Fire Brigade, St Albans, late 19th century

March, 2007

Alan McWhirr (alan @t of Leicester writes: You have George Farr Arnold listed as a brickmaker. He was also General Superintendent of the St Albans Fire Brigade in 1856 and later in the nineteenth century sat on the council. I am writing about St Albans City Fire Brigade as I was once a member and my father was for 40 years. If you come across any material relating to that brigade, I would be most interested to hear about it.

On getting your message I have updated the page on George Farr Arnold, brickmaker.

As to the fire brigade there will be considerable information in the council records - now held at HALS. Some highlights from the records are mentioned in Gibbs' The Corporation Records of St Albans. In 1655, following some serious fires, the council decided to buy "two substantial engines of brass and their carriages for the purpose of beating and drowning of fires." and there are many later references. Of direct relevance to your question, on 12th August 1853 the council "resolved that a fire brigade be established for the borough, to consist of 24 efficient men."

Some years ago I decided to sample the Herts Advertiser newspaper for references to Bernards Heath, and to my own family's activities in St Albans and Sandridge, and started to build a computer file of transcripts and notes. The exercise was never finished but on getting your enquiry I decided to search the file for references to fires and the fire brigade.

The 1880 example shows that the St Albans fire brigade attended at least some fires several miles into the surrounding countryside and I picked up a reference to the new fire engine in 1893. In some cases I may have photocopies of the news items.

Herts Advertiser: 11th November 1865: Report of fire in rick yard of Mr Thomas Smith, Pound Farm, Sandridge. "The fire was no doubt the work of an incendiary ... and £50 reward is offered for the apprehension of the guilty party" In December William Andrews was arrested and later discharged.

Herts Advertiser: 10th May 1879: FIRE NEAR BERNARD’S HEATH. On Thursday night, soon after ten o’clock, a fire broke out in one of the buildings, near to Bernard’s Heath, used by Messrs. E. and W. Hitchcock, for the purposes of bleaching and dyeing straw plait. ...

Herts Advertiser: 21st August 1880: FIRE AT BEECH HYDE. - Late on Wednesday night, a fire, unhappily disastrous in its results, broke out on Beech Hyde farm, which is occupied by Mr G. S. Woollatt. When the discovery was made, Mr Woollatt went to his son, at Samwell's farm, which adjoins, in order to procure his assistance. On returning several ricks, a barn, and cowsheds were on fire. So far as was possible, the fire was kept under by the Messers. Woollatt until someone arrived, who could be dispatched for the St Albans engines. The necessary messenger arrived in the city soon after four o'clock, and both the city and county brigades at once left for the scene of what was indeed a conflagration. The fire was not got under till nearly seven. The ricks were entirely destroyed, the out-buildings considerably damaged, and the dwelling house was somewhat scorched. One sad feature about the occurrence is that four calves, which were in the sheds, were burnt to death. As for the cause of the fire, little is definitely known, but there is one fact that the incendiary had a hand in the outbreak. When Mr Woollatt, jun., was returning from the fire to his own home he observed a man leave the house, and afterwards found that the things inside had been pulled about and a double-barrell gun stolen. [This report was published on the Saturday and early on the Sunday morning Edward Anstee, the farmer at Marshalswick Farm, was shot using the stolen gun and the story of the murder, and the events leading to it, became national news.]

The "Great fire at St Albans" occurred on 27th August 1882. I have no details of the fire but I noted the following item relating to the waterworks:

Herts Advertiser: 2nd September 1882: Following the major fire a special meeting of the Council . … Complaint was made as to the scarcity of water at the late fire, and the justice of the complaint was pretty generally admitted. It was explained that the the shortness was to be attributed not so much to any actual leak of supply from the central source itself, as from the confusion arising in consequence of the present mixed arrangements regarding constant and intermittent supply …

Herts Advertiser: 24th March 1883: Report of a railway hut fire.

Herts Advertiser: 18th April 1885: Report of a rick fire.

Herts Advertiser: 31st May 1890: St Albans Cricket Club Sports at Heath Farm, Bernards Heath: ...  TUG OF WAR. – Prizes for the winning team, six plated mugs. This event aroused much interest locally. Four teams entered – the County Club, the Volunteers, the Police and the Fire Brigade. In the first round the County Club asserted their superior weight, and in the second round the guardians of the peace defeated the amateur soldiers. In the final, between the County Club and the Police, the latter pulled well together and won easily. ...

Herts Advertiser: 31st May 1890: [Summary from St Albans News of 1890] ARSON IN ST PETER’S PARK. Adam Sutherland, 31, porter, was indicted with maliciously setting fire to a stack of hay, the property of Edward Cousens, at St Peters on May 26th, 1890. At 4.30 on Whitmonday the prisoner and others were seen around the hay-stack. Before leaving the stack, a crackling was heard as of fire. The man was followed to the Cricketer’s Arms public house where he was detained. Though he has pipe and wax vestas in his pocket he had no tobacco or pouch on him. When apprehended the man was with a young lady though he was the worse for drink. When charged he said “I am innocent.” Though character references were given, he was found guilty by the jury, with a recommendation to mercy. He was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Herts Advertiser 25th March 1893: [Subscription List] I have noted that Jacob Reynolds subscribed £1 1s 0d towards the cost of the proposed steam fire engine.

Herts Advertiser 1st April 1893: Paper prints details of the new Merryweather fire engine for St Albans, Captain Thorpe was the fire chief.

Herts Advertiser 6th May 1893: Arrival of Fire Engine at St Albans. Details given of the engine, hand-over, and demonstration. St Albans fire crew were Capt. Thorpe, Sergts Smith and Younger, Engineers Sutton and D Arnold, and firemen Titmuss, Steabben and Paul.

Herts Advertiser 12th May 1894: Cricket Match: St Albans Police & Fire Brigade team played Sandridge team at Sandridge. The Sandridge Team included F Reynolds, H Reynolds, A J Reynolds and – Reynolds and J Kidman {all my relatives!].

Herts Advertiser 27th November 1897: Account of destructive fire at Cheapside Farm, Sandridge - with sketch - Tenant A J Reynolds, landlord Earl Spencer.

Herts Advertiser 1st April 1899: FIRE IN ST PETERS STREET. - On Monday night at about 8.45 the attention of P.C. Brotherton was called to a fire which had broken out at the residence of Mr Richard Brabant, of St Peters Street. On gaining admittance to the place he found that a huge oil lamp was on fire and threatened every minute to explode. P.C. Pike and P.C. Lewis arrived on the scene and P.C. Brotherton failing to put the lamp out. pluckily picked it up and threw it from the window. Meanwhile a large crowd had gathered, but the people had been warned to keep well back. When the lamp was on the road the police attempted to extinguish it by stamping on it. This appeared to amuse the crowd, and they started clapping. …

Herts Advertiser 19th September 1899: RICK FIRES NEAR ST ALBANS: HEAVY DAMAGE SUSTAINED: Farmers whose occupations skirt the lines of railway, at the time of the ripening of their crops, are placed in danger of losses more or less severe by reason of the frequent fires which occur, and which are largely attributed to sparks from passing engines. Several cases of destruction of crops in this way have been recorded of late, and one needs only to travel a very short distance to observe large ricks of charred stubble as the result of falling sparks from passing locomotives. Between St Albans and Luton many of these black patches are to be seen in the fields alongside the railway. Damage of a more serious nature has also been done, for reports have been received of two rather serious rick fires. The first of these occurred upon Cheapside Farm, Sandridge, in the occupation of Mr. A. J. Reynolds. At 12.30 on Sunday it was discovered that three stacks of wheat straw and two of winter oats had been ignited, presumably by a spark from a passing engine. The fire rapidly got firm hold of the stacks, and in the absence of a plentiful supply of water, attempts to save them were looked upon as futile; and they were therefore allowed to burn out; doing damage to the extent of £23, which is covered by insurance in the Law and Union and Crown Offices. On the same day …

On or about 9th January 1901 the new house in Sandridge Road, St Albans, belonging to H. F. Reynolds, veterinary surgeon, [my grandfather] burnt down.

Considerable damage was done to the bleaching works of Mr. W. Hitchcock, in Grange Street, St Albans, by a fire which broke out there on the night of July 4th, 1901.

Hertfordshire Almanac 1904: [7th April 1903] Disastrous fire at Messrs Cooper, Box & Co’s straw plait factory at St Albans in which the premises were completely gutted and the entire stock destroyed, involving loss to the extent of several thousand pounds.

16th February 1911 - fire at tallow works, Bernards Heath.

July, 2007

Alan is producing a limited circulation booklet on his researches and I will post details on this site when it is ready.

There are web pages for Bernards Heath and  St Albans

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Page updated July 2007