History of Birkenhead Borough Fire Brigade

1836 - Birkenhead Police force was formed overseen by a Watch Committee.

1837 - A Police Fire Brigade was established equipped with a hand drawn manual engine and possibly a hose cart.

1838 - The Police and Watchmen manned the Township’s hand drawn manual engine, this was however rarely used.1

1843 - Several insurance offices offered to pay £200 for a new horse drawn [HD] manual engine.2

1844 June - A HD manual was now delivered. It was kept in Mr Gough’s stables at the Woodside Hotel in return for a rent of 5s per week. The horses and driver were also provided by the livery stable for 5s per turnout.

1845 Jan- Instructions for the Birkenhead Constabulary Force from Supt McHarg:
‘In the event of fire breaking out on his beat, the Constable is immediately to spring his rattle and cry ‘Fire’. His first duty is to inform the inmates, if any, of the house on fire and his next duty is if possible to put out the fire. If it be quite obvious that he can put out the fire instantly he is to give no further alarm; but if he have a doubt of being able to do so and it is better to be wrong in giving the alarm than to be of late, he is to run all the way himself to the Police office, inform the Superintendent, assist him in getting out the engine and direct the driver to the shortest way. As he goes along he is to knock, spring his rattle and tell every Constable who comes to him where the fire is, the names of the street and the nature of the property and he is to do all this briefly and without stopping for one moment. If he has far to run and feels tired he is to send forward a fresh Constable but still he is to keep on his course as fast as possible less the message should miscarry.

In the meantime the Constable who first discovers the fire is to use all possible exertion in putting it out. If he fail, he must endeavour to sae life and property; but in doing this he must not permit doors or windows to be unnecessarily broken open, fires being frequently increased by doors and windows being incautiously opened, neither must he permit improper persons , such as drunkards or thieves to enter the house.  If the place on fire be a dwelling house the first duty is to get all the people out, and next to get out papers, money, and the more valuable goods. If it be a counting house or warehouse, the first things to be saved are the books and papers.
All the Constables, on hearing the rattle or seeing the fire, are to communicate the alarm to all Constables around them, and then repair to the spot, give the necessary assistance and remain there, if the fire continues, until otherwise directed by their Sargeant, Inspector or Superintendent.

As the first necessity at a fire is water and that the Constable may assist in procuring it, he is to acquaint himself exactly with the position pf the water plugs on his beat, so that he may point out instantly those nearest the fire, and he is to inform himself, as far as possible, where all tanks and pumps are, in order that he may know where to find them when wanted.

‘In the event of a fire in the day time, Constables need to spring their rattles, but they are to pass the word quickly, in order that their Officers may be properly and speedily informed. The Officer on whose beat the waterworks is will be particularly attentive in alarming the Engineer.’

Mar - The contractor constructing the Birkenhead docks paid the engine’s crew 5s to the Inspector and 2s 6d each to the 7 Constables. Owners of property outside the Township were charged for the attendance of the engine, in Feb a Mr Thompson of Tranmere paid £2-17s-6d, a Guinea being fro the Inspector and 2s 6d to each PC.

1846 - A fire engine station (a shed) was built by the Town Hall on Hamilton St next to the Police station, replacing the use of rented premises.

1855 - An Insurance company (probably the Royal, a Liverpool based office) presented a new fire engine to the Town, on condition that no charge shall be made for attending fires at their insured premises.

1861 - The first wheeled escape was purchased from Merryweather’s

1868 - Members of the Police Force who were qualified as firefighters received an extra 1s per week.

Birkenhead, hamilton Street 1870.
Birkenhead, hamilton Street 1870.
1872 - The Head Constable brought to the attention of the Watch Committee the need to purchase a steam fire engine at a cost of £500. In fact it would be 1895 before a steamer would be delivered.

1876 - The replacement of fire plugs with hydrants commenced.

1878 - A sub-station was opened on Greenway Rd, Tranmere equipped with a Reel Cart.

1880 - Rates of pay
PC 24/- per week rising after 15 years to 30/-
Allowances:
Explosives Act inspector                5s
Chief Assistant Fire Inspector       5s
Assistant Fire Inspector                2s 6d
Fireman                                   1s

1887 - The procedure when an alarm of fire was raised was as follows:
At Oxton and Higher Tranmere stations a bell is rung to call in the PC’s from their beats. At Central (Hamilton St), Watson St, Claughton and Tranmere (Greenway Rd) Bridewell stations the PC raising the alarm has to run round the beats to call-in the personnel.

1889 - A second sub-station housing fire fighting apparatus was opened on Dale St.

1893 Sep - The Watch Committee (WC) finally approved the suggestion of the Head Constable that a professional fireman be appointed as Superintendent of the Brigade
Dec 01 - A full time professional Supt, Mr W J Monk ex London Fire Brigade Establishment, was appointed at a salary of £120pa plus a residence, coal and gas.

1893 May 08 - It was resolved by the WC the fire engine would not attend fires again outside the Borough.

1895 Mar - A HD Hose Tender was delivered, 2 horses were purchased along with 2 sets of quick-hitching harness.
Apr - A Merryweather steam fire engine and 3 escapes were delivered


May 05 - Brigade finally separated from the Police, the second engine was moved to Hamilton St, the 6 PC’s on the Docks remained paid for by the Dicks Co.

July - A telephone line linking the Turncocks residences with the National Telephone exchange was installed.

Nov - 34 street fire alarm’s were installed, the 6 in outlying areas also had a telephone.

Dec 09 - Whetstone La opened replacing both Hamilton St and Dale St

1898 Apr 01 - Townships of Claughton, Oxton, Rock Ferry, Bebington & Tranmere added to what was now the Municipal Borough of Birkenhead

1900 - A Merryweather HD Chemical engine was delivered.

1903 - A Bayley escape was delivered

1904 - A twin cylinder Merryweather chemical ‘first turn’ engine was delivered.

1910 Mar - 1st motor appliance purchased a Dennis N type pump

1912 Feb - With the delivery of a second motor, a Leyland with a Morris Ajax escape the Supt suggested one of the 2 HD chemical engines should be sold to make room in the Engine House.

1913 Mar - A Draeger smoke helmet was purchased at a cost of £22.

Apr - Agreement for the Brigade to attend fires in Hoylake and W Kirby, if requested.

May - One of the 2 remaining horses ‘Admiral’ was stated to be unfit. The Supt suggested that with the high cost of feed, due to the war it would be better to dispose of ‘Admiral’ and ‘Paddy’ and replace them with a motor prison van. The WC agreed and ‘Admiral’ was sold for 16 Guineas. A replacement was however bought in-lieu of a motor van.

Nov - The escape formerly kept in the Town Hall Yard was brought into the fire station and adapted to be carried by the No 2 motor.3

1915 - Title of Supt changed to Chief Fire Officer [CFO]
Dec 28 - A second Dennis N Type motor was delivered.

1916 Apr - The escape ladders at the Hospital, the Workhouse and Meadow La were reported as being in poor condition, their disposal was approved

1917 Oct - The CFO reported the steamer ‘G S Oldham’ had been in steam manned by 6 firemen at Cammell Laird’s shipyard since war broke out and had earned £250, it was now worn out and its disposal was approved.4

Dec - ‘G S Oldham’ was sold for scrap for £25

1918 Nov 11 - Fm James Williams was killed when a maroon being used as part of the Armistice celebrations exploded

1919 July Aug - The CFO asked that the Brigade’s pay scale be the same as the Police as was the case in Liverpool, this was agreed by the WC.

Birkenhead, 1927.
Birkenhead, 1927.
1927 - North end sub -station opened on Laird St, 2-bays and 8 Brigade houses.

1929 Jan - A Leyland FE2 motor was delivered

1931 - Prior to a poll, at which the people of Upton had to choose between amalgamation with Birkenhead or with Wallasey a motor pump from Wallasey toured the area during the morning displaying a board on which was written ’We ca reach any fire in Upton in 10 minutes’. Birkenhead replied in the afternoon also with a motor pump ‘Why wait 10 minutes to have your fire put out when we can do it in 4?’ Birkenhead won the poll 661 to 240 and Upton became part of the Borough.

1933 Apr 28 - Part of Arrowe Park, the remainder of Bidston, Noctorum, Upton and Woodchurch were added to the Borough.

1935 Nov 05 - Firemen were stoned and hoses cut whilst attending calls to bonfires out of control in the Watson St area.

1938 - Flats and 2 additional appliance bays, were built on the site of the former stables fronting onto Borough Rd at the side of the main station. Two additional bays were also added at the side of the main station on Wetstone La.

1940 - Establishment increased to 36.

1941 May 03/04 - A fireman was killed when a bomb exploded on Golf Course Rd, Preston and the pump he was operating was destroyed.
Aug 18 - The brigade became part of the NFS, FF26.

Birkenhead Firefighters, 1970.
Birkenhead Firefighters, 1970.
1948 Apr 01 - County Borough of Birkenhead FB formed.
July 15 - Birkenhead’s Fire and Ambulance Services were merged.

1950 - The Brigade forfeited the usual Home Office grant and chose their own machine, an AEC with a Meadows engine.

1959 - LFm Thomas was awarded a framed Parchment (LS&HS?) for the rescue of Fm Norman Carr during a major fire at a Wallasey grain store.

1960 Dec 02 - The Council accepted a tender for £44,509 for the erection of a new fire station at Woodchurch.

Birkenhead, Exmouth Street, 1974.
Birkenhead, Exmouth Street, 1974.
1962 May - Upton fire station on Woodchurch Rd opened, replacing Laird St.

1973 Mar 28 - Exmouth St was officially opened by Alderman J H Roberts. It had 8 bays and a fully equipped workshops, it replaced the 78 year old Whetstone La station.

1974 Apr 01 - The Brigade became part of Merseyside County FB stations West 1 and West 4.


1 W R S McIntyre Paper on Birkenhead’s first Police Force Lancs and Cheshire FHS 21 Apr 1977

2 Sgt S P Thompson in his book ‘Maintaining the Queen’s Peace’ (1958) says it was also delivered this year.

3 Presumably the Morris Ajax escape had been damaged

4 Jack Robertson says £3,250 almost certainly a typing error

About Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre

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