The Fire Brigade
Fire was a ever-present hazard in the days when all heat and light was by a naked flame. With the one notable exception Englefield seems generally to have avoided major house fires, but farm fires were common, many set deliberately. Wickcroft Farm alone suffered at least three fires. At the beginning of the 19th century all fire response was by volunteer bodies, parish authorities or insurance companies and estates like Englefield would have their own fire-fighting facilities. There was a hand-operated fire pump at Chalkpit Farm certainly by 1835 when it was used on a rick fire there and Mr Benyon bought another for Englefield House in 1873. One of these pumps is shown on the right.
The Englefield Fire Brigade was formed on 14 June 1894 at a meeting in the Timber Yard office. A set of rules and duties was adopted and drill nights were fixed for Thursday, fortnightly in summer and monthly in winter. Cleaning and maintenance were to take place each Tuesday evening and the first drill took place on 21 June. Mr G S Roake, the Clerk of Works, was the Chief Officer and the list of those who formed the first Englefield Fire Brigade is shown at the right. These men worked either at the Timber Yard or Chalkpit Farm so were close to the fire station during the day. William Cox, the fire engine driver, was also Mr Roake's coachman and when he died in 1914 the fire brigade formed a guard of honour and escorted the coffin from his home to the church. Another of the original crew who received a similar honour was David Horne in 1903. When Mr Roake himself died in 1907 the coffin was also carried by members of the Fire Brigade.
The brigade was equipped with a new horse-drawn engine with a steam-powered pump that could easily throw a jet of water from the terrace in front of Englefield House up to the top of the house. The engine was built by Shand Mason of Blackfriars and was ordered on 2 May 1894 and was delivered two months later at a cost of £661 10s. The boiler pressure was 100 lbs per sq in and it took between five and seven minutes from the fire being lit for that pressure to build up. It usually took rather longer to capture the two horses that lived in the field opposite the fire station! The pressure enable a jet of water of 150 gallons per minute to be projected up to 160 feet high - a far cry from the old manual pump.
This engine was housed in the new fire station (left) adjacent to the Timber Yard, along with the earlier manual pump, and the horses were kept in the field opposite. The fire station was fitted out and gas lighting provided as well as uniforms for the crew and enough hose to reach the 450 yards from the lake to Englefield House. The whole of the cost was paid by Mr Benyon. The blue uniform jackets and brass helmets still hung on their pegs on the walls of the fire station into the 1980s when the building was renovated as a village community centre; it is now a nursery school.
The Englefield Fire Brigade made, at least by November 1916, a charge for their services. Attendance by the steam engine and its accompanying hose van was five guineas for the the first five hours (the minimum charge) and ten shillings and sixpence per hour after that. Attendance of the Chief Officer was charged and five shillings for the first hour and then two shillings per hour or part hour afterwards. Firemen were similarly charged for at three shillings and one and sixpence.
The last working job for the engine was in 1940 when incendiary bombs were dropped on the estate and after standing unused in the fire station for some time it went on loan to the Berkshire and Reading Fire Brigade. In 1965 it returned to the estate for a demonstration when it was pulled from its old home at the Yard to the courtyard of Englefield House where it was put into action, fortunately this time only as a demonstration. The pictures below were taken on that day.
The Fire Brigade
|The First Fire Brigade||Chief Officer:||G S Roake|
|1st Officer:||J Tegg||2nd Officer:||W Palmer|
George Stuart Roake in a photograph subscribed for by "the firemen and his friends"
© 2021 Richard J Smith