Stocksbridge Fire Brigade

- the early years - 

My great grandfather Wilfred Donkersley was a member of Stocksbridge Fire Brigade, and many of these photographs are from our family album.  I have donated copies to the Fire & Police Museum (now the National Emergency Services Museum) in Sheffield 

Wilfred Donkersley (born in 1877), my great grandfather, was a butcher by trade, but he was also a member of the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade.  The earliest mention of him so far as a member is 1921.  He was still a member in 1930, but was not on a photograph taken in 1941.

The earliest reference I have found to a fire brigade in Stocksbridge is in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 5th March 1885, when a meeting of the Local Board [council] reported that there had lately been several fires in the district, and a mention was made of the charges being made for water; 5 shillings per hour for putting out a fire, and 1 shilling per hour for each fireman sent to the fire.  This presumably meant that the person whose property was on fire received a bill for the services of the fire brigade.  The Local Board owned the engine, but the men were all volunteers and did other jobs. 

 

One of the earliest fires reported in the newspaper was at the Co-operative Stores in March 1890.  A workman spotted flames coming from the bakery area at around 7am.  He raised the alarm, and a 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 were piled up against the bake house wall.  The premises were not insured, and damage was estimated at £50.

 

It isn’t known when Stocksbridge gained a fire brigade – such as it was, for in the early days a handful of volunteers operated a hand-pulled cart and a hand-powered water pump, which presumably drew water from the river or the dams at Samuel Fox’s works.  Stocksbridge didn’t really exist until 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, so there would have been little need for an organised fire brigade.  

 

The Brigade was manned by volunteers in the early days, and they had only a handcart for an appliance, later switching to a horse-drawn appliance with a man-powered pump. 

 

 

 

 

 

In the town of Sheffield, fire brigades did exist but they 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 sabotage, among the different brigades.  None of the companies insured any buildings outside of Sheffield.  This state of affairs continued for some years. When Sheffield Town Council was formed in 1843 the fire brigade and its engines were still the property of the private fire insurance companies.

It wasn’t until 1869 that Sheffield Town Council took over the responsibility of fire cover from the Insurance Brigades.

 

So, back to Stocksbridge. 

In 1893, the West Yorkshire Fire Brigade Friendly Society held their quarterly meeting in Bradford.  It was reported that the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade of ten members was admitted, and subscriptions to the value of £23 were handed in.  The Society was established in 1871 to provide finical benefit when a fireman was injured or killed. It was in existence until the early 1900's.

At some point the Stocksbridge Brigade upgraded to a horse-drawn appliance.  The words “Local Board” on the photo below (left) date it to before 1895, when a change of boundaries and local government resulted in the Stocksbridge Urban District Council being formed in place of the Local Board.  It looks as if the man at the front is the Captain (he has stripes on his shoulders).  These early uniforms were woollen.  Early firemen carried an axe and a hose spanner, and had a number on their tunic.  This was the uniform until 1936.  Jack Branston (History of Stocksbridge) says that they once advertised for a fireman to fit a spare uniform!  The horses were supplied by local firm Gaunts (they also supplied horses for funeral hearses etc).  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.  They still used a hand-pump though.

hand drawn pump.jpg

Perhaps the Stocksbridge hand-drawn appliance looked like this?  The base contained water, which was kept filled by men operating a bucket chain, and the two poles were operated up and down, working two pistons inside the upright box, thus pumping water through leather hose, which were connected at the front - photo from Sheffield Fire Brigade History

Click on a photograph

to enlarge it

Horse-drawn engine pre 1895
Horse-drawn engine pre 1895
Horse-drawn engine after 1895
Horse-drawn engine after 1895
Fireman Wilfred Donkersley (right)
Fireman Wilfred Donkersley (right)
Fire brigade horse, Gertie
Fire brigade horse, Gertie

Served with Sheffield Fire Brigade from 1912 - 1922. Photograph printed in the Sheffield Star

unknown fire brigade engine
unknown fire brigade engine

This horse-drawn engine is passing William Evans' old blacksmith's yard, numbers 221-223, Langsett Road.

Top left: the fire brigade on their horse-drawn cart; this is probably before 1895 when Stocksbridge was still run by the "Local Board" but there could have been a delay in replacing the words "Local Board" with "Urban District Council".  I don't think Wilfred is on here but I can't be sure. He'd have 18 years old in 1895 and I am not sure at what age men would have been accepted into the brigade.

Centre: the same cart after 1895 when Stocksbridge Urban District Council came into force.

This photograph was published in the South Yorkshire Times, and the article stated that it could date back to 1905; however the Stocksbridge & District History Society think it dates to around 1920 (in their Around Stocksbridge book).  The men are dressed up for some sort of show – the SYT said it was a local gala in the “14 acre field” near to where the stainless works were built.  The paper noted that the  crew had ‘entered into the carnival sprit’.   ‘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 thought the person holding the reins is a Mr. Donkersley the Captain.’  Wilfred Donkersley was never the Captain.  The man has the Captain’s stripes on his shoulders, but I am sure it is not Wilfred.  If this was taken in around 1905 then the Captain would possibly have been F. Wright; if this was around 1920 then it was probably Ernest Jackson.

Top right: Wilfred is riding the horse on the right.  I believe the other man could be a local councillor or official.

In June 1892, Bolsterstone received a peal of bells for the church tower, and the fire brigade took part in the procession through the neighbourhood, with Stocksbridge Brass Band leading the way. A large crowd gathered in Bolsterstone and sang hymns before tea was served in the school-room.

 

For whatever reason, “a difficulty in obtaining horses” one Friday night in October 1892 was said to be to blame for the late arrival of the fire brigade at a fire at Gregory’s, the brick makers at Deepcar.  The firemen did not arrive until an hour and a half after the fire had been discovered, according to the newspapers.  Perhaps no one could catch the horses, or they were being used for something else.  However the next day the papers had to print an apology, and said that Captain Milnes and eight men were on the scene in less than half an hour and using the hand hose.  They were going to send for the manual engine, but it was not needed.

Dixon’s paper mill at Oughtibridge suffered a major fire in July 1899.  Their own fire brigade was not able to be put the fire out, so both Sheffield City and Stocksbridge Fire Brigades were telephoned “as soon as communication by wire could be established”.  Apparently it took 18 minutes to “ring up” Sheffield and there were further delays in hiring horses.  They should have turned up with the steam engine, but instead brought the manual and 4 hired horses – though they did manage to gallop their way there from Rockingham Street (6 miles) in 20 minutes carrying six men and lots of hose.  Although outside the city limits, there was an arrangement in place with the city fire brigade that they would attend Dixons in the event of fire.  The Stocksbridge men arrived an hour after their Sheffield counterparts.  The steam engine finally arrived, having been sent for by the Sheffield team.  The fire was stopped from spreading any more by the firemen, who got their water from the mill dam, the goit and the river Don.  Navvies who were working on laying a water-main to the new reservoir at Langsett also ran to help.  The Stocksbridge men were apparently under “Mr. Kenworthy".  

Note: The mill caught fire more than once – a paper mill was an obvious fire hazard!  One fire happened in the war years, 1917, but their own brigade soon had 12 jets of water in use before being joined by both the Stocksbridge fire brigade and Samuel Fox’s brigade.  The steam whistle was used to alert the day shift that there was something amiss (the fire was at midnight), and soon the locals were on the scene to help.  Because of the War, the Sheffield brigade was unable to attend this fire.  They rescinded their previous agreement, partly because they were needed in the city, and lots of their men had been called up – the brigade was only 2/3 as strong as it was before the War (Sheffield Independent, 1 August 1899)

When a fire call was received at Rockingham Street. the horses had to trot across the yard from their stables to the engine house, then turn round before being harnessed.  You can imagine how this was when the men were in a rush to get to a fire!

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.

 

These two examples show just how difficult it was to get a speedy response in those times.  Even just contacting the brigade was fraught with difficulties, not to mention finding, catching and harnessing the horses.

The Stocksbridge Almanac gives the following crew lists: 

1908: Captain F. Wright, Sub Captain Chas. H. Champion, George Moxon, Ernest Jackson [later became Captain - in about 1911], J. Sedgewick, Thos. Slater, J. Adams, E. Whittaker, Hy. Sunter, Wilfred Hayward, and two Supernumeraries for Bolsterstone village – George Stephenson and Harry Sampson.

1909: Captain F. Wright, Sub Captain Chas. H. Champion, Geo. Moxon, Ernest Jackson, Chas. Hague, R.D. Dove, J. Adams, E. Whitaker, Hy. Sunter, Wilfred Hayward, and 2 Supernumeraries for Bolsterstone, George Stephenson and Harry Sampson.

1910: Captain F. Wright, Sub Captain C. H. Champion, Geo. Moxon, Ernest Jackson, Chas. Hague, T. Hague, J. Adams, Hy. Sunter, Wilfred Hayward, and 2 Supernumeraries for Bolsterstone, W. Sanderson and Harry Sampson.

There was also a Ladies Fire Brigade during WWI (1914-1919), who used the same the same horse-drawn appliance as the men, as can be seen in the photo below.  Captain Ernest Jackson’s daughter, Dorothy (“Dolly”), was temporary Fire-Chief.  This photograph was taken behind the council offices, where the Brigade stored the appliance.

Click on a photograph to enlarge

Immediate left: the fire brigade and their horse-drawn engine are seen taking part in the Peace Parade after the First World War, in July 1919.  There were many drays all dressed up for the occasion, with schools and local companies taking part.

Ladies Fire Brigade WWI
Ladies Fire Brigade WWI
1919 Peace Celebration Parade
1919 Peace Celebration Parade

When the war ended in November 1918 and news reached Sheffield of the Peace Treaty, rockets were fired from the roof of the Telegraph building in High Street, and the celebrations went on for several weeks.  The city was decorated with flags and bunting, troops marched past the town hall, and bonfires were lit all over Sheffield.  Peace celebrations in Stocksbridge took place on Saturday 19th July 1919.  Evening celebrations were marred by rain, but there were still fireworks and bonfires – an effigy of the Kaiser was suspended from a gibbet too!  The cricket and more fireworks were postponed until the following Saturday though.  

It was about this time that Samuel Fox and Co. presented Stocksbridge with two commercial vehicle chassis.  In his book The History of Stocksbridge, Jack Branston wrote that a member of the fire crew, Ernest Berwick (who worked in Fox's as a mechanic and driver) built the engines, assisted by his men, and that the two new engines were named Hope and Victory.  I have only seen and read of two engines at this period in time, and their names were Peace and Victory.  Could Jack have been mistaken, or were there three engines?

 

Peter Hewitt has sent me a photograph of an engine called Peace, which was built by S. and A. E. Yarwood & Co of Attercliffe, Sheffield.  Samuel Yarwood (1867-1927) came from Lancashire, and Albert Edward (1890-1973) was his son.  Samuel had been working as a Railway Coach maker / coach body maker along with his other son, also called Sam.  The family moved to Sheffield between 1911 and 1922.  The firm appears in a trade directory of 1925 but for some reason it is Albert's name who appears on the business not his brother's, even though he was a wood turner by trade.  He in fact lost the ends of some fingers doing his job and in 1929 he patented a guard to prevent such accidents.  He had received a compensation allowance from his employers for his reduced capacity for work, but when they applied to have this reduced (in 1922) it was discovered that he was also operating a book-making business (betting).  His father was called as a witness and stated that Albert was not involved in the motor-body building business, despite his name being on a sign in his window.  I presume he did not want to declare that he was earning more money and thus reduce his compensation payments.

It could be that Ernest Berwick built one fire engine on one chassis and Yarwoods built the other.  I can find no evidence that there was an engine called Hope.  I believe that the engines were built in 1921, because in this year a display was organised to show off a new engine, which must have been one of these.

"Peace"
"Peace"
"Peace" and ?
"Peace" and ?

The original photograph is amongst my family papers. I am almost certain that the man standing on the footplate of the nearest engine, Peace, is my great grandfather Wilfred Donkersley.

Victory 1923
Victory 1923
West Bar fire station
West Bar fire station

Horse-drawn engines shown at West Bar. This is now the Emergency Services Museum.

Click on a photograph to enlarge it

Top left: the engine Peace, built by Yarwood & Co. sometime in the 1920s.  This photograph was taken at Stocksbridge, behind the Town Hall.

Top middle: Peace again, I think Berwick is sat next to the driver, and I think my great-grandfather Wilfred Donkersley is sat behind him.  This is one of our family photographs so I am sure Wilfred is on it.  I am not sure which one is Jackson.  Photograph taken behind the Town Hall.  

Top right: L-R: Captain Jackson, Len Charlesworth and E. Berwick.  Captain Jackson retired in 1925, so this photograph was taken before then.  Both Captain Jackson and E. Berwick have stripes on their shoulders indicating their rank.  Berwick took over as Captain in 1925.

Bottom left: this photograph appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 13th July 1923 and shows the men with the engine Victory.  The paper carried a story about how the brigade had been called out to attend a fire at Oxpring Corn Mills; the Penistone crew (who should have attended) were detained fighting a fire at the Palace Cinema Theatre.  The Oxpring fire was spotted by the owner’s son, who jumped on his bicycle and rode to Penistone to summon the fire brigade - obviously no telephone.  Locals helped by carrying buckets of water until the Stocksbridge men could get there.  Captain Jackson received the call, and he and his men (with a motor engine and tender) sped the five miles to Oxpring.  Such was their speed that when they got there, their own engine was in flames!  Luckily, this was quickly dealt with, and they tuned their attention to the corn mills.  The Palace Cinema unfortunately burnt to the ground, and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that because Penistone only had “an old-fashioned fire brigade”, the firemen were “severely handicapped”, and had to have help from some of the railway firemen from Penistone station, who helped out using their own fire-fighting equipment.  The cinema manageress told a reporter that the Penistone turnout was a disgrace, the brigade being too small and badly equipped. 

NOTE: at this time, there were two cinemas in Penistone.  The one that burnt down was the Assembly Rooms Cinema, which was off St. Mary's Street.

 

As mentioned above, in April 1921 the fire brigade wanted to show off a new fire engine, and members of the Council were invited to witness a display at Hawthorn Brook.  However the engine, carrying a full crew, skidded at the bottom of Chapel Hill, Horner House; the rear swung round and one of the back wheels struck a telephone post and was wrenched off.  The driver (Norman Knowles) thought that the skid happened because the road was wet and greasy.  All the firemen were thrown off the engine, with Wilfred Donkersley and George Whittaker being the most severely injured.  Donkersley received a head injury and Whittaker fractures of the arms and a lacerated scalp.  The Captain, Ernest Jackson, injured his back, Fireman Haigh got a cut above one of his eyes, and the remainder – J, Adams, Allott and Samson – all received severe shock and minor injuries.  Fireman J. Adams was thrown on to his head, and his brass helmet, which was smashed in, undoubtedly saved him from more serious injury.  Doctors Robertshaw and McIntyre were quickly on the scene, the more seriously injured being taken home by motor.   I remember being told that Wilfred spent several days laid up in bed after the accident.  Initially the newspapers reported that Donkersley, Jackson and Whittaker were "doing well" but sadly Whittaker died not long afterwards.  Whittaker had been a deputy at the colliery and a keen cyclist.  Wilfred received £9. 17s. 6d. in compensation and for medical charges and Captain Jackson received £12. 10s. 

FIRE AT THE CONGS CHAPEL

In November this same year, there was a serious fire at Stocksbridge Congregational Church at the bottom of Hole House Lane. Captain Jackson was notified of the fire by a policeman at 3am on the morning of Wednesday 16th November, and Jackson asked them to sound the buzzer at Fox’s works. The brigade arrived within 5 minutes, and found part of the building was well ablaze (the end of the chapel where the heating apparatus was situated).  However, it was reported that they had difficulty getting any water. 

The newspapers reported that Captain Jackson had alleged that the County Council workmen who were tar-spraying the road had completely covered the fire hydrants, and that he had been unable to find them.  He had complained at the time that this was a danger. Eventually the engine was taken into Fox’s works and the pumps worked from the river.  It consequently took an hour and a half from the fire being discovered to the first stream of water being directed onto the flames.  In the meantime, 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 firemen worked for a long time but daylight revealed the building, which had been built in 1862, was reduced to a shell. Damage was estimated at £6,000. 

 

An organ, recently renovated, was lost, as was a solid oak musical cabinet, a war memorial tablet, a stained glass window in memory of the Rev. Henry Robertshaw, and several mural tablets; a Jacobean oak Communion table and chairs, and polished pitch pine pews were also lost, as well as solid oak doors.  Some deeds and documents which were in a fire-proof chest were saved, but a Memorial Library was lost. 120 Communion cups were melted into a shapeless mass.

 

The cause wasn’t known.  There had not been a fire lit in the church for several days.  The church was heated throughout by pipes, and when it was locked up on Sunday the fire in the furnace was extinguished.  There was a strong suspicion that the fire was not accidental. 

 

The papers reported a few days later that it was not the County Council’s fault that there was a delay in getting water, as they were not responsible for the tar-spraying, and that the repair of the roads of the villages is done to the order of the local council.  

 

There appears to have been some attempt to put some of the blame for the destruction of the church on the firemen.  It was said that only three men turned up, not the six that should have, and that the driver didn’t turn up, so another driver had to be found.  Mr G. C. Knowles’ sons arrived to drive the tender to the fire; they got there at 3.10am with four extinguishers, which proved useless owing to the strength of the fire.  Captain Jackson ordered the hoses to be got 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.  Another hydrant was in a similar state.  They were ¾ of an hour in getting water from the hydrant.  Three or four hosepipes burst, apparently because they had not been dried out properly after their last use (due to insufficient space).  Eight lengths of hose were borrowed from Fox’s.   By the time the driver had arrived and commenced to work the pump from the river, the church was gutted.

 

Captain Jackson sent for the Inspector, Mr. Adams, at 4.30am, and it was thought that he should have done this sooner; he was the "most important" member of the brigade and knew where all the other 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 the Inspector because he expected him to hear the fire buzzer [note: J. Adams was sub-captain, was in the employ of the Sheffield Corporation, and had charge of the hydrants].

 

All the County Council seemed bothered about was making sure the newspapers printed two apologies for the misleading statement that they were to blame for the shoddy road mending and tar spraying!

Stocksbridge Town Council held a meeting on the 30th November 1921.  Reports were submitted and conclusions reached.  It was discovered that the fire was accidental, not deliberate, and originated in the heating chamber.  A catalogue of errors all contributed to the chapel's destruction.  The fire alarm (hooter) that was sounded to summon the firemen was "weak and ineffective", and only four men initially turned out; the hydrants had been covered with tar, preventing access to the water; sub-Captain Adams had not turned out, and he had knowledge of all the hydrants and a special tool to open them; some of the hose burst and replacements had to be borrowed from Fox's; fire extinguishers should have been used when the men first got to the fire; and there was a delay in getting the pump to the water.

The church was rebuilt almost as before, and re-opened in 1923.

Congs church
Congs church
Congs after the fire 1921
Congs after the fire 1921
Congs after the fire 1921
Congs after the fire 1921
Congs church interior
Congs church interior
Congs church interior after the fire
Congs church interior after the fire
Congs interior after the fire
Congs interior after the fire

In 1923 Stocksbridge Town Council took over responsibility for the Brigade and the men received an annual retainer fee and a call-out fee.  The Officer in Charge received £5.10s.0d. as the retainer and a turn-out fee of 7s.4½d.  Firemen received a £4 retaining fee, a turn-out fee of 7s.6d. plus an hourly rate of 3s.9d.  However, the men were still essentially volunteers, keeping their main employment much as the retained firefighters of today do.  The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 1931 mentions the fact that the brigade were still volunteers.  “Members of the Stocksbridge Urban Council were the guests of the Stocksbridge Volunteer Fire Brigade at a dinner at the Friendship Hotel, Stocksbridge, last night.  First Officer L. Charlesworth presided over a large attendance, which included ex-Captain E. Jackson and J. Adams, previous members of the brigade.  Tribute was paid to the work of the brigade by Councillor B. Butcher, chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, and other members of the Council."  

In 1922, the Council had tried to come to some arrangement to secure the services of the Sheffield Fire Brigade when required.  This would entail Sheffield having to enlarge its brigade, so it was suggested that the local authorities should contribute to the upkeep of the fire-fighting machinery to the extent of a 2 1/2d. rate.  Only one authority agreed – and it was not Stocksbridge (it would have cost them about £425 a year).  Stocksbridge could not afford to maintain a brigade large enough to cope with a fire of the magnitude of yesterday’s outbreak, so it made sense to join the scheme.  Even though Fox's had been willing to share in the costs, the idea had not been pursued.  There was cause to regret this decision when, in 1923, there was a huge fire at the works, and the delay in the arrival of the Sheffield Fire Brigade whilst they sought permission to attend meant that much more damage was incurred than if they had been dispatched sooner.  A letter published in the paper from a "Deepcar Ratepayer" said that it ought to be compulsory for every Corporation to help an outside district where there is a dangerous fire, and the local fire brigade is not able to cope with it.

The fire broke out in the cold rolling mills at about 6.15am on  Wednesday 17th May, burning for about four hours, destroying the three-storey building, machinery and stock, and putting the 200 men who worked there out of a job.  Also destroyed was the drawing office, and with it all the plans of the buildings and machinery, details of contracts and every one of the draughtsmen’s tools.

 

It was thought that an electric motor attached to one of the rolling machines back-fired though this was never proved due to the utter devastation.  Because of the amount of oil and grease that were present, the fire spread very quickly, and huge clouds of smoke, followed by dense flames, caused the men, who had just come on for the day shift, to race for safety. 

The firm’s brigade, the Stocksbridge Brigade, and later the Penistone brigade fought hard, but the task was hopeless.  They did however manage to prevent the fire spreading to other parts of the works.  Captain Ernest Jackson and his men had seven hoses deployed within seven minutes of being called.  The Penistone Brigade under Officer Owen arrived just after 8.30, and their presence proved the turning point in the fight, undoubtedly preventing a much bigger catastrophe.  The Sheffield Brigade, which had been telephoned for immediately after the outbreak, was unable to proceed to the fire until permission had been given to attend.

 

Crowds of spectators had gathered to watch.   By nine o’clock the fire was gradually being mastered, and the spectators, saw the whole building resemble a glowing furnace.  From time to time huge iron girders, bits 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.

 

The girls working in the umbrella shop, a large five-storied building which stood at right angles to the mill, were evacuated, but luckily the fire was contained and did not spread to this part of the works.  About twenty yards away, opposite the mill, were the General Offices, and the flames even bridged this distance.  Captain Jackson, who with the officer of the Penistone Brigade, was superintending the pumping of gallon after gallon of water on the blazing building, noticed that the flames had caught hold of the roof of the offices.  Hoses were  immediately concentrated on the spot, while two firemen climbed on to the roof with chemical extinguishers.  When the office staff arrived, they were employed removed the office furniture, just in case. 

 

Finally, the Sheffield Brigade arrived, having received the necessary permission to attend.  These men, fresh to the action, threw themselves into the fight, and the task became one of  subduing fierce flames in a limited and confined area.  “The Sheffield Brigade,” said one witness, “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 to burn in places for many hours, and the Stocksbridge men were there all day. 

 

The walls were standing, but they were badly cracked. Inside was a mass of twisted metal, disjointed machinery, broken and ruined stock, charred timber, with girders twisted into strange shapes.  Huge wheels and gears, wire ropes, electric wires and cables, and debris of all kinds, lay in pools of oil and water.  There was practically no trace of what had been the engine house.  The only departments saved in the building were the annealing and cleaning shops at the back of the rolling department.  What is also sad, is that the works had spent three months constructing a special coppering plant, which had been ready for its first use at six o’clock that morning…fifteen minutes later it was in flames, and was totally destroyed.

 

Work was soon underway to put things right, the firm declaring that it was “Business as Usual”.    Two men were sent to Manchester to replace the draughtsmen’s instruments, and the men were set up in the boardroom so they could get to work.  When news of the disaster became known, the Company received many offers of help from other steel firms in Sheffield, enabling them to get back to work at once.  The firm rented two mills in Sheffield, one of which was for heavy work.  The other mill would receive the hot strip roller work to be finished by the firm’s own men.

 

The damage was estimated to be about £30,000 or £40,000 (covered by insurance), which was better than had been thought, when estimates were put at £75,000 - £100,000.  There had been another big fire at the works in 1912; on that occasion, £50,000 worth of damage was done in the joiners’ shop and laboratories. 

 

This fire re-started the debate about the need for the small townships around Sheffield to  come to an arrangement with the Sheffield authorities for the loan of the city’s Fire Brigade when needed.  Six months later, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported on the Sheffield Brigade’s refusal to attend a call-out to a fire at the police station at Renishaw, because this place was “out of bounds.”  Because Renishaw did not contribute anything to the upkeep of the Sheffield Brigade, the Sheffield men were, the paper reported, “obliged to refrain from attending”. 

In 1925, after 30 years’ service, Captain Ernest Jackson retired, as per the rules of the Brigade.  He had joined the Brigade in February 1895, holding the positions of fireman, second officer, first officer and finally the rank of Captain, a position he held for 14 years [from about 1911].  The new Captain was Ernest Berwick.  Ernest Jackson lived at the end house of Rimington Row (a row of houses next to St. Matthias church; he lived in the end nearest the Clock Tower), which was also a shop. There was a white enamelled sign above the door saying, "Fireman" in blue letters.

In 1925 the crew consisted of: Captain E. Berwick, Lancaster Road, Sub-Captain L. Charlesworth, Pothouse Lane and Firemen Sam. Allott, Common Piece; Wm. Chaffey, Haywoods Park; W.H. Crownshaw, Bracken Moor; Wilfred Donkersley, Bracken Moor; Leonard Evans, Haywoods Park; Harvey Hague, Coronation Road; Hy. Mustill, Shay Road; Hy. Sampson, Bolsterstone; Walter Tingle, Hunshelf Terrace.

Inside one of the mills
Inside one of the mills

Sheffield Daily Telegraph 18 May 1923

Fire at the works 1923
Fire at the works 1923

Photo by Sheldon 17.5.1923

1925 demonstration
1925 demonstration
1925 demonstration
1925 demonstration
Jackson's grocers
Jackson's grocers

Rimington Row

Top left: a photograph from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 18th May 1923, entitled, "The Great Fire at Stocksbridge Works. Inside one of the mills: scene of desolation."

Top centre: photo by Sheldon of Stocksbridge

Right: The Brigade putting a six-inch pipe to the river to feed the new engine.

Bottom left:  The force of water that can be used from the new engine of the Sheffield Fire Brigade.  Taken at Stocksbridge.

Bottom right: Jackson's green grocers, Rimington Row

Click on a photograph to enlarge it.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (23 June 1925) reported that the Sheffield Fire Brigade had just taken over the supervision of the Stocksbridge Brigade, and these two photographs show the Brigade giving a demonstration.  However Mr. Truman from the Council wrote to the paper and said that this was inaccurate.  The Sheffield Brigade had taken responsibility for the "works and houses" of Fox's but not the district in general.  He wrote, "Stocksbridge has an efficient and capable Fire Brigade which has done excellent work in the extinguishment of fires in the district, and it is in the public interest that it should be widely known that the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade and not the Sheffield Fire Brigade is responsible for dealing with fires within the urban district."  It would appear that lessons had not been learnt after the fire at Fox's in 1923; Fox's must have agreed to pay for the services of the Sheffield brigade, but the council did not opt to pay for this level of protection for the general population.

The Brigade eventually acquired a specially built Merryweather appliance, which the crew nicknamed “Daisy”.  However, they still had to cling on to it for dear life, and it was open to the elements.  Perhaps this is the appliance that was being demonstrated in the above two photos.  The Stocksbridge brigade had definitely acquired it before 1930, as it appears in a photo of the men taken in this year, below.

The crew had a further accident on their engine in 1930 when, en route to a fire at Alderman's Head with two engines, the axle on one of them broke, and the men had a lucky escape.  Wilfred, who was injured in the accident of 1921, may well have been on this engine too.  A series of delays meant that much damage was done to the ancient farm; with no telephone, a man rode on horseback to Stocksbridge to summon the brigade, then the axle on one of the engines broke, and then when the men got to the farm, tenanted by Mr. Robert Rennie, the brigade were unable to get the engine near the house, so all they could do was to stop the fire spreading to the adjacent farm buildings by operating a bucket chain using water from a pond.  The kitchen and other living rooms and bedrooms were completely burnt out.  The original farm was erected in 1673, and was at one time used for the sale of cattle in the Penistone area. 

1930 Fire Brigade
1930 Fire Brigade
Hose pipes
Hose pipes
Merryweather
Merryweather
1936
1936

The crew aboard the Merryweather engine

1941
1941

Crew with the Merryweather engine

Wilfred Donkersley, 1936
Wilfred Donkersley, 1936

Top left: the brigade in 1930 with the Merryweather engine on  Unsliven Road.  Back row L-R: A. Mussen, -?- ,  Evans, [William?] Chaffey (who was also a lamplighter)*, Tingle, -?-, Reuben Froggatt (chiropodist).  Front row L-R: -?-, Crownshaw, Len Charlesworth (Captain), Ted Holdsworth, Wilfred Donkersley.  Wilfred would have been about 53 years old.

Top middle: the same crew demonstrating the hoses, 1930, now wearing their brass helmets.  Water was drawn from the river through the large pipe leading to the back of the engine before being pumped through the hoses.

 

Top right: the Merryweather engine, date unknown

Bottom left: the crew aboard the Merryweather in 1936

Bottom middle: 1941. The same Merryweather engine was still in use.  It is parked in front of the fire station, which was still behind the council offices.  Back row L-R: Pearce, Watkinson, Harold Haigh, Tingle, Clarence Fish, Norman Jennings, Harold Wright.  Front L-R: Tingle, Archie Mussen, Sam Berwick, Alvie Webster, Albert Jackson (greengrocer)

Wilfred Donkersley in 1936.  He would have been 58 years old, and was probably no longer a member of the brigade. 

* One Saturday night in October 1936, Chaffey and the other men were called out to a stack fire at Deepcar, and he was unable to light the lamps, thus leaving several parts of Stocksbridge, including the shopping area, in the dark.  In all, 60 lamps in Shay House, Victoria Street, Low Lane [Victoria Road] and Manchester Road (from the Wesley Chapel to the Friendship Hotel) district remained unlighted for periods ranging from two to three and a half hours, from five o’clock onwards. The Brigade didn't return until about 7 p.m.  The lamp lighter who lit the lamps in the northern area had already lit his lamps, and was out with his wife when he noticed the absence of lights in the centre of the town.  He returned on duty, much to the relief of pedestrians.  He managed to light all but five lamps, which were in rather remote places.

 

In 1939 the National Fire Service was formed.  The Brigade acquired more members, and also received extra utility appliances.  These continued to be stored behind the Town Hall council offices on the main road (next to St. Matthias church). 

1950s
1950s
1950s at Picture Palace
1950s at Picture Palace
Picture Palace and British Hall
Picture Palace and British Hall
Possibly 1940s
Possibly 1940s
Possibly 1950s
Possibly 1950s
West Riding County Fire Service
West Riding County Fire Service

Click on a photograph to enlarge it

Top left: 1950s - The fire engine is leaving its HQ behind the Picture Palace; the engines were no longer stored behind the Town Hall by this time.  Note the lack of buildings to the right of the Picture Palace - this is where the Precinct stands now.

Centre: taken in 1950 - the film "The Outriders" was released in this year.

Top right: no fire engine in this shot, but an interesting photograph taken at the side of the Picture Palace (the fire engines were kept behind here).  The shopping precinct stands on this land now, and the British Hall (on the right) was demolished in 1963.

 

Bottom left: three of these men are John Arthur Jones, Tom Schouler and Norman Jennings.  John Arthur Jones is also on the photograph next to this one.  

Bottom right: possibly 1950s

During World War II, Mr. Jones was considered too old for active service, and was drafted into the A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service).  They were housed in the old voluntary fire brigade station behind the town hall.  They were later named the National Fire service, and a temporary wooden wartime billet was erected in the corner of what is now the Lidl car park.  This was accommodation for the men only; the fire appliances were still housed in the old fire station behind the town hall.  They included the 1930s Merrywather engine “Daisy” and a “Green Goddess”, which towed a trailer pump.  Mr. Jones also served in Sheffield and Hull during the Blitz.  As the Auxiliry Fire Service had become the National Fire Service, the men were then available to be sent anywhere in the country where extra manpower was needed.  Mr. Jones went to Hull, who were in need of extra help because of the intense bombing of the docks there.

 

Jack Branston (The History of Stocksbridge) says that the Stocksbridge firemen and their appliances did a great work during the two air-raids that happened in Sheffield in December 1940.  When the National Fire Service was disbanded in 1948, the Brigade became part of the County Fire Service and began to receive more modern appliances. 

NOTE: Samuel Fox and Company had its own fire brigade.  There were two different sirens sounded to summon the men; a continuous one for the domestic Brigade, and a rising/falling siren like the air-raid warning for the Fox’s Brigade – in fact, it was the old air-raid siren, and it was in use until the men were issued with bleepers.  The siren was on top of the cinema buildings.  I’m told there was also one on the gasometer at Deepcar.

  

Now, Stocksbridge has a purpose-built fire station, which was opened in 1971. It is still manned by retained fire fighters.

Sources:

Family photographs

Jack Branston, History of Stocksbridge

Fire Brigade websites

Local newspapers

Around Stocksbridge (Stocksbridge & District History Society)

Around Stocksbridge, The 2nd Selection (Stocksbridge & District History Society)

Stocksbridge Urban District Council Yearbook 1924-5

Penistone Almanacs

Thank you to Henry Jones for the information and photographs about his father John Arthur Jones and the Brigade during WWII