First Municipal Fire Brigade Forms
Our reliance on local and central authorities to take care of our lives is a relatively recent phenomenon, as the history of fire-fighting in this country witnesses. In the Middle Ages if something caught fire the people in the area had to tackle it themselves, often with disastrous consequences: read any town history and at some point there will be a fire that destroyed swathes of buildings there; wooden structures with thatched roofs, the whole heated with open fires...
The Fire of London in 1666 was the perfect demonstration of the inadequacy of such arrangements. When the city was being rebuilt entrepreneur Nicholas Barbon not only engaged in reconstruction projects, he also sold what was in effect fire insurance on them; to keep claims down he created a private fire service for his clients. The system caught on, and soon fire-marks denoting cover by an insurance company would be seen on commercial premises and the houses of the better off – no mark, no help.
In the 1720s two milestones in British fire-fighting occurred. Firstly, in 1725 Richard Newsham, by trade a button-maker, patented his ‘bed-poster’ design fire-engine, capable of pumping a continuous stream of water over a blaze. Secondly, the following year the East Riding town of Beverley instituted a municipal fire brigade: officers were recruited for it, and given charge of the town’s own fire engine, a radical approach that took a few years to catch on elsewhere – Tetbury in 1745 probably the next town to follow suit.
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