The Volunteer and Urban District Council Brigades

One of the earliest volunteer brigades was that at Prescot it was formed around 1864 and their manual engine attended a farm fire in that year.

In November 1894 Prescot UDC was established under the Local Government Act and soon afterwards they took over the part time fire brigade. The station was now moved to No 2 Grosvenor Rd next to the UDC’s yard. In 1899 the condition of the Brigades engine was reported to have been unsatisfactory for some years. And so a new steam engine was bought from William Rose & Co along with a hand drawn escape.

Not until 1927 did the Council seek a demonstration of a motor engine a Morris-Gwynne. A price of £840 was quoted; it was resolved to accept this, and to instruct the Clerk to apply to the Ministry of Health for sanction to the borrowing by the Council of the sum of £840 to fund the cost. It was further resolved the old steam engine could be advertised for sale in due course.

In August 1941 the Brigade ceased to exist and the station and appliances were transferred into the National Fire Service. Then in 1945 the station was closed after 50 years use, cover was now provided from Whiston and Huyton.

Some lasted only a short while including the Sefton Park Volunteer FB formed in about 1871 using a manual engine loaned by Liverpool, the engine house seems to have been on land forming part of the ‘Old Hall’ off Aigburth Rd. In January 1878 however the Liverpool Watch Committee noted ‘the manual engine on loan to Sefton Park is to be returned’.
Waterloo with Seaforth formed its brigade in 1873 this was really a  retained fire brigade rather than strictly a volunteer one as its members were mainly council staff their Surveyor as its Captain.

An engine house was built on Prince St next to the Town Hall Apr and a Shand-Mason manual engine and a reel cart were delivered. This was converted into a hose tender in 1906 when a horse drawn chemical engine took over as the first turn machine.
A Leyland motor engine was bought in 1914which was till in use when Waterloo became part of the Borough of Crosby in 1937.

Great Crosby Hose Carriage, 1907.

In Crosby and Blundellsands a volunteer brigade was formed as early as 1868 supported financially by the Local Board for the District of Crosby . The Board agreed to buy uniforms comprising a helmet, shirt, tomahawk and pouch, belt & key for £2-1s-6d per man.

The fire station was a rented shed in The Village, probably on the west side of Cook’s Rd between Alexandra and Victoria Rd’s nr Little Crosby Rd.

Great Crosby, 1930.
Great Crosby, 1930.

In 1881 a Merryweather steam fire engine was delivered, it was named ‘The Morris’ having been partially funded by Mr Morris at a  cost of £527,  a Merryweather fly escape ladder and a jumping sheet were also bought.

Then in April 1894 Gt Crosby UDC was formed and took over responsibility for the Brigade which was now known as the Gt Crosby Fire Brigade. In 1915 a motor tender, an Aster Merryweather with a Hatfield pump, was delivered a second motor, a Leyland followed in 1926.

In 1937 the new Borough of Crosby was formed when Gt Crosby and Waterloo with Seaforth UDC’s merged. The new part whole time, part retained Brigade had stations at Waterloo and in the Council Yard on College Rd, Gt Crosby equipped with 2 motor pumps.

Rainford formed a VFB in the 1890’s probably equipped with a hose cart.  Merryweather Volunteer type helmets were purchased1. It seems to have been disbanded by the 1920’s as cover was provided by the St Helens Brigade.

Litherland formed a Volunteer Brigade equipped with a Reel Cart supplied by the Council in 1897, it comprised of a Superintendent and 10 firemen with a shed on Crescent Rd as their station.

By 1908 they had a horse drawn hose carriage but in 1918 an agreement was made fro Bootle’s professional brigade to cover the area with their motor appliances and the Volunteers were disbanded.

Newton-Le-Willows, manual engine 1900.
Newton-Le-Willows, manual engine 1900.

In Newton-in Makerfield later Newton-le-Willows a volunteer brigade was formed in the around 1868, a manual engine was purchased. In 1882 Messrs. McCorquondales, a large printing form who had their own brigade stated that for the future their fire engine would not be allowed to be generally used for fires in the district, the desirability of obtaining a steam fire engine was now considered and referred to a Committee. No purchase was made but Mr Joseph Swan, the manager of the Gas and Water Works, was appointed Supt of the volunteers and workmen at the gas works became the firemen. The fire engine was now housed in a shed at the Gas Works.

In 1902 the Local Government Board sanctioned the UDC to borrow £838 for the purchase of a steam fire engine, the erection of an engine-house, and purchase of smaller appliances. In 1920 the Brigade was reformed now having a whole time Chief, a retained Sergeant and 10 retained firemen, still mainly employees at the gas works. The UDC purchased a motor pump a Leyland 4cyl, Rees 600gpm pump a second Leyland followed in 1939 and the station was extended.

In Birkdale in January 1876 the Local Board decided, mainly because the lack of a brigade had become an issue in Southport’s campaign for their incorporation of Birkdale to form a Volunteer FB. They formed a brigade with 8 men who were paid a retainer and a call out fee. They also accepted a tender for £141-14s-06d for fire equipment from William Rose & Co of Manchester who supplied a Hand drawn sprung Hose Cart kept in the Board’s yard on Weld Rd.

In 1894 Birkdale UDC replaced the Local Board and they provided financial assistance to the Brigade. A purpose built station was completed next to the Town Hall on Weld Road in 1900 and a Merryweather horse drawn steam fire engine named ‘CLINNING’ was bought. In 1912 however Birkdale became part of Southport, the latter’s Brigade soon had 2 motor engines and so Birkdale was little used. The volunteers were wound up in 1918.

On the Wirral the Liscard Brigade was formed in1872 and the Wallasey Local Board equipped it with 2 Reel Carts which were kept in the yard adjoining the Water Tower on Mill La. The key to the yard was held by the caretaker Harry Keenan who lived in Keenan’s Cottage, opposite the Tower. Captain James Leather was in charge, he worked for the Water Dept and there were 11 firemen.
The Board then bought 2 more Reel Carts for New Brighton kept in the Albert Hall, on Victoria Rd, and at 3 Platt St, Seacombe. In 1882 a manual engine was purchased by the Wallasey Local Board for the Brigade from William Rose of Manchester. It was also kept in the Mill La yard. New tunics and helmets were also procured. The engine was named ’Alltree’ after Samuel Alltree, a member of the Board. In 1898 the Volunteers handed over responsibility for providing Wallasey’s fire brigade to the Urban District Council.

Hoylake Aster Merryweather Pump, 1920s.
Hoylake Aster Merryweather Pump, 1920s

The Hoylake and West Kirkby Volunteer FB dates from 1884 when it was equipped with a hand drawn reel cart kept in the garden shed of one of its members on Alderley Rd. It was restructured the following year and with cash donations it was able to purchase a Merryweather horse drawn manual engine which was named ‘THE WONDER’.
In 1898 a single-bay fire station was completed at the side of the Town Hall on Prussia Rd now Albert Rd. The Brigade by now was under Captain Jessie Bird, and comprised 2 other officers and 13 firemen. By 1909 a second station was opened in an extension built on to the front of a terraced dwelling, at 44 Grange Road, housing a reel cart, an escape ladder was also put on-station there.
The brigade acquired its first motor engine in 1919 an Aster Merryweather, a Leyland followed in 1929. In 1930 the brigade was re-organised by the UDC, and a new station was opened in Hoylake with a full time Chief Officer Mr L J Laird was appointed, they manned two pumps and an ambulance. The Chief broke his arm whilst turning over the Aster’s engine with a starting handle on the day the station opened.

Formby Morris Tender, 1928.
Formby Morris Tender, 1928.

In Formby, as was the case in many small towns, it was an outbreak of fire with no brigade or engines to fight it which led in 1898 to the formation of a volunteer brigade under a Captain Charters. It was equipped with a hand cart at first but progressed to a 4 wheel horse drawn escape carrier in 1904. It was supported financially now by the UDC and it bought a motor tender in 1923 replaced by a second hand motor pump in 1930.

With the likelihood looming of war in the late 1930’s a purpose built station was constructed next to the UDC’s offices. In 1940, almost at the last minute, a modern motor pump purchased and a full time professional Chief appointed with the rest of the brigade being retained.

Elsewhere a volunteer Fire Brigade equipped with a hand drawn reel cart is known to have existed in Hightown in the 1920’s and 1930’s and a similar brigade existed in Maghull. The latter was disbanded by the Parish Council after an incident in October 1930 when a test call was made by the Council to see if the volunteers would turn out. The telephone call was however routed by the GPO to the Liverpool Fire Brigade and copied to the Salvage Corps, each sent a motor The Parish Council had overlooked the fact that the overall West Lancs RDC had already entered into an agreement with the Liverpool for the later to provide cover. Imagine the Parish Councillors surprise when instead of 4 or 5 volunteers with a hand cart 14 professional firemen and Salvagemen on 2 modern motors arrived and demanded to know where the fire was. As a result of making the call the Council was fined and the volunteers who never received the call disbanded.

By far the largest and longest surviving of the Volunteer Brigades was the Old Swan, later the West Derby Volunteers. This area did not become under Liverpool until the 1890s and hence did not have the benefit of cover provided by the Fire Police.

It was in1842 that the Old Swan VFB was formed and a station opened, probably equipped with a hand drawn Manual engine or a reel cart. It was linked to the adjoining rope works established by Jackson McConnan and Temple on Edge La.
In 1865 the Brigade was re-organised as the West Derby Volunteer FB. It was funded by subscription, a printed cheque receipt being issued in return for payment. A new Manual engine was acquired but the station remained next to the rope works on Edge Lane.

In 1874 a Shand Mason London pattern manual was delivered at a cost of £450, it had a capacity of 450gpm and was soon in use at a major fire at the ropeworks  The engine was named ‘S R Graves’ in a ceremony by the pond in Newsham Park later in the month. The band of the 12th Lancashire Artillery Volunteers played and led the procession. Graves had been MP for Wavertree had recently died.
By 1884 the station had been moved to 3 Derby La, Old Swan, where a new 2-bay single storey station was built. In 1886 a London Brigade pattern manual engine was delivered  the premises were extended to provide accommodation for the Foreman.
The subscription rates for fire cover varied considerably, a householder typically paid 2s 6d, tradesmen paid more while Lord Sefton paid £5.0s.0d, the Earl of Derby £10.0s.0d & Huyton cum Roby Board £25.0s.0d for all their area.

In 1890 two new District stations were opened after approval by the Brigade’s Trustees. These were at Huyton, Derby Rd   [next to Infants school close to Huyton La] where a manual engine and a hand drawn hose cart were stationed and at Aigburth Vale, Irwell La [a converted Smithy] where there was a Reel cart.

In 1895 West Derby became part of the enlarged City of Liverpool and on November 9th the ‘appointed day ‘the Fire Police took over the Derby Lane and Aigburth stations and the steam engine. The station at Huyton passed to the local Council thus ending 53 years o service by the West Derby Volunteers.

Toxteth Board agreed in 1894 to the formation of a volunteer fire brigade and to fund the construction of a fire station at a cost of £1,050, on Ivanhoe Rd between Parkfield Rd & Back Parkfield Rd, the works to include a house. There were 16 volunteers led by Capt Price, with the station manned on a rota from 18.30 - 22.30 weekdays and 14.00 - 22.30 on weekends, at other times  bell was rung to call out the Brigade. A new steamer was delivered by in 1895 the district became part of the City of Liverpool and the Fire Police took over the station and the engine.

In Bebington two small but entirely separate brigades were formed in the 1890s. By 1896 Higher Bebington [Tranmere, Storeton, Poulton cum Spital, Rock Ferry and Higher Bebington] had a hand drawn reel cart. Nearby was the Bromborough Village Fire Brigade, whose Secretary Charles Ellis, was also the Manager of Prices Patent Candle Co Ltd the factory it to was equipped with a reel cart. In 1911 they bought a horse drawn chemical engine from the Liverpool Fire Brigade , replaced by a newer model in 1916. By 1920 Bebington’s volunteers had passed into history and the town was reliant on the motor engines of Lever Brothers Works brigade at Port Sunlight for fire cover.

Huyton UDC had been covered by the West Derby volunteer brigade  but when this was wound up in 1895 they took over the horse drawn manual engine and a reel cart. These were kept in the Council yard on Derby Rd for use by a new retained brigade made up mainly of Council staff.  In 1915 with a manpower shortage due to men joining the Forces an agreement was signed with Liverpool for the motor pump at Old Swan fire station to provide cover if requested. It seems that now if not before the Huyton Brigade was disbanded.

In 1938 following the Fire Brigades Act the UDC re-established a brigade with a Chief Officer, and a Deputy working full time with 12 retained firemen most of whom it were Council employees. Alfred Steadman ex St Helens Fire Brigade was appointed Supt from a shortlist of 6 men interviewed . An Albion Jennings Braidwood Kerr-Drysdale pump was bought and a station planned. In the event the new station was not built due to war breaking out in 1939. A  ‘temporary’ 2-bay station was built on the west side of Huyton La; the structure incorporated an existing perimeter sandstone wall as its front.  It was clad with corrugated iron, they may have used the 2 storey Vicarage stables and coach hose as accommodation.

Whiston Rural District Council did not form a fire brigade until 1934 and after interviews Mr A S Prattern MIFireE of Bristol was appointed its Chief. The UDC had a boomerang shaped area about 13 x 2 miles; it included the parishes of Hale, Tarbock, Knowsley, Rainhill, Simonswood, Speke, Tarbock and Whiston.  A Dennis Ace Braidwood 500gpm pump was delivered that year along with a trailer pump and the following year a Ford Hosereel tender was purchased. There were 3 whole time firemen and  12 retained men. A new station with accommodation was built off Delph Lane .

Last to be formed was the Wirral UDC fire brigade. It was in November 1935 that a meeting of the Council received a report from the Finance Committee recommending a compulsory purchase order be made to acquire a plot of 2,350 sq yds of land adjoining the Council Offices at Hill House, Heswall as the site for a fire and ambulance station. The estimated cost was £4,500- with a recommendation that application to be made to the Ministry of Health to be allowed to borrow £2,650- towards this. It was also recommended a further application be made to the Ministry to borrow £3,400 for the purchase of fire brigade and ambulance equipment. The proposals were approved.. A Leyland pump and a Hosereel tender were purchased and the fire station at Heswall was completed in 1940 .

Last but by no means least came Woolton where the first listing in Gores Directory of a fire station was in 1907 on Allerton Rd, manned by a volunteer brigade and financed by the UDC. The station housed a reel cart; it adjoined the swimming baths in what is now the Plant Room.  In 1913 the UDC was incorporated into the City of Liverpool and the station closed soon afterwards. Cover was provided by a motor engine from Aigburth or Speke and by a Reel cart in the police station on Quarry St.

1 One of the helmets is in the Heritage Centre

About Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre


Merseyside has a 180-year proud tradition of firefighting and has often been at the forefront of innovation and new technology during that time.

The service has memorabilia, machines and equipment from generations of firefighting and one of the largest photographic archives of any UK fire and rescue service including more than 80,000 digitised files and pictures. Why not visit our Heritage and Education Centre.

more about the Heritage Centre

Opening Times

The Heritage Centre is open to the Public Monday to Friday between 10.00 and 15.00.

It is essential that visits are pre-booked, preferably by telephone or email.

Tel: 0151 296 4714 / 4640


For reception staff if members of the public arrive at reception to visit the Heritage Centre without pre-booking please phone the centre to check staff are available.

The Heritage and Education centre is located at; Bridle Road, Bootle, L30 4YD