The Early Years

Merryweather, 1850.
Merryweather, 1850.

Prior to the late 1700's the small number of manually worked fire engines on Merseyside were all hand dawn. They were usually the responsibility of the Parish. It was often the case that an annual fee would be paid to a local tradesman to maintain the engine.

The most comprehensive records we hold relate to Liverpool, but a broadly similar pattern was repeated across Merseyside although most smaller parishes might only have one or indeed no engine.

Merryweather, 1888.
Merryweather, 1888.

These were the days before major Industrialisation, Liverpool was a however from the mid 1700's a growing Borough as well as developing as a port .
The fire risk was however not at the level it would become in the 1800's hence the lack of any professional or indeed part time Fire Brigade. Members of the public assisted in the operation of the engines as and when required.

The Common Vestry of St Nicholas & Our Lady, Liverpool

1718 - 2 hand drawn Mandrel & Grey engines were gifted to the Town and were passed to the Vestry by Thos Bootle , the se were the first fire engines in the town.

1731 - The 2 engines were placed under the custody of the Churchwardens

1735 - Council ordered 1 engine to be kept at the new Watch House & the 2nd at a new station nr the Old Dock

1749 -2 more engines were gifted

1750 - The Commissioners of the Watch took charge of the 4 engines; rent on the engine houses was paid by the Parish. The Keepers were:
William Harrison, Strand,
Thomas Harrison, Cooper's Row,
Thomas Gregson, Cable St,
Edmund Garner, Park La, all 4 were Blockmakers.

1752 Sep -The engine kept in Cribb's Warehouse; Castle Hey was stated to be in an inconvenient place.

1754 - Engine removed from Castle Hey to Knight & Co's sugar house on Castle Hey.
- Wm Harrison died he was replaced by Chas Fleetwood as keeper.

1760 - Engine keeper's salary increased to 12 guineas per year.

1773 - The Vestry books record that the Churchwardens were to provide another engine, the first to be purchased by the Parish, from John Bristow of London for
£88-17s-0d, including 50 leather fire buckets.
- The Sun Fire Office were asked to send an engine for use in Liverpool and 50 buckets, no record if this actually happened.

1781 - The Churchwardens granted the Liverpool Fire Office the task of keeping the engines for 30 guineas per anum, this only lasted 1 year due to their poor performance.

1806 - An engine was donated to the Pasrich by Sun Office.

- One of the engines was housed on Bridge St W of the Old Dock this probably passed to the Dock Police on foundation.

1832 - Another engine was gifted by the Sun, kept as a spare there were now 6 engines plus as spare.

1834 - 5 engines passed to the newly formed Fire Police.

New Quay, 1833.
New Quay, 1833.

Alongside the Parish engines as Liverpool developed rapidly as a port the number of warehouses and hence the firs risk soared. The main Insurance Offices all insured risks in Liverpool and they sought to try and minimise their losses due to the regular occurrence of major fires by having their own fire brigades manned by part time staff.

Summary of the Liverpool Insurance Brigades

British 1799-1835 Taken over by the Norwich Union
Imperial 1807-1839 Engines sold to Fire Police
Liverpool 1777-1794 Taken over by the Phoenix
Liverpool St George's 1805-1806 Went bust, station passed to the Imperial
Manchester 1825-1834 Engine sold to Fire Police
Norwich Union 1816-1837 Engine to Fire Police
Phoenix 1794-1834 Closed when Fire Police formed
Royal Exchange 1800c-1834 Engine to Fire Police
Sun 1818c-1834 Engine to Fire Police
West of England 1818-1873 -

Foreman of the Norwich Union Firemen, 1880.

So apart from the Norwich Union and the West of England all the other Brigades were wound up in 1834 or had already been disbanded or taken over.

So far as we know on Merseyside outside of Liverpool only Birkenhead had an Insurance company fire engine but it was manned by the Police force and not by the companies own men.

In the Norwich Union brigade was disbanded and their equipment sold to Fire Police
The West of England was thereafter the sole Insurance Brigade on Merseyside and by 1851 one Benjamin Barrett a bookkeeper was the part time Superintendent t of the Brigade; he resided at 7 Mount Pleasant. Barrett was a colourful character known as 'Hellfire Jack' he wore a red helmet and was by some accounts an eccentric.

The Brigade attended many major fires even where the West of England had no insured risk including in 1861 the fires at the Seaman's Home and at Garnock, Bibby & Co's ropeworks, Wavertree.

Eventually in November 1873 their Brigade was disbanded and the station closed; the introduction of a 2nd steamer by the Liverpool Fire Brigade meant the West of England could no longer justify the expense of their own brigade equipped with just a horse drawn manual engine, so after just under 100 years the era of the Insurance Brigades ended on Merseyside. The Fiore Offices had in the meanwhile found the Salvage Brigade, later the Salvage Corps [ see separate entry for details on the Corps.

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