The Early Years
1870s - 1914
Early Days: before the Fire Brigade
Stocksbridge did not have an organised fire brigade until 1887. There simply hadn’t been the need, or the money, to equip one. Stocksbridge as a settlement didn’t really exist until Samuel Fox came to the area and began his wire-drawing business in 1842. Before this, there were just a scattering of farms and homes spread out over a wide area, with the main settlements being at Deepcar and Bolsterstone. If a fire broke out, neighbours would be called upon to help, creating fire breaks and fetching water from streams, although it was more a case of stopping a fire from spreading than actually putting it out once it had taken hold.
The town of Sheffield had fire brigades, but they could not be called upon by the general public if there was a fire as far away as Stocksbridge. These fire brigades were run by insurance companies. Each company would attach a plaque called a “Fire Mark” to the insured building, and if there was a fire at that building, the Insurance Brigades would be able to identify if the building was insured by their Company. It was not an ideal situation; sometimes several brigades would attend a fire, and, having discovered that the fire mark was not theirs, would return to their stations and not put out the fire! There was great rivalry, and sometimes even sabotage, among the different brigades. This led to people insuring their property with more than one Company to make sure that any fire would be extinguished by at least one of the brigades. I have read several times that none of the companies insured any buildings outside of the town, a situation that continued for some years, but when a fire occurred at Samuel Fox’s works in 1856 an engine “from each office” was despatched to Stocksbridge. When Sheffield Town Council was formed in 1843 the fire brigade and its engines were still the property of the private fire insurance companies, and it wasn’t until 1869 that Sheffield Town Council took over the responsibility of fire cover from the Insurance Brigades. In 1879 there was a central fire station at Barker’s Pool which had four fire engines (one of which worked on steam power rather than manpower), a hose reel and two portable fire escapes. An engine was kept at each of the branch police stations in the town, and in the event of a fire the police could operate the equipment.
Samuel Fox had insurance with at least one company, the North of England Fire and Life Insurance Company. When a fire broke out in the umbrella department in 1856 a rider had to be sent to Sheffield to ask for the fire engines to attend. The workforce had gone home, and all was well when the night watchman did his rounds at 9pm. However, at midnight he discovered that one of the upper rooms of a three-storey workshop was on fire. He rang an alarm bell, and local men arrived to help. The building was made of stone, but the floors, doors and window frames were wooden, and the rooms filled with wooden shelves and tables and cupboards for the storage of umbrella parts. The fire burnt through the floors and soon the entire place was ablaze. The fire engines arrived at about 2am, and the fire brigade set to with their hoses to aid the efforts of the locals in preventing the spread of the fire to the adjoining five-story building. They were aided by the wind blowing the flames in the opposite direction and the building, which still stands today, was saved, though the smaller one was destroyed. The hoses were also played on the burning embers in an attempt to save some of the stock which was buried under the rubble.
The forerunner of Stocksbridge Council were known as the “Local Board” until 1895. The first discussions in their monthly meetings about the question of what to do in the event of a fire seem to have been in 1884, when they discussed whether they should purchase some fire hose. This was prompted by the fact that there had recently been three fires in the district. However, nothing was done until 1887.
In 1881 there had been a fire in Benjamin Battye’s hay loft over a stable at Crimbles Farm, Hunshelf. There being no local fire brigade, help was found from adjoining farms and houses, but owing to a failure of the water supply, water had to be carted from further afield. Some of the hay was saved but much of it was burnt, or damaged by the water, and the building was destroyed. Luckily, Mr. Battye had insurance. It is possible that this was the same Mr. Battye who was a member of the Local Board at this time.
In 1885 the Board decided on charges for the use of water (5 shillings per hour) and the number of men sent to help when a fire broke out (1 shilling per hour for each man sent), though it isn’t clear whether an official Brigade had been formed at this time. Finally, in 1887, the Board took the decision to purchase 300 feet of best canvas fire hose, a reel cart, and other items including brass helmets. According to an article in the Sheffield Independent in 1891, the Stocksbridge Brigade was formed in September 1887. The men were all volunteers who had other jobs. They attended their first serious fire the following year. It was decided that £5 per year be allowed to the fire brigade for undertaking monthly practices, and 1 shilling per man per hour when they were engaged at a fire. The person whose property was attended would receive a bill from the Local Board.
It is widely quoted online that the Council took over the responsibility for the Fire Brigade in 1923, but no one has cited any source or provided any proof for this. In fact, the Council (and before that the Local Board) had had total responsibility for the brigade since its inception. The Council had a Fire Brigade Committee, and the brigade were answerable to the Council. Any requests for equipment etc. had to go through them, and as time went on the brigade provided the Council with a monthly report, which was read out at the monthly Council meetings. The men were not full time firemen; they all had other jobs, and they would be “on call,” which is how it is today. The men had to attend training, drills and meetings, and were paid for their time. How this worked varied over the years. Today they are called “retained firefighters” because they are paid a retainer – and it is no longer a job just for men.
I have been unable to find out all the names of the earliest members of the brigade, or how many of them there were. One of them was Joseph Addy, who became the landlord of the New Inn in about 1891. Another man was Frederick Adams, known as “Water Fred,” the foreman of the waterworks. In 1891 he lived in one of the houses which were located where the town hall now stands. I believe the first captain was a Mr. Milnes.
Although I found reports of hose being purchased there was no report of a water pump, but one would have been needed in order to pump the water through the hose. The pump could have been something similar to the appliance pictured below (the first photograph in the gallery at the bottom of this page). The base contained water, which was kept filled by men operating a bucket chain, and the two poles were operated by hand in an up and down movement which worked two pistons inside the upright box, thus pumping water through leather hose, which were connected at the front. In some towns these early appliances only had an “engine keeper” who would take the engine to the fire, pulling it himself. Bystanders, of which there were usually a great many, were then asked to provide the manpower to work the pump. They would be paid per hour in shillings (and/or beer!). This system was not without its drawbacks. A member of the Mexborough Local Board complained in 1891 about the costs associated with their Brigade attending a haystack fire in Barmborough and the fact that “a lot of ‘loafing fellows’ got hold of the handles of the engine for money and drink,” and he thought that it would be best to expect the people who employed the extra helpers to be responsible for them. Another member said the arrangements for fighting fires seemed to him to be “very loose” and a third said that it was certainly very expensive. One wit said he did not think there were many teetotallers at fires, which drew a laugh. The total sum for the refreshments was revised at the meeting, and the Board refused an item amounting to £3. It was generally thought that some individuals should not be used on such occasions, because they were of little use. The total expense to the Mexborough Board was just over £24, which the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator puts at being equivalent to £2,500 today. There seemed to be little sympathy for the firemen who got wet through on a thoroughly cold night, some of whom fell ill afterwards. A letter to the local paper after this fire complained that the hose the fire brigade had was inadequate and kept giving way. The writer cited part of a poem printed two years previously that said the firemen were not the ones at fault but the “system,” and that “the men are good, they would not shirk, if L. B. [the Local Board] found them tools to work.” The Stocksbridge Board were also guilty of not wanting to spend money on what others felt were important items.
Water could be pumped from the river or the dams at Samuel Fox’s works. Efforts were being made at this time to supply water to houses and firms in the area from a series of water tanks on the moors supplied by natural springs in the area, but this work was spread over quite a few years and seemed to entail a lot of argument between the Local Board, land owners and business owners.
Fire at Lowoods, November 1888
The first serious fire that the newly-formed Brigade attended was at Lowood & Company at Deepcar. They were called out at around 4am, probably by a messenger going to the captain’s house on horseback. I am not sure how the rest of the men would have been summoned in the early days. A messenger was also sent out to summon the Sheffield Fire Brigade, which had horse-drawn manual engines and a horse-drawn steam-powered engine at this time. As the Stocksbridge men, headed by Frederick Adams, approached down the valley, the conflagration was “fearful to behold.” Flames leapt into the sky in front of the crags as the wind fanned the fire. The fire was started by a man who was drawing some oil for his lamp when he accidentally upset the lamp, and within minutes eight cakes of oil were alight. With so much combustible material around, the fire spread rapidly, soon engulfing the wooden parts of the wheels in the crushing and grinding sheds and igniting the floor and rafters. Three mills were completely ruined. Had the flames spread to the next building, the engine room, 250 men would have been thrown out of employment. Luckily a plentiful supply of water was nearby. The Sheffield Brigade consisting of Superintendent Pound and four other men arrived with a hand-pumped engine at about 6am. The fire was prevented from reaching the joiners’ shop and the engine room. Men were set to work as soon as possible to remove the debris at the pit head so that the miners would not lose out on work (and pay). The Sheffield Independent reported that the new Stocksbridge Brigade were to be “complimented upon the efficient manner in which they performed their duty.”
At this time Frederick Adams was living in a house belonging to the Local Board which stood where the Town Hall was later built. These houses were later known as the “council houses.” They were demolished when the Town Hall was built in 1928. Tom Robson, police sergeant, lived in one of these houses in 1891. By 1901 Frederick and his family were living in the Waterworks Office on the main road at Deepcar. The newspaper reports state that Fred Adams was heading the men, but I don’t think he was the captain at that time. That was probably be Mr. Milnes. Frederick became the captain in 1902 and served in that office until his death in 1907.
Fire at the Co-op Bakery, March 1890
A man on his way to work spotted flames coming from the bakery department of the Co-operative Stores at around 7am on the 19thMarch. He raised the alarm, and a small hose (which was kept on the premises) was used to keep the fire down until the fire engine arrived and speedily made everything safe. It was surmised that the heat from the oven ignited a load of coals which had been piled up against the bakehouse wall the previous day. The premises were not insured, and damage was estimated at £50.
After the fire at Lowoods the members of the Brigade asked the Board to supply them with a manual engine and other appliances, but there was apparently “a good deal of opposition” to this. In 1889 the Board said it would purchase a horse-drawn fire engine but, as is often the way with these things, no decision was reached and the matter was deferred for a year, although they did agree to supply the men with tunics. Some of the Board had wanted to purchase a portable fire escape and other items of equipment costing about £15, but the motion was lost.
In 1890 the Board wrote letters to other Local Boards enquiring as to how they supported their own fire brigades. Replies showed that other Local Boards in the country had financed the equipment from the rates, but sought remuneration from insurance companies for the expenses involved in getting the engines to the fire and paying the men for their time and refreshment (usually beer; it was hard work, not to mention thirsty work, operating a manual pump). The Stocksbridge Board agreed that the insurance companies ought to “do something” if the Board got an engine and brokered an agreement with the Fire Assurance Company, but this did not always go smoothly. The Board sometimes had to chase up payment and there was at least one occasion when they refused to pay the Brigade when it was called out.
Finally, in August 1890, the Board agreed to pay William Rose and Company of Manchester £95 for a manual fire engine. This was duly ordered and was ready for delivery in January 1891 but because the new engine shed wasn’t ready, delivery was deferred until the 25th February.
For some reason the new engine was sent by rail to Wortley, not Deepcar, train station, where it was met by the fire brigade. The Stocksbridge Brass Band along with members of the public joined them at Deepcar and a “happy procession” made its way through the village to the Local Board Offices where the new engine shed awaited. A demonstration of the engine was given, which went well. There was disappointment that not one of the Local Board members had bothered to turn up to receive the new engine, but apparently this was “swiftly overcome” by a substantial ham and tongue tea, provided free by fireman Joseph Addy, landlord of the nearby New Inn, and an enjoyable evening was had by all who attended.
A week after the arrival of the fire engine there was a ratepayers’ meeting in the British School, which had been called by some of the new members of the Local Board who felt it their duty to give an account of their work in connection with the board before the coming election. Mr. J. B. Brearley was especially strong in condemning as unnecessary the small-pox hospital, the drive to get technical education in the valley, and the new fire engine. The acquisition of the new fire engine was not even mentioned in the March Local Board meeting.
This was a horse-drawn engine which used two horses, superseding the hand-pulled cart, though it is possible that the latter was retained in case it was needed. The horses were supplied by local firms. Although an improvement on the hand-drawn appliance, the flaw in this arrangement was that someone had to catch the horses and take them to the engine when they were needed! The horses were kept in a field behind the Picture Palace, and in a field behind Knowles’ garage below Belmont House. What probably happened regarding the use of horses was that the Board compiled a list of the horse owners in the district who were willing to let their horses be used to convey the fire appliance and men, which was what happened in Thurlstone.
There is a photograph of the new engine in the gallery at the foot of this page (second photograph) and also some photographs of similar engines. Running along the side of the cart are wooden handles, hinged in the middle. When out on a call, the handles on both sides would be unfolded. They were attached at front and back to a lever and required several men on each side to manually pump water into a hose. The hose was stored in a box where the men were sitting. A pipe would be attached to the back of the cart, with its other end placed into a water source. The hosepipe attached to the side of the cart and when the men pumped the handles, water was delivered to the hose. For a good demonstration of a horse-drawn manual pump in action, this video is well worth a watch:
The early uniforms were woollen. Firemen carried an axe and a hose spanner and had a number on their tunic. This number represented their rank, and the number decreased as their seniority increased. This was the uniform until 1936. In his book History of Stocksbridge, Jack Branston writes that the local Brigade once advertised for a fireman to fit a spare uniform! I haven’t been able to prove this, but it’s a lovely story.
1891: Fire at Wood Farm, 1 September
One of the first fires the new engine attended was at Wood Farm near Bolsterstone. The farmer, Mr. Steel, had found his barn alight in the morning of 1st September 1891. The brigade, headed by Captain Milnes, made good time to the farm and managed to stop the fire spreading, but a strong gale blowing had already sent the flames to the stables, cowhouses and barn. All the livestock was saved. Locals came out to help including George Sampson, agent to Mr. Rimington Wilson of Broomhead Hall, who owned the farm. The agent for the Lancashire Fire Insurance Company, with whom the stock was insured, was also present. The Steel’s six-year old son John Henry was found to be missing, but unfortunately the search was hampered by the fierceness of the fire. Two hours elapsed before he was eventually found to have perished in the barn where the fire originated. It was thought that he had gone, as usual, to collect eggs and had perhaps lit a match, accidentally setting fire to the straw, but the exact circumstances were never known. Mr Steel later moved to Broomhead Mill, which is now submerged by the reservoir.
At the Local Board meeting on the 10th September 1891 the Board resolved not to insure the firemen. The Brigade had requested about £40 worth of items, but this was left over until the November meeting. In the end, after what was described as a “warm debate” the Board took the decision to spend no more at present although in 1892 some uniforms were purchased. Later that year the Board for some reason did not agree to meet the cost of a practice session at Langsett.
After all the heated debates and the wrangling, it was time for something a bit more light hearted. On Saturday 28th May 1892 the fire brigade and their new engine were part of a procession from Deepcar Station to Bolsterstone, the occasion being the delivery of a peal of eight bells for Bolsterstone Church. The Stocksbridge Brass Band led the procession, followed by the Church Boys’ Brigade, the bell committee and collectors of the bell fund, and some of the better-off villagers in their traps or on their horses. There were nine drays to carry the bells and their fittings, donated to the occasion by local people. Each dray was pulled by two powerful horses, their harness covered with decorations, and a great crowd turned out to be part of this event.
1892: Fire at Gregory’s Brick Works, 14 October
A fire broke out at Gregory’s brick yard at Deepcar one Friday evening, and the local newspapers reported that the Brigade were late to arrive. The Independent said there had been “a difficulty in obtaining horses” to draw the fire engine, whilst the Sheffield Daily Telegraph blamed their “inability to procure horses.” According to the newspapers the firemen did not arrive until an hour and a half after the fire had been discovered. The fire destroyed a wooden shed and damaged machinery inside. The shed was built on coal shale near to a number of brick kilns, and it was thought that the fire was caused by the overheating of flues from these kilns, which ignited the shale. The fire was eventually extinguished just before midnight. The damage was estimated at £200, which would be covered by insurance. The next day, however, both newspapers had to print an apology after being contacted by Gregory’s, who stated that the Brigade, consisting of Captain Milnes and eight men, were on the spot with the hand hose in less than half an hour. It wasn’t initially thought the engine was needed but it was later sent for, although when it arrived the fire was under control, and it was not needed. The letter stressed that the firm gave great credit to the Brigade’s promptness and their efforts to subdue the fire. They added that the shed had been built of brick, not wood, as reported.
1893: Fire at J. G. Lowood & Company, 26 March
A fire broke out at Lowood’s, Deepcar, at around 5am on 26thMarch, thought to have been caused by a paraffin lamp. The alarm was raised by using the steam whistle, which could be heard at Stocksbridge. A number of the firm’s employees and others living nearby succeeded in extinguishing the flames without sending for the fire brigade.
In 1893 the ten members of the Stocksbridge Brigade were admitted to the West Yorkshire Fire Brigade Friendly Society at its quarterly meeting which was held at the fire brigade station in Bradford. Subscriptions to the amount of £23 were handed in from the men, but whether the Local Board contributed isn’t known.
Conisborough Parish Council purchased a similar fire engine to Stocksbridge in 1895 from the same company, Rose and Co., Manchester. The Stocksbridge men were invited to be there when the engine arrived. It was drawn through the town, and a crown turned out to welcome it, but unfortunately the planned demonstration at the Holywell Brewery had to be delayed because faults were found with it. There was still a celebratory dinner at the Red Lion Hotel though, and the Stocksbridge Brigade were among the 100 guests sitting down to dinner that evening. Later in the month the engine was returned from its makers and a detachment of Stocksbridge men accompanied by Sergeant Adams went back to Conisborough for the delayed demonstration of the engine. Crowds turned out to watch the demonstration at Kilner’s glass works and it was reported that the engine “accomplished as much as could be expected of a manual engine,” pumping water up a steep embankment from the river bed through 400 feet of hose and throwing a powerful jet of water over the roof of a building 50 feet high. Dinner was provided afterwards, and Sergeant Adams stated that he thought the trial had been thoroughly successful and that the engine could not fail to give the utmost satisfaction.
In 1895 a change of boundaries and local government resulted in the Stocksbridge Urban District Council being formed in place of the Local Board. Hunshelf was taken into the Wortley Union from the Penistone Union and the boundary moved from the river to the top of the hill. The wording along the appliance was altered to reflect this, because it now belonged to the Urban District Council.
The fifth photograph in the gallery below was published in the South Yorkshire Times, and the article stated that it could date back to 1905. However, when this photograph was printed in the Around Stocksbridge book produced by the Stocksbridge & District History Society the date given was c1920. The newspaper said that the men were attending a local gala in the “14 acre field” close to where the stainless works were built. The men appear to be dressed up, and the paper noted that they had “entered into the carnival sprit.” The accompanying text is: “Their appliance is a manual pump with solid tyres. A couple have hand bells which they would ring as a warning as the two horses took them to the fore, although the two horses don’t look as though they would raise anything like a Derby canter. It is though the person holding the reins is a Mr. Donkersley the Captain.” The stripes on his shoulders would indicate that he was the captain, but Wilfred Donkersley was never captain, and I am pretty sure it isn’t Wilfred. If this was taken in around 1905 then the captain would possibly have been F. Wright, and if taken around 1920 then it was probably Ernest Jackson although I don’t think it looks like him.
1898: Fire at Langley Brook Farm, 9 March
The brigade were called out to a fire at Langley Brook Farm which had broken out in the kitchen at about 11.30pm, probably caused by some clothes drying on a clothes horse igniting. Mr. and Mrs. Crawshaw were awoken by the fire and didn’t even have time to dress, but ran about a quarter of a mile to Mark Brearley’s house at Smithy Moor, carrying their a six weeks old baby in their arms. Captain Adams and his men got to Langley Brook around midnight. The bedroom above the kitchen was damaged, and the bed dropped through the ceiling into the kitchen. Mr. Crawshaw found his watch, which he had placed under his pillow, among the burnt bedding, not damaged. The family were John Priam Crawshaw, his wife Mary and daughter Mabel. John had been born at Woodseats Farm, Bradfield Dale, and took over Langley Brook from his uncle (my ancestor) Thomas Crawshaw in 1857. A family story is that the fire was caused when a brick fell out of the chimney. John’s father, who was running the Sportsman Hotel in Chapeltown at the time, had to come over to bring him some new clothes.
I have been unable to find out who all the men were in the early days. The only names I know for sure are Captain Milnes, Frederick Adams and Joseph Addy. In 1898 the Council approved “the rest of the names” which had been submitted to them at their monthly meeting in May, but unfortunately I have not been unable to track down the names. As usual, a list of additional requirements requested by the Brigade were left over until the next meeting, but all that happened was that the requirements were referred to a committee. The list was a long one, and a committee was formed consisting of Messrs. Kenworthy, Sunter, Moxon, Bramley, Bagnall and Butterworth. Stocksbridge was not the only Council who were careful about what they spent on the fire brigade. Conisborough Parish Council were not happy when their Brigade asked for a grant to allow them to attend the Yorkshire Fire Brigades’ Association annual demonstration at Halifax. The Clerk said he must warn the Council to be careful what they were doing with their money. He wanted £13 17s. that night for Parish Council work, and they had only £6 in the bank. It was ultimately decided to make a grant of 5s. per man. If this wasn’t the full amount the men would have had to find the money themselves. In the July meeting the Fire Brigade Committee recommended that, for the time being, they would approve 250 yards of additional hose pipe, fifty yards of which was to be kept at Deepcar, a hand pump to be kept at Bolsterstone, and the tools which were the most urgently needed. They also agreed that the Council should pay the firemen’s insurance premiums, which it had previously refused to do. Other items were left over for another time but were finally approved in August. Meanwhile the Clerk had been collecting copies of regulations from other fire brigades, and the Fire Brigade Committee were tasked with drafting a code for their own brigade. This was duly done, and the new rules passed, but Councillor Rev. Henry Robertshaw thought that they were not strong enough on temperance, and Councillor J. Moxon condemned the whole thing as a “useless expense.” The rules were to be printed in book form, and for some reason 100 copies were ordered, which seems excessive given that the Council were always looking to keep costs down. In 1899 the Brigade applied, under the new rules, to be supplied with uniform, boots, and other items, which would cost about £35. This was agreed but a drying apparatus for the fire hose was referred to the committee, the surveyor and the Brigade captain.
1899: Fire at Dixon’s Paper Mill, Monday 31 July
Spring Grove Paper Mill at Oughtibridge, the property of the firm of Peter Dixon and Sons, was the scene of a destructive fire, which burnt out a large portion of the mill buildings, completely destroyed much of the paper-making machinery, and consumed practically the whole stock of finished paper on the premises. The fire brought to a standstill a factory which employed 150 people, a situation which it was thought could last for months.
The fire broke out at 9.40am in the “dusting” department, which is marked by a cross on the sketch in the gallery below. At that time the mill had been running for four or five hours, and work in every department was in full swing. Around 30 people were employed in this department, mostly women and girls. The material here was highly flammable, consisting of loose scraps and streamers of waste paper collected from a hundred establishments. A smell of smouldering paper had just been noticed when the mass of paper in question “went up like gunpowder,” and in a moment the whole room was ablaze. Luckily everyone got out safely.
Once the alarm had been raised, the fire extinguishing apparatus kept at the mill was got out by the firm’s own fire brigade and within three or four minutes water was being poured on the flames, but to little effect. Foreseeing that the fire would soon spread, the Sheffield City Fire Brigade and the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade were telephoned for “as soon as communication by wire could be established.” It took some time to “ring up” Sheffield; the fire broke out at 9.40am and it was 9.58 am before the first message was received by the Sheffield Brigade in Rockingham Street. There were further delays in hiring horses.
As Oughtibridge was outside the city boundaries, the Sheffield Brigade were not justified in turning out with the steam engine, even though there was an arrangement in place that they would attend Dixons in the event of fire. The Superintendent turned out with the manual engine and four horses (which had to be hired for the purpose), the full complement of six men, and a good quantity of hose. The horses galloped the whole distance, covering the six miles in exactly 20 minutes, a good speed. However, once he arrived on the scene, Superintendent Frost realised the enormity of the fire and sent to Sheffield for the much more powerful steam-powered engine which could deliver three jets of water. The Stocksbridge Brigade under Mr. Joseph Kenworthy arrived with their manual engine about an hour after the Sheffielders.
Assistance was also obtained from locals, the workforce and some Navvies who were working nearby. The Navvies, under the superintendence of their road foreman, John Holmes, were laying a water-main up to the new Corporation reservoir which was being built at Langsett. Upon seeing the fire, they downed tools and rushed to help and were set to removing flammable items from the mill - waste paper, rags, and other raw materials.
The firemen realised that they could not save certain parts of the mill and concentrated their efforts in preventing the flames from spreading. There was a good supply of water from the mill dam, the goit and the river Don and the fire was brought under control after being played with five jets of water for two and a half hours. Superintendent Frost returned to Sheffield at 4pm, leaving all the men he could spare. The Stocksbridge men were stood down. Mr. Frost returned at 8pm and at 10pm a fresh relay of men arrived to remain on site through the night.
The work of the firemen was praised by the newspapers. There was much damage, but not as much as there might have been had they not tackled the fire the way they did. The Sheffield Independent commented, “that Mr. Dixon’s and [the Insurance Company’s] loss is not much heavier is beyond a doubt due to the skilful work of the Sheffield Fire Brigade. When the fire was at its height, when the flames were shooting out in all directions, and excitement was high, a less cool-headed lot of men might easily have been tempted to run hither and thither, trying to save the irrecoverably lost, to the detriment of that which it was still possible to protect from destruction.”
The danger of fire was ever present in the minds of those responsible for a paper mill, and only a short time ago the firm had arranged with the Sheffield Corporation to put in a hydrant from the new Langsett reservoir main when this should be completed.
The Stocksbridge men were rewarded by Dixon’s when a cheque for £3 10s. was sent to Joseph Addy in thanks, to be divided up between the men. An accompanying letter from the firm was read out at the Council’s September meeting. The Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator estimates that this would equate to almost £400 today. The fire brigade must have been in the Council’s favour because, at the request of the Brigade Captain and the men, the Council agreed to purchase hose-drying apparatus.
This was not the end of it though, because around three weeks later, on the 24th August, four or five tons of partially burnt and damaged paper and wood pulp which had been recovered from the fire caught light again. It was thought that a high wind caused some of the smouldering debris to be fanned into flames, which spread rapidly, the whole being one mass of flames within half an hour of the outbreak. The Stocksbridge Fire Brigade were telephoned for, as it was feared the Mill might take fire as the burning paper was carried by the strong wind right in the direction of the building which had so narrowly escaped the fire of a fortnight ago. Captain Frederick Adams and his men arrived at the scene within half an hour. The manual engine was at once got to work, but it was soon seen that their efforts to put out the fire were futile, and they concentrated on preventing the fire from spreading to the buildings. They stayed on scene all night.
The mill caught fire several times in later years. In 1912 a fire caused £10,000 of damage. This was attended by the Sheffield Brigade, who by this time had acquired a motor vehicle which arrived well in advance of the horse-drawn engine. This time there were 13 jets of water, additional water being drawn from the hydrants in the street. It was so cold that they daren’t leave unused hose lying around in case it froze. In fact, the water froze almost as soon as it struck anything. The cold was so intense that the men could hardly handle the hose, and after only a few minutes moustaches and beards were covered with ice, and icicles hung down from their helmets to their coat buttons. In 1917 the Sheffield Brigade could not attend a fire because of the war.
The Sheffield Brigade who attended the paper mill fire were despatched from the station in Rockingham Street, and the newspaper reported that the horses to pull the engine had to be hired. Perhaps their own horses had been out on another call because they did have their own stables in Rockingham Street. When they were required, the horses had to trot across the yard from their stables to the engine house, then turn round before being harnessed. Quickly! In 1900 a new station was built at West Bar, which did away with this need to turn the horses around. Behind each fire engine were two stalls, and the horses were continually ready to respond to a call (the horses were changed periodically). When a fire call was received, a cord was pulled which opened both the street and the stable doors. The horses then ran along each side of the engine and into position for their harness which was lowered from its position on the ceiling. With no straps or buckles, the time taken to get the horses ready was speeded up, with only the collars to be snapped into position. There was stabling for 12 horses at the rear. The Stocksbridge men were still sending someone to catch the horses in their field! The West Bar station was open to the public on the 27th May 1901 and many people turned up to visit, members of the Stocksbridge Brigade also turning up as well as members of the Glossop and Dronfield Brigades. For their benefit the automatic harnessing of the horses and other up-to-date arrangements were shown. Visitors could also have a look around the Rockingham Street station.
1899: Fire at Holly Bush, 14 August
A fire broke out at Holly Bush one Monday morning at the house of Mr. Harry Waterhouse. It was thought that it was caused by his young son throwing some paper on this fire whilst his mother was in another room. The paper ignited and then fell onto the hearth where some clothing was hung to dry, the fire soon spreading. Someone was sent to fetch the fire brigade who were soon on the scene, but with nothing to do because the fire had been almost extinguished by the time they arrived.
1900: Fire at Mr. Johnson’s, Old Haywoods, May
Mr. Johnson wrote to the local newspaper to thank the Brigade, and all the willing helpers, who helped him when his premises caught fire, and prevented the fire from spreading.
The Penistone, Stocksbridge, Hoyland & Chapeltown Express at this time ran an anonymous column called “Stocksbridge Notes.” In the same edition that carried the thank you notice from Mr. Johnson (11 May 1900) the writer said, “I hear that the members of the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade are somewhat hurt at the remarks of several members of the Council. It seems rather strange that remarks should be made which do an injustice to the brigade. I am told that in years gone by the Council took no heed of the brigade, and then condemned them for what the Council’s neglect brought about. Now that they are better equipped, and the brigade is chiefly composed of men who treat the work as a serious reality, and seeing the ready manner in which they respond to the call of duty, it should be an easy matter to treat them with confidence and respect. The ratepayers will do well to see to it that the brigade shall not only be continued, but that it is continued on such lines as will secure its efficiency.”
Meanwhile the Council continued to debate funds. They had to chase up a payment due from the Fire Assurance Company who had refused to pay the brigade when they had been called out to a fire. The claim was eventually settled in full in January 1902. In February the Brigade requested several items amounting to £15, and also requested an increase in salary (as they weren’t paid a wage this could have meant their call-out fee, retainer or money allowed for training practice). The requested items were allowed at the April meeting, but the question of increased salary was left over.
Every year there was a parade organised to raise money for the Sheffield hospitals. The usual form of these events were that all the lodges of the local Friendly Societies would be present as well as one of the local brass bands and the fire brigade. There would be church services, speeches and a collection made. The brigade and the Friendly Societies also joined in with other local events to help raise money, such as the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, which raised money for the dependants of men who had been killed or injured whilst working on the railways as well as those who had died from natural causes.
Queen Victoria died on January 22nd 1901 after a reign lasting almost 64 years and the throne passed to her eldest son Edward. The Coronation of King Edward VII and his wife Alexandra was due to take place on the 26th June 1902, with celebrations being spread over two days. Stocksbridge made plans for the second day, when there was to be a “Grand Procession,” which would include the fire brigade. However, the King became ill, and the Coronation had to be postponed, taking place instead on the 9th August. There seems to have been a lack of enthusiasm for the event, the local paper reporting that, “it cannot be said that the proceedings were so full of interest to the inhabitants generally as they might have been.” When the Coronation of King George V took place in 1911, the celebrations apparently “far outdid that of the previous Coronation.”
At the April Council meeting in 1904 a letter was read from Captain Fred Adams. He reported that the Bolsterstone members had not attended any of the drills and practices, which all members had to attend. In addition to the regular members of the Brigade, there were two “supernumeraries” at Bolsterstone. These could be called upon to make up the numbers when required, or used to be first on the scene if there was a fire in their area. It was reported there had been no fires during the previous year. Regarding the men’s yearly salary, the members of the Brigade thought that the scale ought to be: captain £2, sub-captain £1 10s, firemen £1 per annum. As to their attendance at fire, they thought that the pay of the captain should be 1½ times, and sub-captains 1¼ times that of the ordinary firemen. They also proposed that a telephone be fixed on the Council’s premises, perhaps in the caretaker’s house, so that people at a distance might be better able to call up the brigade when required. Mr. Adams continued with several complaints. The men wished to attend the annual demonstration of the Yorkshire Fire Brigade Friendly Society, which was being held in Sheffield on the 7th May, but apparently their uniforms were scarcely fit to turn out in. The helmets had been purchased in 1887, and some of the uniforms in 1892. They also needed undress caps, the present ones being worn out. New materials were required: four lengths of hose in 25 yard lengths (the captain had condemned the current hose), two 6’ ladders and one pair of candle lamps for the engine. The wheels of the engine were in need of repair, and the engine house was in need of a coat of colour wash and painting, not having been done for the since it was built 12 years previously. It was agreed that it was important to have everything in good working order and the captain was asked to cost what was needed. This he did, and he also asked for an increase in renumeration for attendance at practices. Samples of cloth and estimates for new uniforms were acquired. In 1909 the council were criticised by Councillor Coultas for the lack of facilities to dry the hose. After attending a fire at Boardhill, it took about a fortnight or more to dry the hosepipes owing to the inadequate capacity of the drying tower. Prolonged dampness could cause corrosion or rot, causing the hose to fail when it was most needed.
Hundreds of people turned out in Stocksbridge and at Deepcar to watch some demonstrations of fire extinguishers in November 1908. The “Rex” apparatus was demonstrated at the bottom of Hoyle House Lane at 5pm and 9.30pm, and its rival “Minimax” was shown at Deepcar at 3pm and 6pm. Also watching were members of the Council, business owners and farmers. Captain Wright and other members of the fire brigade were also present. Fires were lit and then extinguished, with the crowd applauding each one. In some of the tests, paraffin and tar were poured onto the wood, and the extinguishers put out every fire. Several people ordered an extinguisher for their business premises or homes. The the following January the Education sub-committee discussed whether to provide fire extinguishers in their schools, and there was a lengthy discussion about this. It was argued that fires were unlikely because the schools were heated by hot-water apparatus, but Mrs. Macro Wilson pointed out the danger of fire from cinematograph and similar entertainments which were usually given in schools and largely attended by children. Instances were cited of fires in Sheffield schools, which had been extinguished by the Sheffield Fire Brigade by means of chemicals, but it was pointed out that although Stocksbridge had a good fire brigade, the members were not permanently on duty waiting to respond to calls as were the Sheffield brigades, therefore means of extinguishing fire should be kept on hand in schools and public places.
On the 28th December 1908 newly-joined member Wilfred Ernest Hayward married Lavinia Whittaker at Bolsterstone. The wedding drew a crowd of people, being, according to the newspaper, “the first of its kind ever held in the district.” The members of the fire brigade attended in full uniform, and formed a guard of honour at the church. After the ceremony the brigade formed an arch by crossing axes, under which the wedding party walked. Wilfred was a toolmaker by trade.
Edward VII died on the 6th May 1910 and the Whitsuntide celebrations were very quiet in this year, with the country being in mourning. Memorial services were held in the area, and a procession took place from Horner House to Stocksbridge Church led by a brass band and including the fire brigade and other organisations.
Since 1889 the Council had occasionally discussed purchasing a mobile fire escape. The matter was brought up again in June 1910, but the matter deferred to the next meeting, but obviously nothing was done because they were still discussing whether to purchase one in 1926! They did agree to look into the price of longitudinal ladders and to purchase new leather cups for the engine pumps and a new front wheel.
In August 1910 the fire brigade joined in a procession including the Stocksbridge Old Brass Band and the boiler-men of Fox’s Works, later taking part on a cricket match at Bracken Moor against the boiler men. This was a benefit day to raise money for the widow of Mr. H. Musson who had been a member of the brass band. The fire brigade beat the boiler men and won the Carnival Challenge Cup.
At the Council meeting in August 1910 a letter was read out from the captain of the fire brigade reporting that the brigade had tested the engine at the request of the Council, and found it in good working order. After a meeting of the brigade, they were asking that the firemen’s pay be raised to £4 per man per year and that their call-out fee should be 2/6 per hour for the first hour, and 1/6 per hour afterwards. This was what was generally given by other Councils. The matter was left over until the September Council meeting to give them time to correspond with other councils about how much they paid their own fire brigades. It was decided that the captain was to receive £3 per year, the sub-captain and lieutenant £2; for attending a fire each fireman would receive 2/- for the first hour and 1/- per hour afterwards, the captain and sub-captain to be paid one fourth additional to that of the firemen; for two horses and a man attending fires, 7/6 be paid for the first hour and 2/6 per hour for every additional hour in attendance; that in the case of a false alarm, the 7/6 and 2/6 for horses be also allowed, the total not to exceed the total cost of 10/-; that the brigade shall have not less than 12 practices during the year, a false alarm to count, and the members of the brigade failing to attend eight of such drills and practices shall forfeit a proportion of the retaining fee. Fox’s had agreed to allow a siren to be fixed, at the council’s expense, so that notice of a fire could be sounded, the siren to have a different sound to the buzzers that were in use in the Works. At the brigade’s request, the third officer was to receive extra money to take into account the secretarial duties he undertook.
1910: Fire at Henholmes Farm, 2 September
There had been a stack fire at Mr. Revill’s Henholmes Farm on the 2nd September, and the brigade had been called out. Whilst on their way they were intercepted by a messenger who had been sent to stop them because the fire had already been extinguished. However, because the men had been called out and left their workplaces, Mr. Revill would still be charged for one hour’s work and also for the horses, a total of 14 shillings.
1911: The Coronation of King George V and the opening of Fox Glen, Thursday 22 June
Celebrations were held all over the country for the King’s Coronation, and crowds turned out in this district for the event. There were church services for the Coronation, and in the afternoon a procession set off from Deepcar, gathering more and more groups of people as it went on, heading for Bracken Moor where a dedication service was held in relation to Fox Glen being handed to the people of Stocksbridge. A meal was provided at various places in the district for children and widows. The fire brigade was entertained to tea with the widows in Bolsterstone at 6pm, and later that evening they gave a demonstration of life-saving and fire-extinguishing. Bonfires and beacons were lit all over the country at 10pm. Bolsterstone had a bonfire, and a beacon was lit on Hunshelf Bank. See https://www.stocksbridgetimespast.co.uk/items/1911-coronation-and-fox-glen
1911: Fire at Berton-under-Edge, 28 September
Sometime between 1901 and 1911, a family by the name of Cherry moved into Berton-under-Edge Farm on Hunshelf Bank. The farm had by this time been divided into two dwellings; George Arthur and Lucy Agnes occupied the larger property, and their son Archibald and his wife Mary occupied the smaller dwelling. George had married Mary Watts in 1906 and had they had two children, Mary aged 4 and Charley aged 2. The 1911 census was taken on the 2ndApril and around two months later, Mary gave birth to a daughter called Ada. Tragically, not long after this, on the 28th September, Mary died in a fire at her home, and young Ada died soon after.
On Thursday 28th September 1911 Mary Cherry was in the house with her 4 year old daughter Mary and her 3 month old baby Ada who was in her cradle in front of the fire. Mrs. Cherry was having trouble getting the fire to burn and threw some paraffin on it. The flames shot out, setting her hair and clothes ablaze, and she burnt to death. It was said by the newspapers that she became a “living torch.”
There was an inquest, and young Mary had to give an account of what she had seen. The evidence rested entirely on her story – “a remarkably clear story” – which she gave through her father, being considered too young to give her evidence direct.
Mary told how her mother had been cleaning the upstairs rooms, and when she came back downstairs, the fire had burnt very low. Mrs. Cherry needed to get the fire going again so that she could boil some water, and Mary was sent to fetch some sticks. Unfortunately, the sticks would not burn so Mrs. Cherry fetched the paraffin can from the kitchen and poured a quantity into the grate. When the fire still did not catch, she struck two matches and applied them to the liquid. The poor child saw her mother’s clothes and hair catch fire, followed by the furniture including the cradle in which young Ada was lying.
Mary ran out of the house and found her uncle Victor Cherry, who was employed on the farm, shouting that her mother was on fire. He ran to the door but could not get inside, being beaten back by the smoke and the flames. He told the court how he repeatedly tried to reach the hearth but was unable to do so. Mary’s husband, Archibald, was working in a nearby field and rushed to help. They found buckets and cans and threw gallons upon gallons of water on the “raging furnace within,” before they were able finally get through the door. It took fifteen minutes for them to reach the baby, which was eventually snatched from its burning cradle. Exhausted, the two men went back in and managed, with considerable difficulty, to drag Mrs. Cherry to the door. Almost all her clothing had burnt away, and she was hardly recognisable. The ambulance was telephoned for from Sheffield and she was taken to the Royal Infirmary, but sadly she died on the way there. A verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned. The baby died two days later.
1911: fire at Hague’s Butchers, December
A fire broke out in the hay-chamber of Mr. Hague, a Stocksbridge butcher, in December 1911 and for the first time the brigade was summoned by the new siren that had been installed in October the previous year. The brigade was soon on the scene and managed to put out the fire, but not before a fair bit of damage had been done. The fire had been caused by Mr. Hague’s young assistant placing a lighted candle too near some overhanging straw; he tried to extinguish the fire but failed, and went down to fetch his boss, who was in the shop. The damage was covered by insurance. This could have been Charles Spencer Hague, a butcher who had premises on the main road at Stocksbridge. If so, he had been a member of the brigade since about 1909.
False alarm (training exercise) at Half Hall
Some of the Council members were present to observe a drill at Half Hall. The message was given in accordance with the guidelines, with a message being sent to Fox’s Time Office at 6.12pm but the siren wasn’t blown until 6.20, a delay of eight minutes. There should have been no delay, because a man was there night and day, but upon enquiring further it seemed that the man in charge did not seem to understand the arrangements. Several firemen were at the station dressed in uniform and the engine out in readiness by 6.25 but a man called Lewis, who was responsible for the horses, was found not to be at home, and other horses had to be sent for. This caused a delay of 20 minutes. Almost half an hour was lost from the siren being blown to the engine arriving at Half Hall. The rest of the drill went smoothly; the engine worked “splendidly,” and the pumps lifted the water well over the building from the river. George Lewis and his sons ran a carting and cab business from their home near the Friendship Inn. George had previously worked as a horseman for the waterworks during the construction of the dams at Midhope / Langsett. He worked three horses, Billy, Tom and Prince. The council then looked to how such delays could be avoided in future, and they asked Messrs. Gaunt, Swallow, Marshall and Knowles if they would attend with horses when asked. Gaunts supplied horses for funeral hearses etc. and G. C. Knowles was a grocer. The Thurlstone Council were also busy finding horses, and they wrote to horse owners in their district to see if they were willing to undertake the conveyance of the fire brigade apparatus and men in case of fire.
1912: Fire at Holmes Farm, Wharncliffe, November
This call-out went without a hitch, and the brigade were soon on the scene. It was noted that the men really ought to be provided with jack-boots, as they had been stood up to their ankles in water, but they were not ordered until the following May.
In February 1913 the brigade attended the funeral of Joe Marsden, who had been the Clerk and Surveyor to the Council for many years. His death had been caused by a fall from a tram car after he had accused three young men of attempting to rob him. Although the tram was crowded no one knew for sure what happened next, whether Mr. Marsden fell accidentally or fell whilst trying to catch hold of one of the men as they got off. He was 75 years old.
The fire brigade captain submitted a yearly report to the Council’s Fire Brigade Committee, but things became more formalised in 1914 when it was resolved that the captain submit a monthly report to the Council, which was usually, although not always, discussed at the monthly Council meeting. The report contained such things as requests for equipment or clothing, a report of the number of fires, practices and meetings attended, the nominations for firemen to replace those who had left, and so on. In December 1913 a gong or some other kind of alarm was requested for the engine, to replace the handbells. Better lighting in the engine room was also asked for.
1913: Fire at Fox’s, 22 April
Fire broke out one evening in April 1913 in the joiners’ shop on the south side of Fox’s works. The workshop was full of timber and wood-cutting machinery for the making of wagons, and making repairs. Separated from this department by a brick wall were the fully-equipped chemical analytical laboratories. At 7pm the night watchman noticed a glare in the windows and immediately raised the alarm. In response to the works buzzer the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade were soon on the scene with the manual fire engine. An attempt was made to get the services of the Sheffield Fire Brigade, but they refused to turn out. Unlike the paper mill, which had an arrangement with the Sheffield Brigade, Fox’s did not. Stocksbridge was outside the city boundary and Fox’s was not amongst the firms who had a special arrangement with the Sheffield Watch Committee for the services of the Sheffield brigade.
The Stocksbridge men battled valliantly but it seemed the fire would win. A second call was made from the works to the Sheffield brigade later in the evening, but still they refused to turn out. Meanwhile the fire was spreading rapidly. The Brigade, with the assistance of some of Fox’s men, did their best to cope with the difficult situation, but they were handicapped by a lack of fire-fighting resources.
Two water jets were laid on from the mains, and one from the engine. Helpers were employed to remove chemicals and appliances from the adjacent laboratories before they too were engulfed in the flames. The whole building was like a furnace, and it apparently provided the inhabitants of Stocksbridge with an “awesome spectacle.”
The firemen had a tough job to bring the fire under control, and several had narrow escapes from falling timber. Finally, at about 10.30pm, the battle was won, but it was deemed necessary to leave a contingent playing on the building throughout the night and early morning.
In the days before WW1, hospitals were often founded and primarily maintained by charitable donations in return for which subscribers were entitled to nominate or recommend deserving sick individuals for admission. Being admitted to hospital depended on obtaining a recommendation from a subscriber or subscriber group (such as a church or employer). Many Sheffield districts held “Hospital Sundays” to raise money for the Sheffield hospitals, and Stocksbridge held one every year. By 1913 it was said that more help than ever was needed. “Recommends” were in great demand, and were running out. In 1913 the Stocksbridge district did very well raising money, with more being raised than in the previous few years. The days involved parades, and everyone joined in including the brass bands, the fire brigade with their engine, Friendly Societies, the R.A.O.B. and the Boys’ Brigade. Collections were taken on the procession and at the church service held at the end of the day. The Hospital Days continued during the war. There was also a fundraising day specifically for the Children’s Hospital in 1917.
1913: Fireman Tom Haigh killed, 1 September
Tragedy struck the brigade when Tom Haigh, a fairly new member of the brigade and the landlord of the Coach and Horses Inn, Stocksbridge, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He died on the 1st September and was 43 years old. As well as being a member of the brigade he was a member of the R.A.O.B. Hand o’Friendship Lodge. Tom had been riding along Ingbirchworth Road towards Stocksbridge with fellow fireman Captain Ernest Jackson in the sidecar. Mr. Jackson, who lived at 161 Rimington Row, told the inquest that they were heading home when they noticed another motorbike and sidecar standing on the left side of the road. At the same time a landau approached from the opposite direction. Tom tried to pass between the two vehicles, but he collided with the other motorcycle, the collision throwing both men off the combination. Ernest thought that there was enough room to pass between the two vehicles, and he estimated that they were travelling at between five and twelve miles an hour at the time. Tom died from a fracture at the base of his skull. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death” and attached no blame on anyone for the accident. The funeral took place at Skelmanthorpe, and his fellow firemen were the coffin bearers; Captain Ernest Jackson, Sub-captain J. Adams, and firemen Hayward, Hague, Whittaker, Charlesworth, T. F. Hayward, Swallow and Sampson.
1913: Fire at Mr. Steward’s joiner’s shop, 29 December
Early on the morning of 29 December a fire broke out in Edward Oliver Steward’s joiner’s shop on Rundle Road. P.C. England saw the flames from half a mile away, and the fire brigade were summoned. They quickly got to work but the flames had already got too much of a hold for them to be of use, and the fire destroyed the premises and its contents.
The fire engine was overhauled and re-painted in 1914, and was said to be much improved in running as well as in appearance, being lighted and more easily handled. It was thought to be in better condition than it had been for years. However, the Council asked why they had received a bill from Harrington Brothers for a new cushion and demanded an answer from the captain. He wrote to explain that it was for the engine driver, and that the old one had been in use for 23 years and was worn out. It seems that the Council were still being tight with their money!
1914: death of Joseph Addy, June
In June 1914 the landlord of the New Inn at Stocksbridge, Mr. Joseph Addy, died after a brief illness at the age of 64. He was one of the first members of the brigade and the local newspaper reported that “his reminiscences of its early days were always of a very interesting character.” It’s a shame they didn’t print any of them. Mr. Addy was borne to his grave by the uniformed members of the fire brigade who were Captain Jackson, Sub-captain Adams, and Firemen Hayward, Sunter, Landells, Swallow, Whittaker, Hayward, Nevison and Charlesworth.
There was still a lot of confusion in all districts as to whether the Sheffield fire brigade would turn out to a fire. It seems that even when an arrangement was not in place, they sometimes would, and sometimes would not. Firms seemed hesitant to pay the Sheffield brigade’s retaining fees, which some thought excessive. Some firms did not want the Sheffield brigade called if there was a fire because they did not want to pay their call-out fees, which again, some thought excessive. At the Stocksbridge Council meeting in July 1914 the Clerk was instructed to write to the Sheffield Corporation to ascertain their charges for the attendance of their fire brigade in this district in case of fire. Everything was soon to change though, because War was declared on the 4th August ...
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