The Works and Private Brigades

No story of the Fire Service on Merseyside would be complete without recording the major part private works brigades have played.

Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight , 1924.

At Port Sunlight where Lord Leverhulme built a huge soap works as well as a model village for his workers the works fire brigade, founded in 1889 also provided cover for much of the south Wirral until 1952 when the Cheshire County Fire Brigade opened a station at Bebington. Until then Lever Brothers, as a public service, sent their 2 fire appliances to calls as far as Neston, Raby as well as Bebington and Bromborough. They even attended Blitz fires in Liverpool and the fire on-board the RMS Empress of Canada in Bootle in 1952.

Pilkington Brothers
Pilkington Brothers, Canal St, St Helens, 1954.

Meanwhile in St Helen's the Pilkington Brothers works brigade provided the first line of back-up to the Council brigade until 1984 when it was disbanded. They maintained a fire station with 2 tenders on Canal St and attended almost every major fire in the town for over 90 years from 1885.

Elsewhere Bibby's Oil Cake Mill on Great Howard St maintained a brigade until shortly before the factory closed and many other forms especially in the 1950's and 1960's had a full or part time brigade including GEC formerly English Electric on the East Lancashire Road; the Royal Ordnance Factory, Kirkby; BICC at Prescot; Bryant and May, Litherland; Rainhill Hospital; Dunlop Rubber Co, Speke; Kodak at Kirby and several others.

Whilst with a better road network and faster and more comprehensive fire cover from the Fire Service the majority of works brigades were disbanded during the last 20 or so years even today Eli Lilly & Co in Speke still maintain their own fire engine.

The large stately homes on Merseyside were once so remote and posed such a risk if they caught fire that they too maintained their own fire brigades. Speke, Knowsley and Croxteth Halls all had their own engines manned by estate workers.

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