered the hose out, but although the hydrant was next to the church, the men spent 20 minutes with a hammer, chisel and pick trying to raise the lid, which had been covered with tarmac.  The tender carried a hatchet and pick to open the lids but not, apparently, the special tool for that purpose.   A Mr. Tom Slater had been fetched to cut off the gas supply, and he loaned the men a big hammer, with which they finally broke in.  A second hydrant was tried, near to Mr. Broadhead’s house, but it was found to be in as a bad a state as the first one. The Indicating Plate, which told of the location of the hydrant, was not on the post, and it afterwards transpired that it had been fixed on the adjacent house of Ambrose Marsden. In total it took 45 minutes to get any water from the hydrant.  Three or four hosepipes burst, apparently because they had not been dried out properly after their last use a week previously, due to insufficient drying space. Eight lengths of hose had to be borrowed from Fox’s.  The fire engine arrived at 3.40am and was taken into Fox’s works, the pumps being worked from the river Don.  It was apparently awkward to get the engine into position  and there was difficulty getting the hose from the works to the church. It consequently took an hour and a half from the fire being discovered to the first stream of water being directed onto the flames.  The church was practically gutted when they finally got water onto the fire.

There was lots of accusation, speculation and blame flying around, and the Council organised an enquiry to try and find out exactly what went wrong.

According to the pastor of the church, the Rev. H. S. Shepherd, the church had not been used since Sunday night, after which it had been locked up. It was heated throughout by pipes, and when it was locked up on Sunday the fire in the furnace was extinguished. Initially it was thought that the fire was set deliberately, but this was never proved. Church officials were convinced that there was nothing wrong with the heating apparatus, although it was noted that there was a large quantity of coal and wood close to the furnace itself. The Rev. Shepherd was notified of the fire and arrived at the church at about 3am. He told a reporter that the fire did not seem too bad. However, the lack of available water meant that the flames spread rapidly. The pews and the beams were made of pitch pine, and once the flames got a hold of these it was impossible to save them. The organ was completely destroyed, and before very long the roof had fallen in and the whole place was like a huge furnace. All that remained were the walls.

A great many locals had gathered to watch.  The blaze illuminated the district for miles around, the flames at one point rising to twice the height of the building.   The heat could be felt over 500 yards away. Bernard Drabble, who lived directly opposite the church, was prominent in helping the brigade. He told a reporter that the fire became really serious when one or two of the windows broke with the heat, and let in the air. He expressed the opinion that a mistake was made when the church door was opened by some of the early helpers as this also let the air through the building to fan the flames.

Captain Jackson told reporters that the inaccessibility of the hydrants was the fault of the County Council workmen who had been spraying tar on the road, which had completely covered the fire hydrants.  He had complained at the time, but the workmen took no notice of him.  He had also sent in a complaint to the local Council, saying that it was a public danger that the fire hydrants should be covered up with tar and made inaccessible. Unfortunately, no notice had been taken of either of these complaints. A few days later that the papers printed that it was not the County Council’s fault, because they were not responsible for the tar-spraying, which was done on the orders of the local Council.  In Mr. Jackson’s opinion, “The main part of the church would have been saved if we could have got water when we first arrived.

There appears to have been some attempt to put part of the blame for the destruction of the church on the firemen.  The fact that not all the men had heard the buzzer meant they were short on manpower, drivers had to be chased up, hosepipes burst, and they spent too long trying to get into the hydrants.

Sub-Captain John Adams was one of those who had not turned up, and Captain Jackson sent for him at 4.30am. Opinion was that he should have done this sooner because Mr. Adams worked for the Water Board and knew where the hydrants were.  Mr. Terrey, manager of the Sheffield Waterworks Department, was of the opinion that, “it was evidently not the practice of the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade to take the most important men with them.”  To which Jackson replied that he didn’t send for him because he had expected him to hear the fire buzzer.

At the Council’s inquiry, Cllr. F. Coultas said that Stocksbridge had excellent fire-fighting equipment, but if there was anything wrong with the personnel, it should be thoroughly investigated. He wondered why the Brigade concentrated on the hydrants so long, when water was available from the river. Cllr. Henry Jones complained that people had formed the impression that the local Council were to blame for the delay. The Chairman said he had heard from one of the firemen that all the appliances were “not in order” on the day of the fire. A report from the secretary of the Fire Brigade was read out, which said they were called at 2.56am, and arrived at the church at 3.10am. The report stressed the great difficulty in removing the hydrant covers because of their being covered with tar. One eventually had to be smashed. Water was also obtained from the river.  The minister of the church was of the opinion “that some persons or authorities have bungled badly.” The inquiry was adjourned so that the members of the brigade who were at the fire could give evidence, as well as the two police officers, and independent witnesses.

When the inquiry resumed, the first evidence was from Police-constable H. Graham, who had first discovered the fire and summoned the fire brigade. The caretaker’s wife,  Mrs Briggs, told the inquiry that she had attended to the heating apparatus on the day previous to the fire, and that nobody went into the room afterwards. Captain Jackson gave his evidence.

John Adams stated that he had been a member of the Fire Brigade for 15 years . On the morning of the fire, he was called by Mr. G. Knowles at 4.30, and arrived at 4.45am. The roof had fallen in and there was only smouldering debris to be seen, and he saw that it was too late to save the building. The brigade were using a hydrant, the lid of which had been broken. He fixed another hydrant in the channel nearest the church. He said that hydrants could be opened by a good sharp pick and told the inquiry that as an officer of the Sheffield Corporation, he examined the hydrants from time to time. He said the hydrants had been examined after the tar spraying, and that heavy traffic could carry a portion of the tar on to the joints of the hydrant lids. His explanation was that the proper tools had not been used in the first instance for lifting the lid. Fireman Wilfred Ernest Hayward also gave evidence in a hearing that lasted 3 hours.

The conclusion

It was stated that there was no suspicion of arson, or that tramps or others had been using the building. There was no doubt that the flames originated in the heating chamber, in which a quantity of wood and coal was stored, and it generated such heat that the water in the pipes was brought to boiling point. It was the sound of this running and boiling water that initially attracted the attention of P.C. Graham, who on examination saw smoke issuing from the ventilator above two of the doors, and, having obtained a key, found the chapel full of smoke. No time had been lost in raising the alarm, but the hooter was weak and ineffective and had failed to wake all the members of the Fire Brigade. The Brigade was not at full strength at the time when its efforts would have been most effective. The absence particularly of the sub-captain, Adams, who was in the employ of the Sheffield Corporation, and had charge of the hydrants, was very unfortunate. One headline called it “a chapter of unfortunate accidents.”

Items lost included the recently-renovated organ, which had cost £550 new and £200 to renovate, some church music, a solid oak musical cabinet worth £250, a stained glass window in memory of the Rev. Henry Robertshaw, who was pastor there for 50 years, several memorial tablets including a recently-erected marble war memorial, a Jacobean oak Communion table and a suite of Jacobean chairs, polished pitch pine pews and solid oak doors, a valuable Memorial Library instituted by Henry Robertshaw, and 120 Communion cups, which were found melted into a shapeless mass of metal. A few fragments of the war memorial were found among the ruins, but of the other valuables there was practically no trace. Some deeds and documents, including marriage lines, did survive, being in a fire-proof safe. Although the safe was red hot, the documents were only slightly scorched when retrieved.  A representative of “The Sheffield Independent” who visited the site found the church a smouldering ruin, roofless, and surrounded by blackened and disfigured walls. Here and there, among the water-soaked debris were hymn books and miscellaneous papers which had only been partially burned, but nothing else was distinguishable from the charred woodwork strewn everywhere. The total damage was estimated at around £6,000 but unfortunately, the contents of the church were only insured for a sum just short of £3,000.

The church had been opened in 1864 and extended in 1886. There was a pay-out from the insurance company, but it wasn’t enough, and throughout 1922 fund-raising events were held. One of these, on Saturday 1 July, was a Restoration Fund “field day.” Bad weather took the event indoors, tea being taken in the British School instead of in a field at Holly Bush lent by Mrs. Waterhouse. The event was a success, with many people attending and enjoying the various stalls which included sweets and ice-cream. There was also a Punch and Judy show. The weather was kinder on 19 August when another “field day” was organised by the Congregational Church Sisterhood. This one was able to be held on Mrs. Waterhouse’s field and there were stalls, games and children’s sports. Members of the public contributed  generously towards the restoration as did other denominations, and the Anglicans lent their church for worship. In the end, the church was not only rebuilt but improved and extended.

A large crowd turned out on 24 February 1923 to attend a ceremony for the laying of the new foundation stone. The church was to be rebuilt on the lines of the original, but with slight extensions. Councillor Joseph Sheldon (chairman of the Council and the oldest member of the church) declared the foundation stone to be “well and truly laid.” Following the ceremony in the open air, which was necessarily brief owing to the weather, there was a meeting in the schoolroom. The church was ready within the year, and the re-opening and dedication service was held on 14 February 1924.

At the April 1922 Council meeting resignations were received from Wilfred Ernest Hayward and sub-captain John Adams arising, it was said, from a certain amount of dissatisfaction amongst the members of the brigade – whether with each other or with the Council wasn’t clear. Cllr. Coultas suggested a complete revision of the fire brigade rules, and it was resolved to acknowledge the letters of resignation, appreciating the men’s long and faithful service. It was hoped that the resignations would be withdrawn.

1922: fire at Mr. H. Rodgers, 17 May

Fire broke out at Mr. H. Rodgers’ house on Manchester Road. The brigade were quickly on scene and put out the fire, which had originated in the chimney flue. Damage was comparatively light.

1922: fire at Fox Glen, 21 May

On Sunday 21 May there was a fire at Fox Glen, Deepcar, but on this occasion the fire was extinguished by the police.

1922: fire at Stocksbridge Works, 25 May

On Thursday 25 May the brigade attended a fire at Stocksbridge Works which originated when some boiling tar caught fire in the grinding mill.

In July 1922 representatives from the Council attended a conference in Sheffield with a view to making some arrangement whereby the services of the Sheffield Brigade could be available for areas outside the city limits. At one time the Corporation had arrangements with a number of private firms and houses outside the city’s boundaries to this effect, but it was a rather unsatisfactory method and so the Watch Committee (who administered the Police Force and the Fire Brigade) invited all the authorities within a ten-mile radius of the city to attend a conference at Sheffield with a view to making an agreement whereby they could have the full help of Sheffield’s brigade. Alderman Cattell, chairman of the Sheffield Watch Committee, offered the services of the Sheffield Brigade on a five-years’ agreement basis to all authorities who would contribute to the upkeep of the brigade to the extent of a 2½d. rate. This was a necessary charge, to enable Sheffield to enlarge its brigade. They didn’t want to have their men absent from the city should a fire break out. However, only one local authority accepted, and that was Norton. Stocksbridge refused the offer. This was unfortunate, because the following year there was a huge fire at Fox’s and the Sheffield Brigade initially refused to turn out, and had to gain permission from the Chief Constable to do so.

This must have given the Council an idea, for in October they asked the Councils of Penistone, Thurlstone, Wortley, Thurgoland, Hunshelf, Oxspring and Bradfield if they would like to make arrangements for the use of the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade in case of fire in their districts.  Thurlstone asked what these terms would be and were told that Stocksbridge had decided not to enter into any formal agreement to attend fires outside their area, but that they would answer a call if they were not already engaged. In fact, they attended a fire in Thurlstone on 7 January 1923. Thurlstone already had a fire brigade, but it seems they wanted to be able to call on reinforcements if the fire was large.

In 1922 the Council acquired a motor ambulance for public use. Previously anyone needing to go to hospital in an emergency was taken by the ambulance belonging to Fox’s. The new ambulance was made possible thanks to the Relief Fund Committee at Fox’s, and the vehicle came from the Territorial Branch of the St. John Ambulance Association. The ambulance did not cost the Council a penny of ratepayers’ money; in 1916 the contributors of the Stocksbridge Works War Relief Fund had made a donation of £600 to the British Red Cross Society for the purchase and upkeep of a motor ambulance for use on the French front. After the war, on learning that the Council were considering the purchase of a motor ambulance, Messrs. Fox, acting in conjunction with the Works Relief Fund, made an application for the return of the ambulance presented in 1916, or one in lieu of it. Eventually, Stocksbridge was allotted a motor ambulance free of all cost, and it was soon in daily use in the village. The ambulance was initially stored at the Works until provision could be made for it elsewhere.  It was decided to house it in the fire brigade shed, but work had to be carried out to make room for it first.

With the memories of the failure of the Works buzzer to alert the sleeping members of the fire brigade when the Congregational Church caught fire, the Council began to make enquiries about the possibility of connecting the homes of the members of the fire brigade with an alarm system. The other option being discussed was to ask Fox’s as to whether it would be possible to provide a better and louder alarm than the one they were currently using. The latter option was decided on, and the new fire buzzer was installed and ready for use in the new year. A trial was organised for 27 January. After a fire at the Works in May that year Fox’s wrote to the Council to report the failure of the fire alarm to work satisfactorily and suggesting the provision of a better alarm and it was suggested they go back to using the firm’s buzzer. All the men had heard the alarm and turned out, so I am not sure what the issue was. It was again suggested that the home of each fireman should be equipped with a telephone fire alarm, and that houses be acquired for the firemen near to the fire brigade station.

1923: fire at Thurlstone, 7 January

The Phoenix Foundry Blacking Works of James Durrans and Sons was situated in the centre of Thurlstone on the Manchester Road. When a fire was discovered there at just before 8am one Sunday morning, the members of the Thurlstone Fire Brigade were quickly on the scene with their appliances, and were assisted by the appliances from Thomas Tomasson and Son’s mill which was close by, as well as those of the Penistone Urban Council. Hoses were affixed to the public water main and soon water was being directed at the flames. The blaze looked to be a large one, and messages were despatched to both the Barnsley and the Stocksbridge Fire Brigades. Barnsley received the message at about 8.40am and seven men arrived on the scene just after 9.30am, getting their water from the river Don. In his report to the Council, the Stocksbridge captain said that they were not told of the outbreak until 9.45am because of a problem with the telephones. They consequently arrived after the Barnsley men, at 10.10am, but by this time the flames been quenched, and their services were not required. Eleven men from Stocksbridge turned out. The factory was gutted with the exception of the boiler house.

1923: fire at Allen Croft Isolation Hospital, March

Thomas Evans, the caretaker at the hospital, discovered a fire at 10.45 one Saturday night and telephoned for the fire brigade. Captain Jackson turned out with his full brigade and soon prevented the fire from spreading. Some woodwork close to a stove had caught fire. Hundreds of people made their way to the scene, and several turned up with their motor vehicles in case the eight patients needed to be evacuated. Luckily the fire was soon out and the damage very slight. After this event, the Council decided to make sure “fire appliances” were installed [possibly fire extinguishers?]. They also made arrangements for the Sheffield Corporation to make a water supply available, because at the time the only water available had to be obtained from a pump in the grounds.

The men of the brigade were still volunteers who held other jobs, a situation that remains to this day. The members were paid a retaining fee, and a fee for the fires they attended.  They were also paid to attend practices.  In May the Council held a lengthy meeting to discuss brigade matters. It was found that some members had attended no practices at all over the previous year, and there was a question of whether these men should be paid the retaining fees. There was some dispute over this, and the outcome wasn’t clear from the report, nor was the decision as to whether the retaining fee was in fact a salary. The councillors who voted that all the men be paid regardless of their attendance were asked if they represented the ratepayers or the brigade.

1923: huge fire at Fox’s, 17 May

Around 6.15 in the morning of Thursday 17 May a serious fire broke out at Fox’s. The fire burnt for hours and caused damage which was originally estimated to be least £75,000 but which was later reduced to between £30,000 and £40,000. The fire broke out in the cold rolling mill in the eastern part of the Works and swept rapidly down the length of the shops. It was thought that an electric motor attached to one of the rolling machines had back-fired, and the cold rolling mill, a three-story building, was soon ablaze. The cold rolling shop was full of oil and grease, and in consequence dense clouds of thick smoke proceeded huge flames. The men, who had just come on for the day shift, suddenly found they had to run for safety. The timekeeper, George Wilson, fetched a couple of chemical fire extinguishers, but it was impossible to do anything with them and he gave the alarm on the Work’s fire buzzer. In a short time, the firm’s brigade had arrived on the scene. Captain Jackson and twelve men turned out with the Merryweather pump and the tender, and as they came the short distance from the engine shed down the steep incline to the Works known as Smithy Hill, the wind swept the flames and smoke right into their path. They soon had seven lines of hose running from the hydrants but in the space of one hour the whole of the building was a huge sheet of flames. The Penistone Brigade arrived at 8.30 but the Sheffield Brigade, which had been telephoned for immediately after the outbreak, was unable to attend until permission had been given, Fox’s being outside the city limits. Everyone battled valiantly against what was a hopeless task from the start. Their united efforts, however, did at least prevent the fire from spreading to other parts of the works. The fire was the most disastrous in the history of Stocksbridge and it was much bigger than a previous large fire at the works in 1913.

The top storey of the building was not used for any practical purposes and there was very little of value in it. The second floor was used as a wire flattening shop for the famous Paragon umbrella frames, adjoining which was the engineer’s office, the works manager’s office, and, finally, the drawing office. The ground floor was divided into two departments. At the eastern side was the cold rolling plant, and at the back the annealing and cleaning shops. The western portion contained the finishing or cutting plant. In the space of three hours the three-storey building was completely gutted. Valuable machinery and stock were destroyed, and 200 men were thrown out of work at a time when the works was very busy. The building was insured.

Crowds of spectators congregated close to the works and on the adjoining hills, while many people, seeing thick clouds of smoke floating down the valley, headed towards Stocksbridge. Three of the firm’s directors, Mr. W. H. Robinson, Mr. T. H. Howson, and Dr. T. Swinden were present, together with the manager of the cold rolling department, Mr. H. H. Slater, the engineer, Mr. V. Oakley and the foremen of the mill, the three directors having been summoned from home.

By 9am the fire was gradually being mastered, and the spectators saw the whole building glowing like a furnace. From time to time huge iron girders, portions of machinery and overhead cranes crashed into the basement, causing tongues of flame to leap up into the sky and shattered fragments to be hurled out of the building by the force of the impact. Opposite the building, about twenty yards away, were the general offices, and the flames caught hold of the roof. Luckily Captain Jackson noticed this, and directed the hoses to concentrate on the offices, while two firemen climbed on to the roof with chemical fire extinguishers.

Meanwhile the office staff had arrived, and they were set to work removing furniture in case the offices caught fire, but luckily the firemen managed to prevent the fire from taking hold, although the men were exposed to danger from falling debris. One of them had a narrow escape from being struck by slates.

Gradually, the firemen, dirty and smoke-begrimed with their long battle with the flames, mastered the fire, and the arrival of the Sheffield Brigade spurred them on. They had been called at 6.56am but did not arrive until 9.23am. The journey took them under 20 minutes. Captain Jackson commented that, “even if Sheffield had arrived at half-past seven I don’t think we could have saved it.” “The Sheffield Brigade,” said one man, “were simply splendid. Though they did not arrive for some hours after it had been discovered, the way they got to work was something grand to watch. They went about their work with the speed and efficient of highly trained men.” The building continued burning in places for many hours after it was subdued, and the Stocksbridge Brigade was there practically all day, the Sheffield men leaving about 1.30pm. In the afternoon clouds of smoke still floated into the sky, and little tongues of flame were still to be seen in places.

The walls were standing, although badly cracked in many places. Inside was a mass of twisted metal, disjointed machinery, broken and ruined stock, charred timber, and girders hanging and twisted into fantastic shapes – all evidence of the intensity and fury of the fire. The remains of an overhead crane hung in a precarious position, half balanced on a girder. From end to end of the building were huge wheels and gears from the machinery, wire ropes, electric wires and cables, and debris of all kinds, lying in pools of oil and water. There was practically no trace of the engine house. The coppering plant, which had been in the course of construction during the previous three months, had only been completed and ready that day. That too was destroyed.

The destruction of the offices which adjoined the wire flattening shop was particularly serious. This was where all the important plans of machinery, buildings, and details of contracts were kept. Valuable draughtsmen’s instruments were also lost, as well as all their drawing materials.

After the fire, the firm had to prepare for the reconstruction of the mill. The boardroom was cleared in the general office building and fitted up for the draughtsmen to work, and in the meantime two members of the staff were sent to Manchester to buy new instruments to replace those destroyed.

The year before the fire the Stocksbridge Council had declined an offer from the Sheffield Council to have the services of the Sheffield Brigade upon payment of the equivalent of a 2½d. rate, around £425 a year. This rekindled much debate about whether this was the correct decision. Superintendent Breaks, the Chief of the Sheffield Brigade, had to decline to turn out, as per the rules. However, the seriousness of the fire was made clear to him with frantic telephone calls, so he consulted his superiors on the matter, securing the permission of the Chief Constable of Sheffield, Colonel Hall-Dalwood, to send a contingent of men to help. A representative of Fox’s told a reporter that he regretted that Stocksbridge Council had not been able to come to a satisfactory arrangement to secure the services of the Sheffield Fire Brigade when required. At the time when Stocksbridge were considering the scheme, Fox’s were frequently consulted, and they would have been quite willing to fall in with any scheme of the Council’s, and bear a share of the cost. The Council being adamant that they would not join the Sheffield scheme, Fox’s entered into its own agreement, and by 1925 they were at liberty to call out the Sheffield Brigade to a fire at their Works. The situation in Stocksbridge itself remained the same, the Council believing that their own brigade was more than up to the task of fighting fires, and this was the most efficient way to spend the ratepayers’ money. Fox’s, who paid about 52% of the rates of Stocksbridge, thought this should be taken into account.

When the news of the disaster became known, Fox’s received many offers of help from Sheffield steel firms. “People have been very kind to us all round,” said Mr. Howson, “and as a result of their generosity we expect to get to work immediately. In fact, we are at work. The girls in the umbrella works are at their posts today, and with the exception of the rolling mill, which was burned down, we are carrying on as usual. To meet the gap caused by our loss we have already secured two mills in Sheffield. In one we shall carry on the work of a heavy character, and in the other, which we are hiring, we shall send the hot strip roller work to be finished by our own men.”

It was thought that the whole burnt-out building would have to be demolished, it being so dangerous that entry into it was prohibited. This also made it impossible to say for certain what caused the fire.  The annealing shop and turners’ shop, both at the rear of the destroyed rolling mill, were not as badly damaged as had been thought. The roofs had suffered most, but were repairable. The copper plant was a comparatively small one, and had been made by the firm themselves. This would be replaced at once.

In their October report, the United Steel Companies said that work had been very intermittent in the heavy departments at Stocksbridge, but other departments had done fairly well. The complete destruction of the cold rolling plant and buildings had been almost entirely covered by insurance, but the disruption to business was considerable. This was partly resolved by making arrangements with other cold rollers in Sheffield to carry out the work and rebuilding had been ongoing since that day, and it was hoped that operations would soon resume.

1923: Fire at Oxspring Corn Mills, 12 July

In July 1923 two disastrous fires broke out in Penistone within a few hours of each other. In the early hours of Thursday morning, around 4am, the Palace Cinema Theatre (previously known as the known as the Penistone Assembly Rooms) was burnt to the ground. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that Penistone only had “an old-fashioned fire brigade,” and as a consequence the firemen were “severely handicapped,” and had to have help from some of the railway firemen from Penistone station. The railway firemen brought their own fire-fighting equipment to supplement that of the Penistone Brigade. The building was entirely gutted, and damage amounting to about £4,000 was caused. The cinema manageress told a reporter that the Penistone turnout was a disgrace, the brigade being too small and badly equipped. “Had it not been for the assistance of the railway firemen, undoubtedly the adjoining house would have been involved,” she added.

The second fire broke out about 10.30am at the Oxspring Corn Mills belonging to Mr. C. H. Webb, and here again the main building was gutted, the damage being estimated at over £3,000. Webb and his son were in the garden at their house, three or four hundred yards away from the mills, when they noticed smoke issuing from the roof of the corn mill. They rushed to the mills, and found that the main building, containing large stores of corn, was in flames. The son jumped on his bicycle and rose to the Penistone village to summon the fire brigade. The Penistone Brigade however were unable to attend, being still tied up at the Cinema, so the Stocksbridge Brigade were called. Penistone was actually outside the remit of the Stocksbridge fire brigade, but they had previously agreed to turn out if they were not otherwise engaged. Meanwhile Mr. Webb got the assistance of a number of villagers, who carried water in buckets from the nearby river Don.  Captain Jackson received the call at 11.5am and he and his men turned out with both the engine and the tender and sped the five miles to Oxspring. Such was their speed that when they got there, their own engine was in flames! Luckily, this was quickly dealt with, and they turned their attention to the corn mills, which by this time were blazing fiercely. The brigade drew their water supply from the river Don and also from a dam. They managed to save a great part of the buildings. The brigade prevented the flames spreading to the saw mill and the barns, and many sacks of corn were saved by their removal from the buildings. The mill was old, having been built in 1652, and the timber was very dry and this, along with the bags of corn, burned easily.

The fire brigade were present at the laying of the foundation stone of the War Memorial Clock Tower on Saturday 14 July 1923. They also attended the Armistice Day service at St. Matthias church and a parade to Bolsterstone church in the afternoon.

1923: fire at Mr. Hill’s, 24 July

At 8.30pm one Tuesday night, the brigade were called out to a fire at a motor garage belonging to Mr. Hill of Haywood Park. The wooden garage housed a motor-cycle and side-car which was completely destroyed. Damage was estimated at £200.

1923: six fires in six weeks, July/August

The local newspaper reported that the brigade had been called out six times in the same number of weeks, the most recent fire involving a hay-stack at Mr. Helliwell’s farm at Wortley on 7 August. The Wortley Council praised the Stocksbridge brigade for their “promptitude and efficiency” in tackling the fire, which would otherwise have had serious consequences. They did not have their own fire engine at this point and the Council decided to visit Stocksbridge and Mansfield fire stations to look at their engines.

1923: taxi fire at Soughley, 12 November

A taxi belonging to the Birkhead brothers of West End Garage caught fire as it was carrying some passengers home one Monday night. The car was heading towards Deepcar and caught fire as it was being driven up Soughley Hill. It was thought that this was as a result of it back-firing. Captain Jackson and his men turned out and soon extinguished the flames. The engine was not badly damaged, but the body of the car was ruined.

1924: fire at Stocksbridge Works, 22 January

At around 5am on Tuesday 22 January another fire broke out in Fox’s. The fire originated in No. 1 Time House which, coincidentally, was the designated central point for fire alarms, and it was thought to be caused by the fusing of some electric wires. The Work’s fire alarm was sounded and within a very short time Captain Jackson arrived with seven men and both the tender and the pump. The men must have worried that this could be another serious fire, but luckily it was not. Slight damage was done to the newly-erected office of the Sheet Mill Department, which was at the back of the Time House. The local paper once again brought up the lack of an agreement with the Sheffield Fire Brigade, although in this case they were not needed. This prompted a letter from “a fireman and ratepayer” criticising the newspaper for resurrecting this old bone of contention. Like the Council, he thought that the amount of money an agreement with Sheffield would cost the ratepayers would be excessive, and a waste of money given that Stocksbridge had an excellent brigade consisting of twelve men, a motor pump, a motor tender, fire extinguishers and all manner of perfectly good equipment. In his opinion the money would be better spent on housing the brigade members closer to the fire station, improving the alarm system and, if necessary, extending the strength of the personnel and capacity of appliances. He pointed out that Sheffield is nine miles from Stocksbridge, and that the Sheffield Brigade had “not yet adopted the flying machine.”

A letter from Fox’s to the Council shortly after the fire added to the debate when reference was made to it in the local newspaper. They had complained that the Stocksbridge Brigade were late to the fire, the alarm being sounded twice, and the watchman having to visit the captain’s house. The Brigade railed at this injustice, and their Secretary L. Charlesworth wrote to the newspaper defending the brigade. He said that the alarm was first sounded at between 5.03am and 5.05am, and that Captain Jackson and three men had arrived on scene with the motor tender at 5.12am. The tender carried hosepipes and was equipped to work from the street mains. It also had chemical extinguishers. It was pointed out that the men had made excellent time considering that they had all been roused from their beds, got dressed and made their way to the fire station, started up a 45 h.p. motor and driven to the scene. The motor pump arrived only three minutes later carrying the sub-captain and one man and other members of the Brigade quickly followed. “Let it be thoroughly understood that Stocksbridge Brigade, like that of many other towns of even much larger population, is composed of working men and tradesmen, who follow their own occupation. Most of them have to do a day’s work and quite naturally require rest at night like any other human being. They are not housed at the fire station with regular hours on duty like the city brigades.”

Mr. Charlesworth went on to explain the system of sounding the fire alarm. He agreed that the alarm was sounded twice, but that the second occasion was unnecessary because the men were already on the scene when the second alarm was given. He explained that the alarm was sounded by a  steam whistle which was operated off the power house boilers at Fox’s. It could be blown at  any time, day and night, to summon the fire brigade. Fox’s also had another whistle which was used to announce starting and stopping times for some of their departments. However, the problem with this is that the two sounded very similar, and when firemen were sound asleep in their beds it was sometimes difficult to determine whether they had heard the fire alarm or the works whistle. What was supposed to happen in the case of fire was that three short blasts would be given on the works whistle and the fire alarm would be blown. The three blasts were not given on this occasion. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, but he pointed out that the brigade had always responded, every time, just in case. They had also responded on the occasions when the controlling gear on the works whistle had gone wrong and the whistle had blown unintentionally.

Another point he made was that Fox’s was in the bottom of the valley whilst many of the firemen’s homes were in various places on the hill sides, and when the wind was in certain direction it was difficult to hear the whistles when awake let alone when asleep. The issue of finding council houses for the firemen nearer to the fire station was on ongoing topic of discussion at the council meetings, and it was brought up again in the April following the fire.

As to the watchman visiting the Captain’s house, Mr. Chalesworth said that although this was true, it was actually done whilst the first alarm was being sounded and not, as had been stated in the press, after the whistle had been blown twice.

The brigade submitted their report of their attendance at the fire at the Council’s next meeting, and also reported that some fire hydrants were found to be out of order at their recent practice. The Sheffield Corporation was notified about the hydrants, and they were seen to promptly. Fireman Ernest Berwick also sent a letter about the condition of the fire pump, which, it was decided, would be tested.

The brigade lost one of its men on 19 April 1924 with the death of Charles Spencer Hague, a local butcher. He was two days off his 43rdbirthday and had been in the brigade since about 1909. He had also been the honorary secretary of the Stocksbridge Music Festival, which was in support of the Sheffield Medical Charities. Members of the brigade were coffin bearers.

1924: fire at Stocksbridge Works, 28 April

Another fire broke out at Fox’s, this time in the umbrella wire annealing department caused, it was thought, by the over-heating of a large oil tank. The fire brigade got notice of the fire shortly after 9.30pm, and they arrived on the scene in only a few minutes to find the oil tank and its surroundings blazing furiously. The roof was well alight, and there were dense clouds of smoke from the burning oil. They smothered the blazing tank with sand and ashes, and water from the street main was played onto the building. The outbreak was completely subdued in about 40 minutes. The damage was estimated at around £63 and was covered by insurance.

The matter of Stocksbridge entering into an arrangement with Sheffield for the use of their fire brigade rumbled on throughout the year, Fox’s again writing to the Council to chase up the matter. The Council agreed to enquire about the cost of this, at the same time preparing a statement of the cost of the Council’s Fire Brigade for the last four years. What the terms was isn’t known, but at its September the council made the decision that they could not accept the terms. Fox’s tried again, and contacted the Watch Committee direct asking them if they could come to an arrangement between the Sheffield Corporation and Fox’s for the use of the Sheffield Brigade in the case of serious fire at the Works. In November they received a reply that the Watch Committee did not enter into individual arrangements, but would deal with the local Council, at the same rates as the rest of the Sheffield area. Which at the end of 1924 brought them back to square one, with the Council refusing to accept such an arrangement. Fox’s then considered forming their own Works’ Fire Brigade. There had been previous mentions of Fox’s brigades in the newspapers over the years, so I am not sure what the arrangements were.

Meanwhile, the Wortley Rural District Council enquired as to whether Stocksbridge would be willing to enter into an arrangement for the use of the Stocksbridge Council’s Fire Brigade in their area. The brigade were happy to do so, but pointed out that this would entail extra practices throughout the new area, and extra costs would be involved for the use of machines and equipment. They also thought that their annual fees should be proportionately increased. The Wortley Council would be required to pay an annual retainer fee of £150, which could cover the extra retainer fees to members of £25; the mileage charge for practices, £30; capital depreciation (additional equipment, etc.), £75 and contingencies, £20. They would also be expected to pay the usual expenses incurred in attending fires (members’ time, out of pocket expenses, etc.), and an additional charge of £2 10s. for each machine turning out to the fire. The Wortley Council began to discuss whether it would be better if they were to acquire their own fire engine. It was 1926 before they replied to the Stocksbridge Council, returning the agreement “after a very considerable delay,” it was noted, and with alterations that Stocksbridge could not agree to. With little likelihood of arriving at a mutually satisfactory agreement, and the proposals for an agreement of service were abandoned.

1924: Fire at Huthwaite Hall Farm, 1 September

A haystack fire occurred at Huthwaite Hall Farm, Thurgoland, early in the morning of Monday 1 September. The Stocksbridge Fire Brigade were called, and found the 20 ton stack well alight. They had to get their water from a duck-pond 500 yards away, but after much hard work the blaze was extinguished. The neighbouring stacks were untouched, and some hay was saved from the ignited stack. The damage was estimated at over £50.

The brigade attended the funeral of another of their members in January 1925, Allen Colin Landells, who had joined in 1914. He was 38 years old and lived at Rosslea, Hoyle House Lane. He was buried at Bolsterstone, and the brigade were coffin bearers. Mr. Landells was a widower and left three children.

1925: Fire at Romptickle, 8 March

Outbuildings adjoining the farm of George Watts at Romptickle caught fire on Sunday 8 March. This was a challenging call for the men, with a very rough approach to the farm and the nearest water supply was 350 yards away, across the railway line. However, the Stocksbridge men quickly brought two lines of hose into action and managed to prevent the flames from reaching the farm house. Only one of the four tons of hay stored in the barn was destroyed.

In April 1925 Captain Ernest Jackson retired from the brigade after 30 years’ service. He had joined in 1895 and served as second and first officer before being appointed captain in 1912, taking over from Captain Champion who resigned when he left the district. The Council sent him a letter of appreciation for his services, and he was succeeded by Captain Ernest Berwick, who had built the two fire engines on the chassis acquired from Fox’s back in 1918. A Dance was held in the Victory Club for his benefit in December, but the attendance was disappointing, The Victory Club Orchestra played, and Mr. M. Bohills was the M.C. Unfortunately, the event made a loss. A dinner was held in his honour the following April, 1926, at The Rising Sun Inn. Mr. Jackson was presented with a wallet containing £18 as a token of appreciation for his services (the Bank of England Inflation Calculator estimates this to equate to about £901 today). In May the local newspaper ran an article about his retirement. When he joined the brigade, the equipment consisted of a handcart, used for conveying hose and tools, and a hand-worked manual, which required about 20 persons to work it, and which was only capable of pouring out at full pressure 100 gallons of water to the minute. By the time he retired, the brigade was equipped with an up-to-date motor tender and fire engine with the latest Merryweather pump, which had a capacity of 350 gallons to the minute. Despite the criticism the brigade sometimes received, the men always stuck to their work, and whenever the call came they were ready to turn out. Captain Jackson told of one occasion when a man came hurriedly to his residence and said his house was on fire. He and a colleague hurried to the man’s house with the handcart and hose but when they arrived, the man had “flitted.” A dinner in his honour was held at the Rising Sun the following year, and Ernest was presented with a wallet containing £18 as a token of appreciation for his splendid services.  The Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator estimates this to equate to just over £900 today. One of the ways he spent his retirement was to look after part of the Clock Tower Memorial gardens.

Also retiring in 1925 was Second Officer Outram of the Sheffield Brigade. His memories of the early days were reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. “I have been to thousands of fires,” he told a reporter; “in the early days we had six horses only […] fire-fighting in those days was more perilous than it is now because of the frequent mishaps owing to broken axles and horses falling down. It was a thrilling game being driver – as I was – and we used to dash through the streets in great style.”

At the April Council meeting in 1925, the members discussed whether the fire engine should carry first aid supplies and at the annual meeting later that month Cllr. G. C. Knowles raised again the question of houses for the fire brigade members. Some of the firemen lived some distance from the fire station, although not all of them would have wanted to move. Wilfred Donkersley, for instance, lived in the house attached to his shop at Bracken Moor. He owned at least one horse, so he could have made good time to attend the fire station when the alarm went out. Mr. Knowles gave notice to move that the owner of the property nearly opposite the Fire Station be approached, with a view to its purchase, for the erection of twelve houses for the accommodation of the firemen, but nothing came of this.

1925: Fire at Co-operative Society’s Bakehouse, 2 May

Around 8.30pm on Saturday 2 May a fire broke out in the bakery department of the Co-operative Stores on Hope Street. The fire brigade were called but their numbers were depleted because several of the men had gone to a Fire Brigade Friendly Society Convention at Pudsey. Despite being handicapped by the “feeble force” of water obtained they managed to stop the fire from spreading to the surrounding property, a large garage used to store cars belonging to the Society, the Stocksbridge Motor Company, and a petrol store. The flames shot up to a great height and melted the large lead ventilators in the roof, which crashed to the floor. Mr. R. Evans of the dairy department entered the building at great personal risk and cut off the gas. The fire was eventually brought under control, with assistance being given by local residents and by ex-Captain Ernest Jackson. About two tons each of flour and currants were destroyed and the damage was estimated at between £700 and £800, which was fully covered by insurance. Originally it was thought that about six people would be unable to work because of the fire, but in the end the amount of damage was £376, and the staff decreased by four. Arrangements were made with the Brightside and Carbrook Society, Sheffield, to serve the Society’s 3,000 customers.

Having repeatedly failed to get Stocksbridge Council to make an agreement with the Sheffield Fire Brigade, Fox’s – or United Steels as it had become officially known – brokered their own deal with regards to obtaining the services of the Sheffield Fire Brigade. A Demonstration was arranged for Monday 22 June 1925, the Sheffield Brigade responding to a test alarm at the Works. A report was printed in the Sheffield Telegraph, but they mistakenly said that the Sheffield Brigade had just taken over the supervision of the Stocksbridge district. This prompted Councillor Truman to write to the paper pointing out their error and that the arrangement was strictly a private one between the Works and the Sheffield Corporation, and emphasising that Stocksbridge Council had ensured that there was adequate provision in the district in case of fire, and that they had every confidence that the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade was capable of dealing with any outbreak “of an ordinary character.”

The Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express was more accurate in its reporting, stating that Fox’s had made its own arrangements for the services of the Sheffield Fire Brigade when necessary at their Works. They then went on to describe the visit by the Sheffield Brigade to the Works and their demonstration of fire-fighting. They had brought along two pumps, a tender, and a 75’ turn-table fire escape. The fire escape was placed in front of the five-storey umbrella shops, and the fireman placed at the top was able to pour volumes of water far above the building. A demonstration with eight jets was also made in front of the sheet steel department. The pumps were capable of turning out 750 and 550 gallons of water to the minute. Captain Ernest Berwick of the Stocksbridge Brigade was also present at the demonstration. In the evening the Stocksbridge Brigade also gave a display at the other end of the works. The Council agreed to purchase two foam extinguishers, more hose, fire escape ladders, a starting device for engine, a field telephone, electric lamps for the firemen, cleaning materials, six pairs of couplings and new uniforms for the members. The new uniforms had arrived by November, but the Council were considering the question of the provision of a fire escape.

1925: Fire at the Silica Firebrick Company, Oughtibridge, 29 July

There was a storm during the afternoon of Wednesday 29 July, and lightening struck the wires in the power house of the Silica Firebrick Company at Oughtibridge. The building was soon ablaze, and both Sheffield and Stocksbridge Fire Brigades were sent for. The fire was put out and prevented from spreading, although a number of the workers would be out of work for a while. While the newspaper reported that both teams worked together, when Captain Berwick came to write his report for the Council, he stated that when he arrived at Oughtibridge, Superintendent Breaks of the Sheffield Brigade told him that the fire was out, and would the Stocksbridge Brigade like the job of damping down for them? There was some debate as to who had called the Stocksbridge men out, and why, presumably because it was out of their area. It was decided that the charge for the Stocksbridge Brigade’s attendance would be £5 for each vehicle attending, in addition to the charge for the men’s time.

In September 1925 the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade promoted their first annual carnival on behalf of the local Nursing Association and the St. John Ambulance Association. Stocksbridge was “en-fete” on the day, and a huge procession, nearly a mile long, paraded the district, with collections being made en route. There were prizes on offer for such categories as Jazz Bands, Tableaux, Tradesmen’s Turnouts, Decorated Cycle, Decorated Pram, Children’s Fancy Dress, Nursery Rhymes and Horses. The procession started from Garden Village, and was well marshalled, the local police assisting with the great crowd. “Lest We Forget” was duly observed when the procession passed the war memorial clock tower. The procession ended at a field in Ford Lane where the entrants were judged. A feature of the procession was a huge umbrella from Fox’s, and an umbrella testing machine. Quite a few “Stocksbridge Worthies” took part, all the old people being accommodated in wagons. The old horse-drawn manual fire engine made an appearance, accompanied by its successors, the up-to-date motor engine and tender. The weather was kind, and the event was a great success. The officials of the Stocksbridge Victory Club allowed the use of the dance hall in the evening for free, and the club orchestra played without fee.

1925: Fire at Ewden Valley, 15 September

Two storage huts full of flammable materials caught fire at Ewden Valley on Tuesday 15 September. Both the Sheffield and the Stocksbridge Brigades attended. At 1.35pm two fire tenders left Sheffield for the Water Department’s works at Ewden Valley, and on arrival found two large, corrugated iron store huts alight. One of these contained a large quantity of paint, varnish, carbide, etc. A joiner’s shop was also on fire. There was a plentiful supply of water from the River Ewden, and after three jets had been concentrated on the flames, the blaze was subdued, but both of the iron structures collapsed. Stocksbridge Fire Brigade arrived as well. Before the arrival of the firemen the navvies kept the fire in check with one jet of water.

1925: Fire at The Cross, Bolsterstone, 7 December

At around 8.30am on Monday 7 December the Brigade was called out to a fire at Mr. H. Helliwell’s home at The Cross, Bolsterstone. Some timber in the roof had caught light, which had probably been caused by a defective chimney. There was difficulty in obtaining water because there were no water mains, and buckets had to be used. The brigade were successful in preventing the flames from spreading to the adjoining houses, and the outbreak was quickly extinguished. The damage was not serious.

1926: Fire at Smith’s Wire Mills, Thurlstone, January

The Stocksbridge men were called out to Thurlstone in the early hours one Saturday morning. They set off with the tender and pump, but whilst going up Underbank Hill one of the vehicles broke a shaft and had to be towed back to the Station.

1926: Fire at the New Cinema: 21 February

A fire was discovered in the cinema one Sunday night. A discarded cigarette destroyed a whole row of valuable plush seats. On this occasion the fire was extinguished without having to call out the fire brigade, but not before damage to the approximate amount of £50 had been done.

The General Strike of 1926 lasted for nine days, from 3 to 12 May. The strike was called by the TUC in an attempt to force the government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for locked-out coal miners; the miners had been locked out of the mines after a dispute with the owners, who wanted them to work longer hours for less pay. In a show of solidarity, around 1.7 million workers went on strike, especially those employed in heavy industry and transport. The action was ultimately unsuccessful, but was still regarded as being a “brilliant failure,” because it emphasised the workers’ solidarity. Although the TUC called off the strike, the miners maintained their resistance for a few months. They held on until December, but they were forced back to work by economic necessity. Many remained unemployed, and those that had gone back were forced to accept longer hours and lower wages, and they felt that nothing had been achieved.  The repercussions of the strike lasted longer than nine days. In Stocksbridge the miners were still on strike, which meant that there was no coal for domestic or industrial use. At the end of May, the Sheffield Independent newspaper reported that Samuel Fox’s works had closed because of a lack of fuel, throwing 3,000 men and 300 women out of work. Nearly another 1,000 unemployed in the district were colliery and coke oven workers. The gas supply to Stocksbridge was cut off when the gas coke oven workers came out on strike with the miners, and they were still out. Mrs. Pladdey ran a soup kitchen from her pub, the Sportsmans Arms at Old Haywoods. Chaos was reported at the Stocksbridge Labour Exchange, when between 2,000 and 3,000 unemployed people had attended to draw their unemployment pay. The police had to attend, and many queued for up to nine hours. There had been no gas since the dispute began, and the town was plunged into darkness at night. The failure of the gas supply particularly affected the residents of Garden Village, who relied on it for heating and cooking as well as lighting. The fuel shortage led many residents to resort to the neighbouring woods for dead timber, but steps were taken to stop this after young trees were cut down.  Some men went to get coal from local outcrops, one of these being the ravine near Viola Bank. The old manual fire pump was put to novel use  when the outcroppers used it for drawing water from the workings.

The 10th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme was 1 July 1926, this being the first day of the battle.  Many Yorkshire units had played a part in this and sustained terrible losses.  The Sheffield City Battalion’s position was in front of the village of Serre, and of 758 who went into action only 34 returned unscathed.  On Sunday 4 July 1926, memorial services were held in various parts of the city by ex-Servicemen’s associations to honour their fallen comrades. In Stocksbridge there was a large attendance of ex-Servicemen and others at a memorial service at the Clock Tower and a wreath was placed on the War Memorial by Mr. Ernest Jubb, who lost an arm in the battle of the Somme.   The fire brigade were among the attendees at the memorial service. They also attended the Armistice Day service in November.

1926: fire at Jack Webster’s garage, August

A serious fire was averted when some children playing with lighted paper managed to set fire to a small garage belonging to Jack Webster of Gibson Lane. The garage housed a motorcycle and petrol and could have been very serious, but the speedy response of Mr. J. Evans and some others managed to put the fire out before it spread. It appears the brigade were not called on this occasion.

In August 1926 Ernest Berwick, who had succeeded Ernest Jackson as Captain in 1925, handed in his resignation to the Council. He wrote a letter to the Council that expressed his dissatisfaction with them, and said that he did not want to “waste any further energies on the fire brigade,” alleging that some of the council members did not appear to take any interest in brigade matters.  There had, over the years, been discussions about providing the firemen with council houses close to the fire station, so that the men could be there quickly when the alarm was raised. Ernest had wanted a Council house nearer to the station, but his application had been turned down. The 1921 census records Ernest living at Lancaster Road.

The fire brigade took part in the second annual charity carnival in the late summer of 1926. Residents and business owners had hung up flags and bunting, and the route to the field in Ford Lane was “very gaily decorated.”  The weather was glorious, and much money was raised. A huge procession was formed at Hawthorn Brook headed by the Stocksbridge Brass Band, and the whole of the district was paraded, with collections being made en route. As a tribute to the fallen, the procession passed the War Memorial Clock Tower in silence. There was music from jazz bands, and there were decorated drays, lorries, cycles and horses, tradesmen’s turnouts, tableaux, and fancy dress. The carnival marshals were Messrs. H. Hicks and W. Donkersley. There was also dancing in the evening.

1926: Haystack fire at Alderman’s Head, 29 September

The Stocksbridge Brigade were called to Alderman’s Head Farm at Langsett at 6.45am when a haystack belonging to William Darwin caught fire. Water was obtained from the river near the farm and the flames were quickly extinguished. The haystack was destroyed, but the brigade had managed to prevent the flames from reaching other farm property.  The cause of the fire wasn’t known, but it was said not to be due to spontaneous combustion. The men were led by Captain L. Charlesworth, who had succeeded Captain Berwick after his resignation. Mr. Charlesworth had previously been First Officer, and he was replaced by W. H. Crownshaw.

1926: Fire at Langsett Terrace, 30 October

Langsett Terrace was a row of back-to-back houses at Horner House, close to the Victory Club. On the evening of Saturday 30 October Mr. Harry Day noticed a fire in one of the houses and, despite the danger to himself, went inside. Mr. Day was an ex-serviceman who had fought and suffered a leg injury at Ypres in 1915. The tenant of the house was a Mr. W. Milnes, but there was no one at home when the fire broke out. Mr. Day found one of the bedrooms ablaze and despite his physical handicap he went up and down the stairs with several buckets of water to try and put the fire out. When the fire brigade arrived, he had managed to stop the flames from spreading. It was reported that Harry, who worked as a weigh-man at the colliery, almost collapsed after his heroic efforts. He was commended on his actions, and the newspaper reported that someone called “J.S.B.” had written that, “Since the formation of the fire brigade the members have received more kicks than half-pence, and as a ratepayer I would like to congratulate them on their promptness and smartness last Saturday night.”

In his book “History of Stocksbridge,” Jack Branston wrote that the brigade once advertised for a fireman to fit a spare uniform. I thought this was probably just a good story, but it turns out it was true! In 1926 the brigade had chosen a man to fill a vacancy, but this person was 5’ 9” tall, and the unform that was available did not fit him. This had come before the Council because they had to confirm the brigade’s choice of man. Councillor Knowles asked if they had to find men to fit the uniform, or uniforms to fit the men and Councillor J. Whitehead observed that it was an expensive matter, and the uniform was only for show.  The matter was deferred to enable an applicant suitable to the vacant uniform to be appointed. This prompted an ex-fireman to write to the local newspaper to express his disappointment in Councillor Whitehead’s opinion that the uniform was “only for show,” which gave the impression that men joined the fire brigade to be dressed up like “prize rabbits.” He emphasised that there were firemen, past and present, who owed their lives to the fact that they were wearing a helmet. He also pointed out that the fireman’s uniform, if made of the right material and correctly designed, would turn water far better than ordinary garments and was also very warm, protecting the men who rode on an open vehicle to and from fires in all weathers. “I rather think the above-mentioned councillor would alter his views if he were obliged to turn out in the middle of the night and ride on a fire engine two or three miles, get a good soaking, and then return to the station again. Let him do this in winter, wearing his ordinary clothes, and then ask him if firemen’s uniforms are only for show,” he wrote. A further letter to the paper said that the man who had been appointed had wrongly stated his height and therefore the uniform would not fit him. Whether the Council was wise in not accepting the applicant was a matter of opinion. The same writer asked whether it was good practice for new recruits to wear the clothes of their predecessors; some of the old uniforms had been in use for twenty years. The council, of course, were always looking for ways to save money and spare the ratepayers extra expense.

The question of acquiring a portable fire escape had been rumbling on for years and 1926 was no different. The item was added to the Council’s agenda and removed again on a regular basis. At one point it was recommended that they actually go ahead and purchase one for £45, but this was rescinded and then put back on the agenda later in the year. Nothing was decided upon, and they turned instead to debating whether they should purchase a new fire engine. It was 1926, the year of the General Strike, unrest, and unemployment. It was thought that this would cause trouble with the ratepayers, especially as they had spent a large sum on their present, up-to-date fire appliances. In 1928 Supt. Breaks of the Sheffield Fire Brigade wrote to the Council advising them of a fire engine for sale, but the Council decided not to entertain the purchase.

In December 1926 members of the brigade ran a training course in fire-fighting for the local Boy Scouts group.

1927: fire at Hoyle House Lane, 25 January

A fire broke out in the bedroom of Mrs. Patchett’s house on Hoyle House Lane [Hole House Lane] one Tuesday evening in January. The brigade were on the spot within three minutes of the call and quickly put out the fire. Serious damage was done to the furniture.

1927: motorbike and sidecar on fire, 29 January

Wilfred Donkersley, a member of the fire brigade, had a younger brother called Clement Donkersley who lived at Bolsterstone. He was riding his “combination” along the main road at Stocksbridge when the machine caught fire. The bike was badly damaged.

1927: two fires at Fox’s, 25 March

The brigade turned out twice on the morning of Friday 25 March. The first outbreak, which was quickly extinguished, occurred in the bar rolling mill, and was caused by a piece of hot steel igniting some rubbish. Then at around 11am a valuable Siddeley-Deasy motor car caught fire at the works entrance, and serious damage was sustained before the flames were put out. The damage to the car was estimated to be about £100. A notice appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in July advertising this car for sale: “Siddeley Deasey Landaulette, 1913, slightly damaged by fire; mechanical condition good; plenty of spares; cheap for quick sale. Samuel Fox and Co., Ltd., Stocksbridge.”

On 5 April 1927 the members of the fire brigade travelled over to Bradfield church to attend the burial of Mr. Reginald Henry Rimington Wilson of Broomhead Hall. The old retainers and servants at Broomhead Hall, together with members of the fire brigade, in uniform, formed a double file at the entrance to the churchyard.

The Hunshelf parish council asked the Stocksbridge Council if it would send the fire brigade over to inspect the local water supplies and gain other information which might be useful in case of an outbreak of fire. The Stocksbridge Council, however, pointed out that there was no agreement between the two authorities for the services of the Stocksbridge brigade, and they invited Hunshelf to send a representative to discuss the matter with them.

In October 1927 the Sheffield City Fire Brigade gave demonstrations of life-saving and fire-fighting at Fox’s, an event which drew a large crowd. The highest building at the works was reached by their latest type of portable fire escape, and a member of the brigade was lowered to the ground by the new life-saving apparatus. The hose played over the top of the highest of the umbrella shops.

1927: car fire, 30 November

The fire brigade were summoned to a car which had caught fire opposite the Clock Tower. The flames were soon extinguished by the use of sand and no serious damage was done.

Field-Marshal Earl Haigh died on 29 January 1928 and services were held all over the country to honour him. At Stocksbridge a procession marched to church, accompanied by the Stocksbridge Brass Band. The local branch of the British Legion, Stocksbridge Urban Council, and fire brigade all attended. Haig had been a senior officer in the British Army and had commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front.  He was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendale), The German Spring Offensive, and the final Hundred Days’ Offensive. After retiring, he devoted the rest of his life to the welfare of ex-servicemen, and was instrumental in founding the British Legion in 1921 and also the Haig Fund to provide financial assistance to ex-servicemen.  The day of his funeral was decreed a day of national mourning and a large crowd assembled at the Clock Tower to attend a service in his honour.

The opening of the new Town Hall at Stocksbridge took place on Saturday 24 March 1928. The whole of the front of the original premises had been demolished, and the new building was erected on the same site, but had been extended across the front of it, leaving a passageway of about 20’ for the approach to the fire brigade premises. There were sheds for the engine and tender, and a firemen’s room.

The Yorkshire Brigades Friendly Society was due to hold its annual demonstration at Doncaster in May 1928 and the Stocksbridge Brigade was hoping to attend. The captain set about making arrangements with local men to stand by whilst the brigade was away, but permission had first to be sought from the Council. The Chairman, Mr. Butcher, moved that permission be granted. “Anything [they] could do for the F.B. should be done, for it had done splendid work during the last twelve months,” he said. Mr. Whittaker seconded and added that “there had never been such harmony and efficiency as there was at present, and the Council should encourage the members of the Brigade.”  Permission was granted. On the day itself the meeting was followed by a procession to the Racecourse for competitions, which included the engines from Doncaster, Mexborough, Castleford and Wombwell. There were 131 brigades in the society and the membership was 1,972.

1928: two vehicle fires, August

The brigade attended a lorry fire at the bottom of Finkle Street, Wortley. No driver could be found, and the owner’s name had been burnt off. The lorry appeared to have collided with a wall at the bottom of the hill destroying the front wheels and the steering gear. The fire was easily extinguished, and it was afterwards discovered that the driver had gone to call the Brigade, and that the owner was George Sims of Chapeltown. A week later the men were called to another vehicle fire, this one a car at Bracken Moor belonging to Mr. E. Marshall, a contractor.

1928: fire at Garden Village, 29 September

A fire broke out at the home of Mr. C. Moss, of Woolley Road. The brigade got plenty of help from the locals and the fire was doused before serious damage occurred.

1929: vehicle fire at Hunshelf, 3 January

Another vehicle fire was attended when a van belonging to Mr. J. Taylor, a meat purveyor, of Hunshelf Hall. He was driving towards Stocksbridge from his home when the van  burst into flames. On the arrival of the brigade the car was burning furiously and was eventually burnt out. The brigade had to run their hose about a quarter of a mile to secure water over rough country and had no chance to save the vehicle. No one was injured.

Captain Charlesworth attended a Sheffield fireman’s funeral in February 1929. Fireman Joseph W. Holmes, who was 53 years old, had died from pneumonia. He had been a member of the Sheffield brigade for 25 years and had been due to retire on a pension at the end of the month. His body was borne to the grave in Burngreave Cemetery on a turntable escape, his coffin being covered with a Union Jack, on which rested his helmet, axe, belt, tunic and top boots. The boots, reversed, hung down the sides of the coffin. The procession was headed by Superintendent T. Breaks (head of the Sheffield Fire Brigade) and a detachment of 16 firemen in uniform.

1929: fire at Fox’s, 15 April

Conflicting newspaper reports appeared about a fire in the spring department at Fox’s caused by the overheating of a large oil tank. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that flames were leaping fifteen to twenty feet into the air from a huge oil vat in the spring mill, which for a time endangered the lives of some twenty workers, as well as threatening to destroy the mill premises. However, the prompt arrival of the Stocksbridge Brigade prevented the spread of the flames, and within an hour of the outbreak the fire was well under control. Little damage was done, and work was continued after the vat had been recharged with oil. The Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express reported that the fire brigade was called out “as a precautionary measure,” but the workmen had managed to put out the flames before they arrived.

1929: fire in the sheet steel department at Fox’s, 11 June

The brigade were called back to the works two months later, this time to the sheet steel department. The fire was not serious, and with the help of the Works’ officials the outbreak was quickly got under control.

1929: fire at the Scout Hut, 5 July

Fire broke out in the Scout Hut at the back of the National School at the bottom of Nanny Hill. The cause wasn’t known, and the brigade extinguished the flames in a few minutes.

Towards the end of the year, the Council again discussed whether they should purchase a new fire engine, but first they sought expert opinion on their present fire engines to see if they could be brought up to date; the  report suggested that it would be better to order a new engine. The Council also altered the fire brigade rules so that the Captain was elected by the Council, as opposed to being elected by the men.

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