Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Service Industry / General - Firemen

    In the year 1833, most of the insurance companies, seeing the benefit of mutual co-operation, and the effectual working of a system which had been put in force in Edinburgh, joined in the formation of the present 'London Fire-Engine Establishment.' The companies were ten in number, viz, the Alliance, Atlas, Globe, Imperial, London Assurance, Protector, Royal Exchange, Sun, Union, and Westminster. Subsequently, five others, the British, Guardian, Hand-in-Hand, Norwich Union, and Phoenix, joined the establishment; as did two or three recently-formed companies; and there are now only two fire-offices in London not belonging to it.
    The affairs of the new Association were placed under the management of a committee, consisting of a Director from each of the associated insurance companies, which subscribe towards its support in certain agreed proportions. London was divided into five districts, which may be briefly indicated thus: - 1st, Eastward of Aldersgate Street and St. Paul's; 2nd, thence westward to Tottenham Court Road and St. Martin's Lane; 3rd, all westward of the 2nd; 4th, South of the river, and East of Southwark Bridge; 5th, South of the river, and west of Southwark Bridge. In these five districts were established engine-stations, averaging about three to each district; at each of which was one, two, or three engines, according to the importance of the station.
    Such were the general arrangements as to distribution.
    Since the year 1833 various minor changes have been made, according as experience pointed out the necessity for them; and at the present time the arrangements are nearly as follow: The establishment belongs to eighteen fire-insurance companies. There are fourteen stations, of which the most eastern is at Ratcliff, and the most western near Portman Square. At these stations are kept thirty-five engines, for whose management about ninety men are employed. The men are clothed in a uniform, and are selected with especial reference to their expertness and courage at fires; they are collectively known as the 'Fire Brigade,' and are all under the orders and direction of Mr. Braidwood, the superintendent of the establishment. A certain number of these men are ready at all hours of the day and night, and the engines are also always ready to depart at a minute's warning in case of fire. As a rule for general guidance, it is arranged that, when a fire occurs in any district, all the men and engines in that district shall repair to the spot, together with two-thirds of the men and engines from each of the two districts next adjoining to it, and one-third from each of those most removed from it; but this arrangement is liable to modification, according to the extent of a fire, or the number which may be burning at one time.
    The general economy of the establishment, and the fearlessness of the brigade-men, have won a large measure of praise from nearly all classes in the metropolis. If self-interest were the chief motive which led the insurance companies to the establishment of a system likely to reduce their own losses, there is anything but selfishness in the risks which the men encounter in saving lives and property, the poor as well as the rich, the uninsured as well as the insured.
    It has been often supposed that there are observatories on the roofs of the insurance offices or engine-houses, where watchmen are posted at all hours of the night to detect the appearance of fire, and to give notice to those below. This, if ever acted on, is not observed by the Fire-engine Establishment. There is an arrangement made by the Police commissioners, that a policeman, on observing a fire, communicates instantly to the nearest engine- station; and for so doing the Association gives him a gratuity of ten shillings. This, and a smaller gratuity to other persons who 'call an engine,' is found sufficient to command prompt information on the occurrence of a fire. It is true that the lovers of mischief so far show their silliness as to give 'false alarms,' to an average extent of some sixty or seventy per annum; and that the brigade- men are sometimes tantalized by atmospherical phenomena. It has often happened, in reference to the latter point, that an aurora borealis has so deceived the beholders as to lead to the impression that a great conflagration has broken out; in such case the engines are sent for precipitately, and all is in commotion. Two remarkable instances of this occurred about six years ago. On the first of these, twelve engines and seventy-four brigade-men were kept in constant motion from eleven in the evening till six the next morning, in endeavouring to search out what appeared to be a large conflagration; some of the engines reached Hampstead, and others Kilburn, before it was found that the glare was the effect of the 'northern lights.' On the other occasion, a crimson glare of light arose at the north-east part of the horizon, at about eight o'clock in the evening, seemingly caused by a fierce conflagration; and the resemblance was increased by what appeared to be clouds of smoke rising up after the glare, and breaking and rolling away beneath it. Thirteen engines and a large body of men went in search of the supposed fire, and did not detect their error till they had proceeded far to the north-east. Subsequent accounts showed that the military and fire-patroles at Dublin, Leyden, Utrecht, Strasbourg, Troyes, Rennes, and Nantes, had been similarly deceived by the atmospherical phenomena on the same night.
    When, however, it is really a conflagration to which the attention of the brigade is called, there is an admirable coolness and system displayed in the whole proceedings. The water companies, by clauses in the Acts of Parliament regulating their foundation, are bound to furnish water freely in case of fire; and the hose or suction-pipe of every engine is speedily placed in connexion with the temporary pool of water derived from the street-plug. Then is observable a singular instance of the confidence which the firemen have that they shall obtain the aid of bystanders, for the firemen belonging to each engine are wholly insufficient to work it. The director or captain of each engine is empowered by the companies to pay - we believe at the rate of one shilling for the first hour, and sixpence per hour afterwards, together with a supply of creature-comforts' - for the services of as many strangers as he may need. It requires from twenty or thirty men to work each engine; and so extensive is the service thus rendered, that, at one of the large fires a few years ago, more than five hundred temporary servants were thus engaged.
    While the supernumeraries are thus engaged with the engines, the brigade-men are directing the stream of water on the destructive element which they have to combat. Clothed in a neat and compact dress, with a stout leathern helmet to protect the head, they face the fiercest heat, alternately drenched with water from the pipes of the various engines, and half scorched by the flaming materials. Over and under, through and around the burning house, they direct their energies, braving alike the fire itself and the dangers attendant on falling ruins. It is lamentable to think that men, while thus engaged in a work of humanity, should lose their own lives; but such is the case, although, on account of the judicious arrangements of the corps, not very frequently.
    Many of the most serious dangers attendant on a fire arise from the suffocating influence of the vast body of smoke which usually accompanies it. It has been thought, by those well qualified to form an opinion, that the calamity of being 'burnt to death' rarely, if ever, occurs, in the strict sense of the expression; that the real cause of death is suffocation from smoke, the burning and charring of the corpse being an after effect. To rescue individuals enveloped in smoke is thus a matter of anxious solicitude, and, to facilitate the exertions of the firemen to this end, they are provided with a very ingeniously-constructed smoke-proof dress. This dress is nearly analogous in principle to that of Mr. Deane, the diver. It consists of a leathern jacket and head-covering, fastened at the waist and wrists, whereby the interior is made tolerably smokeproof. Two glass windows serve for the eyes to look through; and a pipe attached to the girdle allows fresh air to be pumped into the interior of the jacket, to support the respiration of the wearer. Thus equipped, the fireman may dare the densest smoke, although the dress is not so formed as to resist flame.

Charles Knight, Knight's London, 1842

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The Illustrated London News, 1843

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The Illustrated London News, March 31, 1849

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The Illustrated London News, Jul.-Dec., 1851

see also London by Day and Night - click here


THE fire-engines of London, including the puffing Billies which make such a ferment of steam and smoke along the streets, now belong to the public, or at least will do so as soon as the recent statute comes into operation. Strange it may appear to continental nations that these invaluable aids to the security of our dwellings have hitherto been absolutely unrecognised by the government, the municipality, or any public body.
    For a period of ninety years there has really been only one statute in operation containing compulsory rules as to fire-engines; and this refers only to the little half-pint, squirts known to us as parish engines. It is to the effect that every parish must keep one large engine and one small, one leathern pipe, and a certain number of ladders. What the parishes might have done if no other organisation had sprung up, we do not know; but the insurance companies having taken up the matter, the parishes backed out, doing only just as little as the law actually compelled, and doing that little about as ineffectively as possible. It used to be fine fun to see the magnificent beadle and his troop of young leather-breeches drag the parish engine to a fire, and profess to pump upon the flames. But that fun has sadly waned; some of the engines have died from asthma or rickets, or have been laid up with rheumatism in the joints ; while others are so rusty and dusty, and the key of the engine-house is so likely to be lost, that we can afford to forget them altogether.
    No ; it is to the insurance offices, and not to any governing or official body whatever, that we are indebted for our capital fire-engines, and the small army of brave fellows who attend them. The system was a self-interested one, of course, in the first instance; seeing that the companies were not bound to take care of any property save that in which they were directly concerned. But the curious part of the matter is, that the companies have long ceased to feel that kind of interest, and have actually kept up the engines and the brigade-men at a loss, until the public authorities should fill up the gap. In the first instance, the fire insurance companies thought fire-engines an essential part of their establishments; seeing that the less damage was inflicted on the property for which they had granted policies, the less they would have to pay to the persons insured. They bought, each company for itself, as many fire-engines as they chose, and paid for as many men as they chose to manage them. When a fire occurred, out rushed these engines, with no paucity of heroic daring on the part of the men. But then two evils arose. Each corps cared only for such houses as were insured in one particular office, and deemed it no matter of duty to save adjacent property. The other evil was, that the men quarrelled with each other as to precedent claims for reward, and sometimes fought while the flames were blazing. To lessen if not re- move these evils, was the purpose of a very useful arrangement made about forty years ago. The managing director of the Sun Fire Office proposed that, without interfering with the independent action of the companies in other ways, they should place all their fire-engines in one common stock, to be managed by one superintendent, under a code of laws applicable to all the firemen; the system to be administered with due impartiality to all the partners, and paid for out of a common purse, to which all should contribute. It was a sagacious suggestion, proper to come from the largest of the companies. As some minds move more slowly than others, so do some companies fall in more readily than others with a new and bold scheme. At first the Sun, the Union, and the Royal Exchange were the only companies which entered cordially into the scheme; the others "didn't see it." Then the Atlas and the Phoenix joined. This limited partnership lasted till the year eighteen hundred and thirty-three, when all the companies assisted in the formation of the London Fire-Engine Establishment. Mr. Braidwood threw his energies into its organisation, and gallantly headed the brigade-men in their dangerous duties for some thirty years; but he fell in the great fire at Tooley-street four years ago a brave man dying at his post.
    The arrangement of this fire establishment is peculiar. Any insurance company may belong to it, on paying a fair quota of expenses; and the total number has gradually risen to about thirty. Each board of directors sends one or more delegates to represent it, and the delegates form a committee for managing the system. All the engines and apparatus, floating engines, and engine-houses, belong to the committee ; and out of the funds provided by the several companies, the committee pays the salaries of the superintendent, inspectors, and firemen. The metropolis has been divided into a certain number of districts, convenient as to size and relative position ; and each district has a station at which the engines are kept, with firemen always ready to dash out when their services are needed. These head-quarters of districts, to which the boys "run to fetch the engines," are at Watling-street, Tooley-street, Southwark Bridge-road, Wellclose-square, Jeffrey's-square, Shadwell, Rotherhithe, Whitecross-street, Farringdon-street, Holborn, Chandos-street, Crown-street, Waterloo-road, Wells-street, Baker-street, King'-street, and Horseferry-road. Captain Shaw, the present commander-in-chief of the brigade, pitches his camp at Watling-street. These stations have engines and men ready day and night. The general allowance is three engines, four horses, and about nine men to each station. Electric wires extend from station to station, affording means for communicating the news of a fire very quickly ; and the men pride themselves on the rapidity with which they can horse their engines and start off. The most prominent novelty in the organisation of the system is the steam fire-engine, which drives the water forth in a jet such as no engine worked by hand power can equal. During the International Exhibition, there was a grand field-day of steam fire-engines in Hyde Park, at which Marshals Shand and Mason, General Merryweather, and other steam magnates, showed what they could do. One engine shot forth three hundred gallons of water in a minute ; and another sent up a jet to a prodigious height, showing how useful such a power would be when a lofty building is on fire. In some of the steam-engines, such is the arrangement of the boiler and flues, the water can be raised from the freezing temperature to the boiling point in ten or twelve minutes. The attendant genii have not to wait for steam before they start ; they fill the boiler with water, light the fire, gallop away, frighten all the old women, delight all the boys, and nearly madden all the dogs ; and by the time they arrive at the scene of conflagration, the water boils and the steam is ready for working. Captain Shaw speaks highly of these steam fire-engines ; and more and more of them are to be seen rattling through the metropolis. All the engines, steam and hand, have their regular quota of apparatus stowed in and around them scaling-ladders, canvas sheets, lengths of hose, lengths of rope, nose-pipes, rose-jets, hooks, saws, shovels, pole-axes, crow-bars, wrenches, &c.
    Fires are multiplying quite as fast as the population, despite the tact that fire-proof construction of buildings is more adopted than ever. London heads the list with fourteen hundred fires annually ; Liverpool follows with three hundred, Manchester with about two hundred and fifty, and Glasgow with over two hundred. In America, New York and Philadelphia both range between three and four hundred ; Paris about equals Liverpool; Berlin and Hamburg each about equals Manchester. The difference between any one year and the next is never very considerable ; for a sort of law of human carelessness prevails, leading us to a pretty steady aggregate of mishaps. Captain Shaw will not include "chimneys" or "false alarms" among his fourteen hundred. In one of the recent years there were sixteen days with no fire, one day with nine fires ; but the average is between three and four fires per day. The late Mr. Braidwood tried to ascertain whether the social and industrial habits of the people lead to a predominance of fires at particular seasons, days, and hours. In one year, August was most disastrous, October least; Tuesday the most disastrous day, Wednesday the least. There is no reason traceable for this ; and as the disastrous months and days differed in other years, we may pass the matter by. There are reasons, however, connected with the social habits of Londoners in respect to fire and light, which render intelligible the statement that more fires break out about ten or eleven in the evening, and fewer at six or seven in the morning, than at any other periods of the day. As to the causes of fire, one out of every six or seven is set down either as "wilful," "suspicious," or "unknown." The known causes, besides the more obvious connected with flues, ovens, boilers, gas explosions, include "cinders laid by hot," "poker left in the fire," "reading in bed," " playing with lucifers," "cigar-ends and pipe-lights thrown down carelessly," "sun set fire to fusees," "cat upset linen-horse," "cat ignite lucifers," in fact, we are inclined to think that puss is made responsible for more sins than she really commits, in this as in other kinds of wickedness. The terrible crime of arson terrible in relation to the peril to innocent life it brings with it we say nothing of here ; the insurance companies suspect more than they openly accuse.
    In France, the system is military ; the sappers and miners, or sapeurs-pompiers, are the firemen when on home-duty, in whatever town it may be. The fire-engines are small, but very numerous ; and as Paris houses have more complete and lofty party walls than those of London, rendering the spread of fire from house to house less likely, the engines and the sapeurs suffice. In Germany, many of the larger towns empower the police to demand the assistance of the inhabitants in case of fire. A night-watch man is perched upon some high place; when he sees a fire he fires a gun, and telegraphs with lanterns ; the inhabitants then drag the fire-engines in the direction shown by him. In America, the volunteer system is adopted. New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburg, San Francisco, and most of the large towns, have their respective volunteer fire-brigades. At New York there are no less than two thousand of these volunteers, grouped into eight, brigades ; and a dashing sight it seems to be when they have their annual procession through the city. Captain Leonard says that San Francisco is divided into a number of wards, each of which has its quota of engines, firemen, and hook-and-ladder men. A tocsin bell at the station of each ward gives the sound of alarm to the neighbouring wards, and the alarm of fire is thus speedily disseminated through the city. The firemen are a fine body of young men, in a smart yet suitable working dress, consisting of a red shirt and trousers, a belt, and a helmet, the latter indicating which corps the fireman belongs to, such as the First or Second Tigers. The fire-engines are generally beautiful models of their kind, very light, and in some cases deco- rated with silver ornaments. The larger engines are worked by steam, and send forth an immense body of water. By the rules of the several corps, a volunteer fireman, however engaged, is bound when the fire tocsin rings to don his helmet and red shirt and appear at his post. The hook-and-ladder men attend the firemen, and render service like that rendered by our admirable fire-escape brigade. The example of America is not wholly lost upon us here in England. The dock companies mostly possess private engines ; so do many of our large public establishments, and many large mansions. But the voluntary system, properly so called, is that which is intended to serve others as much as ourselves. Hodges's Distillery certainly takes the lead among such, so far as London is concerned. Well-appointed fire-engines, for steam as well as manual power, firemen clothed and accoutred at all points, an observatory whence a look-out is maintained all night, fire bells at the residence and the distillery, half a mile of hose or leathern water-pipe, horses and harness kept in such readiness that an engine can be sent off to the scene of a fire within three minutes after the fire-bell is heard, a lieutenant to command the men under the proprietor as captain there is something very gallant about this, and we touch hat to Mr. Hodges. This brigade has gone out to attend more than a hundred fires in twelve months, and not simply on the Lambeth side of the water. The example is spreading. Early in the present year it was stated that there were at that time forty-three Volunteer Fire Brigades in Great Britain, possessing seventy manual and steam fire-engines.
    There is something catching, not only in fire, but in the exciting enthusiasm connected with a large conflagration in London. One of our noble dukes has had a telegraphic wire laid from the nearest engine-station to his own bed- room, in order that he may jump up and go out to a house on fire, if so disposed ; and, not many weeks ago, the same nobleman gave an afternoon fete to all the firemen, on the lawn attached to his mansion. Nay, even the heir to the throne has donned the fireman's helmet, and ridden on the engine to the scene of a conflagration. In a recent fire on a small scale at Marlborough House, the royal fireman mounted on the roof, and did his duty. A fire levels all distinctions. More than one despotic king and emperor on the Continent has shown a relish for this kind of volunteer service, lending a hand, ordering the lazy, encouraging the timid, rewarding the brave, and doing hot battle to save a cottage.
    The insurance companies, we have said, wish to get rid of the cost and responsibility of maintaining the engines and the brigade. It is known that there is twice as much uninsured as insured property in the metropolis. The engine- men direct their gallant services equally to all houses and buildings, small and great, insured and uninsured. What is the consequence ? The companies do their best to extinguish fires in twice as many buildings with which they have no interest, as in those which are properly insured. If the brigade-men allowed a fire to blaze away because the house was not insured, what a public commotion there would be ! And yet the companies get no thanks for their unpaid service. There is no official recognition whatever of the brigade by any governmental, parliamentary, municipal, or parochial authorities.
    The London Brigade has received only a few augmentations in its strength during many years past, and is now too weak for the requirements of so vast a city. The companies refuse to strengthen it, because the non-insurers would get the lion's share of the benefit. Three years ago they addressed the Home Secretary on the subject ; they pointed out that there is no such anomaly in any other city in Europe or America, announced their intention of discontinuing their fire-engine establishment as soon as it could be done without public inconvenience, offered to transfer their establishment to some well-constituted public body on easy terms, suggested a small house-rate of a farthing or a halfpenny in the pound to defray the annual expenses, and expressed their willingness to render aid in every way towards the development of the new scheme. A committee of the House of Commons, in the same year, supported these recommendations, and named the Commissioners of Police as a fitting body to be entrusted with the work. In the years 'sixty-three and 'sixty- four the matter was well talked over ; and now we have an act (lately passed) which defines what is to be done. The Metropolitan Board of Works, and not the Commissioners of Police, are to have the management. On the first day of next year the new order of things will begin. The board are to build or buy new fire- engines and fire-escapes, or to buy up those now existing, whether from companies or societies, at their discretion. They will form a brigade of their own, and will pension off such of the brigade-men (if any) as they do not want. They may establish fire-engine stations at as many parts of the metropolis as they choose, and may make all necessary contracts with water companies and telegraph companies. They may draw up a scale of salaries, gratuities, and pensions for those employed by them in these duties. They may make arrangements with parishes for a transfer of parish engines and men. The government is to contribute ten thousand a year, on account of so many of the government, establishments being in the metropolis. The fire insurance companies are to contribute thirty-five pounds for every million sterling of property insured by them, as an honorarium for the new brigade's extinguishing of fires in insured property. The remaining expenses are to be defrayed by an additional halfpenny in the pound on the poor-rates. For the good working of the statute, intimate relations are to exist between the new brigade, the police, and the insurance companies, in all that relates to property under fire. Lastly a hint to those who neglect the chimney-sweeper a chimney on fire will entail a penalty of twenty shillings on the owner or occupier of the room to which the chimney may belong.

All the Year Round, September 2 1865

Society for the Preservation of Life from Fire: office, 47 Ludgate Hill; secretary, Mr. S. Low, jun.; was first established in 1836, but not fully organised until 1843. It maintains, in different parts of the Metropolis, 73 fire-escape stations, usually at distances of about half a mile from each other. At each station there is a fire-escape, attended throughout the night by a conductor well instructed in its use, and provided with all necessary implements. From 1843 to March 31, 1861, the Society's fire-escapes have attended no less than 5211 fires, and rescued 670 lives. Great - as is the amount of good represented by these simple figures, much more would have been and could be effected - if the public tendered a more liberal and constant support. The total receipts for 1861 were 7794l. 17s. 2d., which, with the balance from 1860, gives an aggregate of 8843l. 4s. 0d. The expenditure amounted to 7470l. 3s. 9d., leaving a balance in hand of 1373l. 0s. 3d. The fire-escape in use is Abraham Wivell's; its height varies from 43 ft. to 45 ft., and by means of a supplemental ladder even 60 feet can, if necessary, be obtained. Each machine weighs 8? cwt., and costs 60l.
   As a useful commentary on these few details, we condense the annual report, for 1861, of the London Fire Brigade, issued by the present superintendent, Captain Shaw:

Fires in 1861.

Totally destroyed 53*
Two to six miles from nearest station 20
Hazardous trades 25
Number of buildings destroyed 113
At great fire, Tooley Street 33
At london, six miles from station 7
Considerably damaged 332
Slightly damaged 798
[Total] 1183**
Fires at private houses 196
Totally destroyed 2
Considerably damaged 25
Slightly damaged 169
Fires at lodgings 115
Slightly damaged 105
Fires at churches 5
Fires at hospitals 1
Fires at places of entertainment 2
Fires at unoccupied premises 11
Slightly damaged 9
Fires in wagons on road 2
Trifling fires, about  4000
Chimney " "  3000 [Of these no record is kept.]
False alarms 19 
Chimney alarms 137

The Fire Brigade, with 120 skilled workmen, 36 engines, and 18 stations, is maintained at an expense of close upon 25,000l. a year by the various fire-insurance offices which contribute, in a ratable proportion, on their business, 70l. per 1,000,000l., with a fixed payment of 100l. a year:- from the gigantic Sun (office), which, paying on a business of 53,804,000l., will pay for the first six months a quota of 1933l. 2s. 0d., to the Queen, a country office, which, on a London business of under 1,000,000l., will pay 85l. The management is vested in a committee, which contains one representative from each office.

* An excess of 25 over 1860, and of 18 over 28 years' average. 
** An excess of 127 over 1860, and of 391 over 28 years' average.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865 

In 1798 was formed the Fire-watch or Fire-guard of London; the Insurance Offices still keeping their separate engine establishments. In 1808, Sir F. M. Eden, then chairman of the Globe Insurance Company, proposed to form a general fire-engine establishment, but the attempt failed. About 1825, the Sun, Union, and Royal Exchange formed a brigade. In 1832, eight Insurance Companies formed an alliance for assisting each other at fires; hence the "London Fire-Engine Establishment," which commenced operations in 1833. By the rules, London was divided into five districts: in each were engine-stations: besides a floating-engine off Rotherhithe and Southwark Bridge; these required more than 100 men each for working, and threw up two tuns of water per minute. A certain number of the men or "Fire Brigade," superintended by Mr. Braidwood, were ready at all hours of the day and night, as were also the engines, to depart at a minute's alarm, in case of fire. The Associations awarded gratuities to policemen who gave an alarm to the nearest engine-station; and the director or captain of each engine paid strangers or bystanders for aid: it required from twenty to thirty men to work each engine; and at a large fire, 500 strangers were sometimes thus employed. Sometimes the engines were summoned by electric telegraph, and conveyed by railway to fires in the country.

The number of engines kept was 37; of the Fire Brigade, 96. The men wore a dark grey uniform, trimmed with red, black leather waist-belts, hardened leathern helmets, reminding one of the leathern casque and "the Dardan hero" of Gay's Trivia. The engines were provided with scaling ladders; a canvas sheet, with handles of rope round the edge, to form a fire-escape; besides ropes, hose, branch-pipes, suction-pipes, a fiat rose, goose-neck, dam-board, boat-hook, saw, shovel, mattock, pole- axe, screw-wrench, crowbar, portable cistern, two dog-tails, strips of sheep-skin, small cord, instruments for opening the fire-plugs, and keys for turning the stop-cocks of the water-mains.
    Another ingenious provision was a smoke-proof dress, consisting of a leathern jacket and head covering, fastened at the waist and wrist, so that the interior is smoke-proof: two glass windows served for the eyes to look through, and a pipe attached to the girdle allowed fresh air to be pumped into the interior of the jacket, to support the respiration of the wearer: thus equipped, the fireman could dare the densest smoke.

    Steam-power was first applied to work a fire-engine in 1830. (See ARGYLL ROOMS, p. 22.) There is also on the Thames a steam floating-engine, the machinery of which either propels the vessel, or works the pumps, as required. Subsequently were introduced the land steam fire-engines, by which is diminished damage by water, which is driven by such force by steam that almost every drop does its full duty.
    The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire was first established in 1836; re-organized in 1843; for establishing Fire-escape Stations and Conductors; supported by voluntary subscriptions and parochial vestries.
    As London grows and grows, the number of Fires recorded every year in the vast agglomeration of brick and mortar increases also. Thus in 1863 the total was 1404, being 101 more than in 1862. In the latter year, the Parliamentary Committee appointed to inquire into the existing arrangements for the Protection of Life and Property against Fire in the Metropolis, reported that twenty years previously the number of fires in London was about 450, and in 1862 the total number was 1183. According to Sir Richard Mayne's estimate, the whole of the Metropolitan Police area and the City of London together, extending over 700 square miles, may be considered as containing rather above 3,000,000 of inhabitants, residing in about 475,000 houses, and the rental for taxation about 14,800,000l. The magnitude of the interest at stake was also shown by Mr. Newmarch, who stated in his evidence that the total value of property insurable against fire within six miles of Charing Cross was not less than 900,000,000l., and of this not more than about 300,000,000l were insured.
    A new force, under the management of the Board of Works, and with the title of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, embodying the whole of the present force and engines of the London Fire Establishment, is doubly strengthened. The plan decided on is that of Captain Shaw, who has been appointed its chief superintendent. The force consists of' chiefs and 350 officers and men, 4 steam floating-engines, 4 large land-steamers, 27 small land-steamers, and 37 large manual engines, with horses, drivers, &c. These are distributed among 33 large and 56 small fire-stations, protecting an area of about 117 square miles. Compared with the previous Fire Brigade, the increase is 72 additional stations, 219 extra firemen, 2 large floating and 2 large land-steamers, 21 small land-steamers, and 61 manual engines. The cost of its maintenance is not to exceed 50,000l. per annum, partly contributed by a public rate of ?d. in the pound, 10,000l. contributed by the various metropolitan fire-insurance companies, and 10,000l. from the Government. There are nearly 500 parish engines in the metropolis, but not more than 20 were considered to be sufficiently efficient to be accepted in the new force.
    By the establishment of telegraphic communication between the central station in Watling-street and the other principal stations, the necessary force of men and engines can be despatched to the required spot in a much shorter time than formerly. There are also telegraph lines to docks, railways, wharves, and warehouses.

By the aid of the telegraph the firemen at each station can now be informed of the locality of a fire with much greater certainty than formerly. By means of fixed compasses at cash observatory, "cross-bearings are taken from distant points, and the results sent to the central station in Watling-street. The exact locality is then ascertained by observing on a map the spot at which the lines converge. The process is simply the reverse of that by which a ship's position is ascertained at sea," and can be easily accomplished in the three minutes occupied in turning out an engine.-(Capt. Shaw's Report, 1864.) The crowds at fires are now kept off by stretched wire-ropes.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

The nightly watch is of peculiar utility in case of fire, as in every police station the names of the turncocks, and the places where engines are kept, are to be found. Protection from fire is insured by the Fire Brigade, lately extended and placed under the direction of the Metropolitan Board of Works. To this brigade the fire insurance offices contribute a large sum yearly. Fire engines and fire-escapes are stationed in various districts, with active men and horses. Telegraphic signals communicate from one station to another. By means of the fire-plugs water is quickly supplied, and the general security is guaranteed by every effort of vigilance and activity.

Routledge's Popular Guide to London, [c.1873]

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade


    This startling cry aroused me one night as I was putting the finishing touches to some literary work. Rushing, pen in hand, to the window, I could just perceive a dull red glare in the northern sky, which, even as I gazed, became more vivid and threw some chimneys near at hand into strong relief. A fire undoubt?edly, and not far distant!
    The street, usually so quiet at night, had suddenly awakened. The alarm which had reached me had aroused my neighbours on each side of the way, and every house was ?well alight? in a short space of time. Doors were flung open, windows raised, white forms were visible at the casements, and curiosity was rife. Many men and some venturesome women quitted their houses, and proceeded in the direction of the glare, which was momentarily increasing, the glow on the clouds waxing and waning according as the flames shot up or temporarily died down.
    ?Where is it ?? people ask in a quick, panting way, as they hurry along. No one can say for certain. But just as We think it must be in ?Westminster, we come in sight of a huge column of smoke, and turning a corner are within view of the emporium? a tall, six-storied block, stored with inflam?mable commodities, and blazing fiercely. - Next door, or rather the next warehouse, is not yet affected.
    The scene is weird and striking ; the intense glare, the shooting flames which dart viciously out and upwards, the white and red faces of the crowd kept back by the busy police, the puff and clank of the en?gines, the rushing and hissing of the water, - the roar of the fire, and the columns of smoke which in heavy sulky masses hung gloating over the blazing building. The~ bright helmets of the firemen are glinting everywhere, close to the already tottering wall, on the summit of the adjacent buildings, which are already smoking. Lost on ladders, amid smoke, they pour a torrent of water on the burning and seething premises. Above all the monotonous ?puff, puff? of the steamer is heard, and a buzz of admira?tion ascends from the attentive, silent crowd. 
Suddenly arises a yell?a wild, unearthly cry, which almost makes one?s blood run cold even in that atmosphere. A tremor seizes us as a female form appears at an upper window, framed in flame, curtained with smoke and noxious fumes. 
    ?Save her ! Save her?
    The crowd sways and surges women scream ; strong men clench their hands and swear?Heaven only knows why. But be?fore the police have headed back the people the escape is on the spot, two men are on it, one outstrips his mate, and darting up the ladder, leaps into the open window. 
    He is swallowed up in a moment?lost to - our sight. Will he ever return out of that fiery furnace? Yes, here he is, bearing a senseless female form, which he passes out to his mate, who is calmly watching his progress, though the ladder is in imminent danger. Quick! The flames approach!
    The man on the ladder does not wait as his mate again disappears and emerges with a child about fourteen. Carrying this burthen easily, he descends the ladder. The first man is already flying down the escape, head-first, holding the woman?s dress round her feet. The others, rescuer and rescued, follow. The ladder is withdrawn, burning.
    A mighty cheer arises ?mid the smoke. ?Two lives saved! The fire is being mastered. More engines gallop up. ?The Captain? is on the spot, too. The Brigade is victorious. 
    In the early morning hour, as I strolled home deep in thought, I determined to see these men who nightly risk their lives and stalwart limbs for the benefit and preservation of helpless fire-scorched people. Who are these men who go literally through fire and water to assist and save their fellow creatures, strangers to them?unknown, ye in that they require help and succour ? I determined there and then to see these brave fellows in their daily work, or leisure in their homes, amid all the surroundings of cir noble calling. I went accompanied ~- an artistic friend, to whose efforts the illustrations which accompany this record are due.
    Emerging from Oueen-street, we find ourselves upon Southwark Bridge, and we at once plunge into a flood of memories of old friends who come, invisibly, to accompany us on our pilgrimage to old Winchester House, now the head-quarters d the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, in the Southwark Bridge-road. On the bridge? once a 'tolled'  structure known as the Iron Bridge?we find 'Little Dorrit' herself, and her suitor, young John Chivery, in all his brave attire; the young aspirant is downhearted at the decided refusal of Miss to marry him, they pace the then almost unfrequented bridge. Their ghosts cross it in our company, with Clennan and Maggie behind us till we reach the Union-road, once known as Horsemonger-lane, where young John?s ghost quits us to meditate in the back yard of Mr. Chivery?s premises, and become that ?broken down ruin,? catching cold beneath the family washing, which he feared.
    The whole neighbourhood is redolent of Dickens. From a spot close by the head office we can see the buildings which have been erected on the site of the King?s Bench Prison, where Mr. Micawber waited for something to turn up, and where Copperfield lost his box and money. The site of the former haven of domestic tranquillity and peace of mind,? as Micawber styled it, is indicated to us by Mr. Harman ?quite a suitable name in such a connection with Dickens?by whom we are courteously and pleasantly received in the office of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
    Our credentials being in order there is no difficulty experienced in our reception. Nothing can exceed the civility and polite?ness of the officials, and of the rank and file of the Brigade. Fine, active, cheerful fellows, all sailors, these firemen are a credit to their organisation and to London. The Superintendent hands us over to a bright young fellow, who is waiting his promotion?we hope he has reached it, if not a death vacancy?and he takes us in charge kindly.
    Standing in the very entrance, we had already remarked two engines. The folding, automatic doors are closed in front of these machines. One, a steamer, is being nursed by means of a gas tube to keep the fire-box warm. the fire-call rings there is no time to begin to get up steam. The well-heated interior soon acts in response to the quickly lighted fire as the engine starts, and by the time our steamer reaches its destination steam is generated. A spare steamer is close at hand.
    Very bright and clean is the machine, which in a way puts its useful ally, the 'manual',? in the shade though at present the latter kind are more numerous, in the proportion of seventy-eight to forty-eight. Turning from the engines we notice a row of burnished helmets hanging over tunics and below these, great knee-boots, which are so familiar to the citizen. When the alarm is rung, these are donned rapidly but we opine the gates will occupy some time in the opening. 
    Our guide smiles, and points out two ropes hanging immediately over the driving seat of each engine. 
    ?When the engine is ready the coach?man pulls the rope, and the gates open of their own accord, you may say. See here!"
     He turns to the office entrance, where two ropes are hanging side by side. A pull on each, and the doors leading to the back?yard open and unfold themselves. The catch drops deftly into an aperture made to receive it, and the portals are thus kept open. About a second and a half is occupied in this manouuvre.
    We consider it unfortunate that we shall not see a ?turn out,? as alarms by day are not usual. The Superintendent looks quizzical, but says nothing then. He gives instructions to our guide to show us all we want to see, and in this spirit we examine the instrument room close at hand.
    Here are fixed a number of telephonic apparatus, labelled with the names of the stations :?Manchester-square, Clerkenwell, Whitechapel, and so on, five in number, known by the Brigade as Superintendents? Stations, A, B, C, D, E Districts. By these means immediate  communication can be obtained with any portion of the Metropolis, and the condition and requirements of the fires reported. There is also a frame in the outer office which bears a number of electric bells, which can summon the head of any department, or demand the presence of any officer instantly.
    It is extraordinary to see the quiet way in which the work is performed, the ease and freedom of the men, and the strict observance of discipline withal. Very few men are visible as we pass on to the repairing shops. Here the engines are repaired and inspected. There are eleven steamers in the shed, some available for service, and so designated. If an outlying station require a steamer in substitution for its own, here is one ready.  The boilers are examined every six months, and tested by water-pressure up to 180 lbs. on the square inch, in order to sustain safely the steam pressure up to 120 lbs when it blows off.? 
    Passing down the shed we notice the men?all Brigade men?employed at their various tasks in the forge or carpenters? shop. Thus it will be perceived that the - head-quarters enclose many different artizans, and is self-contained. The men w-ere lifting a boiler when we were present, and our artist ?caught them in the act.?
    Close to the entrance is a high 'shoot' in which hang pendant numerous ropes and many lengths of drying hose. The impression experienced when standing under?neath, and gazing upwards, is something - like the feeling one would have while gazing up at the tops of the trees in a pine wood. There is a sense of vastness in this narrow lofty brick enclosure, which is some 70 ft. high. The hose is doubled in its length of 100 ft., and then it drains dry-, for the moisture is apt to conceal itself in the rubber lining, and in the nozzles and head-screws of the hoses.
    No precaution is neglected, no point is missed. Vigilant eyes are everywhere bright responsive faces and ready hands are continually in evidence, but unobtrusively.
    Turning from the repairing shops we proceed to the stables, where we find things in the normal condition of preparedness. - ?Be ready ? is evidently the watchword of the Brigade. Ready, aye ready Neatness and cleanliness are here scrupulously regarded. Tidiness is the feature of the - stables. A pair of horses on either side are standing, faces outward, in their stalls. Four handsome, well-groomed, lithe animals they look; and as we enter they regard us ? with considerable curiosity, a view which we reciprocate.
    Round each horses neck is suspended his collar. A weight let into the woodwork of the stall holds the harness by means of a lanyard and swivel. When the alarm rings the collar is dropped, and in ?half a second? the animals, traces and splinter- bar hanging on their sleek backs and sides, are trotted out and harnessed. Again ~ve express our regret that no kind householder will set fire to his tenement, that no nice children will play with matches or candle this fine morning, and let us ? see every?thing,? like Charles Middlewick.
    Once more our guide smiles, and passes on through the forage and harness-rooms, where we also find a coachman?s room for reading, and waiting on duty.
    It is now nearly mid-day, and we turn to see the fire-drill of the recruits, who, clad in lops, practise all the necessary and requisite work which alone can render them fit for the business They are thus employed from nine o?clock to mid-day, and from two till four p.m. During these five hours the squads are exercised in the art of putting the ladders and escapes on the wagons which convey them to the scene of the fire. The recruit must learn how to raise the heavy machine by his own efforts, by means of a rope rove through a ring-bolt. We had an opporunity to see the recruits raising the machine together to get it off the wagon. The men are practised in leaping up when the vehicle is starting off at a great pace after ?he wheels are manned to give an impetus to the vehicle which carries such a burthen. But the ? rescue drill ? is still more interesting, and this exhibited the strength and dexterity the firemen in a surprising manner. It is striking to notice re different ways in which the rescue of the male and female sexes is accomplished. The sure-footed fireman rapidly ascends the ladder and leaps upon the parapet. The escape is furnished with a 1adder which projects beyond the net. At the bottom a canvas sheet or hammock is suspended so that the rescued shall not suffer from contusions, which formerly were frequent in consequence of the rapid descent.
    One fireman passes into a garret window and emerges with a man. He makes no pause on the parapet, where already, heedless of glare and smoke and the risk of a fall, he has raised on his shoulders the heavy, apparently inanimate, form, and grasp?ing the man round one leg, his arm inside the thigh, he carries him steadily, like a sack of coals, down the ladder as far as the opening of the bag-net of the escape. Here he halts, and puts the man into the net, perhaps head downwards, he himself following in the same position. The man rescued is then let down easily, the fireman using his elbows and knees as ?breaks? to arrest their progress. So the individual is assisted down, and not permitted to go unattended. 
    The rescue of a female is accomplished in a slightly different manner. She is also carried to the ladder, but the rescuer grasps both her legs below the knees, and when he reaches the net he places her head down?wards and grasps her dress tightly round her ankles, holding her thus in a straight posi?tion. Thus her dress is undisturbed, and she is received in the folds of the friendly canvas underneath, in safety.
    There is also a ?jumping drill ? from the windows into a sheet held by the other men. This course of instruction is not so popular, for it seems somewhat of a trial to leap in cold blood into a sheet some twenty feet below. The feat of lifting a grown man (weighing perhaps sixteen stone) from the parapet to the right knee, then, by grasping the waist, getting the limp arm around his neck, and then, holding the leg, to rise up and walk on a narrow ledge amid all the terrible surroundings of a fire, requires much nerve and strength. Frequently we hear of deaths and injuries to men of the Brigade, but no landsman can attain proficiency in even double the time that sailors do?the latter are so accustomed to giddy heights, and to precarious footing. 
    Moreover, the belt, to which a swivel hook is attached, is a safeguard of which Jack takes every advantage. This equipment enables him to hang on to a ladder and swing about like a monkey, having both hands free to save or assist a victim of the fire or one of his mates. There is a death-roll of about five men annually, on the average, and many are injured, if not fatally yet very seriously, by falling walls and such accidents. Drenched and soaked, the men have a terrible time of it at a fire, and they richly deserve the leisure they obtain. 
    This leisure is, however, not so pleasant as might be imagined, for the fireman is always on duty; and, no matter how he is occupied, he may be wanted on the engine, and must go.  
    Having inspected the American ladder in its shed, we glanced at the stores and pattern rooms, and at the firemen?s quarters. Here the men live with their wives and families, if they arc married, and in single blessed?ness, if Love the Pilgrim has not come their. way. Old Winchester House, festooned with creepers, was never put to more worthy use than in sheltering these retiring heroes, who daily risk their lives uncom?plainingly. Somewhat different now the scenes from those when the stately palace of Cardinal Beaufort extended to the river, and the spacious park was stocked with game and venison. As our conductor seeks a certain key we muse on the old time, the feasts and pageants held here, the wedding banquet of James and Jane Somerset, when the old walls and precincts rang with merry cheer. Turning, we can almost fancy we perceive the restless Wyatt quitting the postern-gate, leaving fragments of the mutilated books of Winchester?s proud bishop. These past scenes vanish as our guide returns and beckons us to other sights. 
    Of these, by far the most melancholy interest is awakened by the relics of those brave firemen who have died, or have been seriously injured, on duty. In a cupboard, in a long, rather low apartment, in the square or inner quadrangle of the building, are a number of helmets; bruised, battered, broken, burnt ; the fragments of crests twisted by fire, dulled by water and dust and smoke. Here is a saddening record indeed. The visitor experiences much the same sensations as those with which he gazes at the bodies at the Great Saint Bernard, only in this instance the cause of death is fire and heat, in the other snow and vapour, wind and storm ; but all ?fulfilling His word,? Whose fiat has gone forth, "To dust shalt thou return."
    Aye, it is a sad moment when on a canvas pad we see all that remains of the brave Fireman JACOBS, who perished at the conflagration in Wandsworth in September, 1889.
    It was on the 12th of that month that the premises occupied by Messrs. Burroughs and Wellcorne, manufacturing chemists, - took fire. Engineer Howard and two third- class firemen, Jacobs and Ashby, ran the hose up the staircase at the end of the build?ing. The two latter men remained, but their retreat was suddenly cut oW and exit was sought by the window. The united ladder-lengths would not reach the upper story, and a builder?s ladder came only within a few feet of the casement at which the brave men were standing calling for a line.
    Ashby, whose helmet is still preserved, was fortunately able to squeeze himself through the bars, drop on the high ladder, and descend. He was terribly burned. But Jacobs being a stout man?his portrait is hanging on the wall in the office wait?ing-room in Southwark?could not squeeze through, and he was burned to a cinder, almost. What remained of him was laid to rest with all Brigade honours, but in this museum are his blackened tunic-front, his hatchet and spanner, the nozzle of the hose he held in his death-grip. That is all! But his memory is green, and not a man who mentions but points with pride to his pic?ture. ?Did you tell him about Jacobs? is a question which testifies to the estimation in which this brave man is held; and he is but a sample of the rest.
    For he is not alone represented: Take the helmets one by one at random. Whose was this? JOSEPH FORD?s? Yes, read on, and you will learn that he saved six lives at a fire in Gray?s Inn-road, and that he was in the act of saving a seventh when he lost his life. Poor fellow STANLEY GUERNSEY; T. ASHFORD; HOAD; BERG, too, the hero of the Alhambra fire in 1882. But the record is too long. Requiescant in pace. They have done their duty some have survived to do it again, and we may be satisfied. . . . Come away, lock the cupboard, good Number 109. May it be long ere thy helmet is placed with sad memento within this press.
    Descending the stairs we reach the office once again. Here we meet our Superintendent. All is quiet. Some men are reading, others writing reports, mayhap a few are in their shirt-sleeves working, polishing the reserve engine: a calm reigns. We glance up at the automatic fire-alarm which, when just heated, rings the call, and ?it will warm up also with your hand.? See? Yes! but suppose it should ring, suppose? Ting, ting, ting, ting-g-g-g!
    What?s this ? The call ? I am at the office door in a second. Well it is that I proceed no farther. As I pause in doubt and surprise, the heavy rear doors swing open by themselves as boldly and almost as noiselessly as the iron gate which opened for St. Peter. A clattering of hoofs, a running to and fro for a couple of seconds four horses trot in, led by the coachman in the twinkling of an eye the animals are hitched to the ready engines the firemen dressed, helmeted, and booted are seated on the machines ; a momentary pause to learn their destination ere the coachman pulls the ropes suspended over head the street doors fold back, automatically, the prancing, rearing steeds impatient, foaming, strain at the traces ; the passers-by scatter helter- skelter as the horses plunge into the street and then dash round the corner to their stables once again.
    ?A false alarm??
    ?Yes, sir. We thought you?d like to see a turn out, and that is how it?s done!?
    Afalse alarm ! Was it true? Yes the men are good-temperedly doffing boots and helmets, and quietly resuming their late avocations. They do not mind. Less than twenty seconds have elapsed, and from a quiet hall the engine-room has been transformed into a bustling fire station. Men, horses, engines all ready and away ! No one knew whither he was going. The call was sufficient for all of them. No questions put save one, ?Where is it? ? Thither the brave fellows would have hurried, ready to do and die, if necessary. 
    It is almost impossible to describe the effect which this sudden transformation scene produces; the change is so rapid, the effect is so dramatic, so novel to a stranger. We hear of the engines turning out, but to the writer, who was not in the secret, the result was most exciting, and the remem?brance will be lasting. The wily artist had placed himself outside, and secured a view, an instantaneous picture of the start but the writer was in the dark, and taken by surprise. The wonderful rapidity, order, discipline, and exactness of the parts secure a most effective tableau. 
    After such an experience one naturally desires to see the mainspring of all this machinery, the hub round which the wheel revolves?Captain Eyre M. Shaw, C.B.  
    But the chief officer has slipped out, leaving us permission to interview his empty chair, and the apartments which he daily occupies when on duty in Southwark.
    This unpretending room upstairs is plainly but comfortably furnished?though no carpet covers the floor, oilcloth being cooler. Business is writ large on every side. On one wall is a large map of the fire stations of the immense area presided over Captain Shaw. Here are separately indicated the floating engines, the escapes, ladders, call points, police stations and private communications.
    The chair which ?the Captain ?has temporarily vacated bristles with speaking tubes. On the walls beside the fire-place are portraits of men  who have died on duty; the chimney-piece is decorated with nozzles ? hose?nozzles?of various sizes. Upon the table are reports, map of Paris, and many documents, amid which a novel shines, as indicating touch with the outside world. There is a bookcase full of carefully arranged pamphlets, and on the opposite wall an illuminated address of thanks from the Fire Brigade Association to Captain Shaw, which concludes with the expression of a hope ?That his useful life may long be spared to fill the high position in the service he now adorns.?
    With this we cordially concur, and we echo the ? heartfelt wishes? of his obliged and faithful servants as we retire secure in our possession of a picture of the apartment. 
    There are many interesting items in connection with the Brigade which we find time to chronicle. For instance we learn that the busiest time is, as one would expect, between September and December. The calls during the year 1889 amounted to 3131. Of these 594 were false alarms, 199 were only chimneys on fire, and of the remainder 153 only resulted in serious damage, 2185 in slight damage. These are exclusive of ordinary chimney fires and small cases, but in all those above referred to engines and men were turned out. The grand total of fires amounted to 4705, or on an average 13 fires, or supposed fires, a day. This is an increase of 350 on those of 1888, and we find that the increment has been growing for a decade. However, considering the increase in the number of houses, there is no cause for alarm. Lives were lost at thirty-eight fires in 1889.
    The personnel of the Brigade consists of only seven hundred and seven of all ranks. The men keep watches of twelve hours, and do an immense amount of work besides. This force has the control of 158 engines, steam and manual of all sorts ; 31? miles of hose, and 80 carts to carry it besides fire-floats, steam tugs, barges, and escapes long ladders, trolleys, vans, and 131 horses. These are to attend to 365 call points, 72 telephones to stations, 55 alarm circuits, besides telephones to police stations and public and private building and houses, and the pay is 3s. 6d. per day, increasing!
    From these, not altogether dry, bones of facts we may build up a monument to the great energy and intense esprit de corps of Captain Shaw and his Brigade. In their hands we place ourselves every night. While the Metropolis sleeps the untiring Brigade watches over its safety at the head-quarters or at the outer stations, at the street stations, boxes, or escape sta?tions, the men are continually vigilant ; and are most efficiently seconded by the police.  But for the latter force the efforts of the firemen would often be crippled, and their heroic attempts perhaps rendered fruitless by the pressure of the excited spectators.
    We have now seen the manner in which the Metropolitan Fire Brigade is managed, and how it works the splendid services it accomplishes, for which few rewards are forthcoming. It is true that a man may attain to the post of superintendent, and to a house, with a salary of ?245 a year, but he has to serve a long probation. For con?sider that he has to learn his drill and the general working of the Brigade. Every man must be competent to perform all the duties. During this course of instruction he is not permitted to attend a fire such experience being found unsuitable to be?ginners. In a couple of months, if he has been a sailor, the recruit is fit to go out, and he is sent to some station, where, as fireman of the fourth class, he performs the duties required.
    By degrees, from death or accident, or other causes, those above him are removed, or promoted, and he ascends the ladder to the first class, where, having passed an examination, he gets a temporary appointment as assistant officer on probation. If then satisfactory, he is confirmed in his position as officer, proceeds to head-quarters, and superintends a section of the establish?ment as inspector of the shops, and finally as drill instructor.
    After this service, he is probably put under the superintendent at a station as engineer in-charge,? as he is termed. He has, naturally, every detail of drill and ?business ? at his fingers? ends. The wis?dom of such an arrangement is manifest. As the engineer-in-charge has been lately through the work of drill instructor, he knows exactly what is to be done, and every other officer in similar position also knows it. Thus uniformity of practice is insured.
    There are many other points on which information is most courteously given at head-quarters. But time presses. We ac?cordingly take leave of our pleasant guide, and the most polite of superintendents, and, crossing the Iron Bridge once more, plunge into the teeming thoroughfares of the City, satisfied.

The Strand, 189?
quoted in Gareth Cotterell's London Scene from the Strand

see also Dickens's Dictionary - click here

    THE FIREMAN..?It is late in the evening, and the streets seem more than usually crowded with passers-by, and with the well-filled ?buses and cabs and other vehicles passing along. There is a constant hum of voices and patter of feet, and the whir-r of moving wheels, or the noisier rattling over the stones, as some driver more eager than the rest rushes along. The air is filled with these and the usual sounds of a busy street at the close of day, when from far down the road there conies the hoarse roar of shouts, which we know at once to herald the coming of au engine of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. In the distance we see it speeding on its errand of mercy, and the hoarse cries of ?Hi! Hi!? from the firemen warn the drivers of other vehicles to draw away to the sides of the road, giving a clear space in the middle for the engine to pass quickly on its way.
    O! how grand they look as they dash by! So quickly did they pass that we had only time enough to catch a glimpse of them, and they were gone. We could just see the driver bending to his horses, urging them along, and the noble and well-trained animals springing forward, seeming scarcely to touch the ground as they bounded on their way. There was a flash as the light of the street lamps fell upon the brass helmets, making them glitter as those fearless men sped by. A shower of sparks, a cloud of smoke, as the engineer put more coal on the engine fire, and ?the roar of voices cheering and shouting ?Fire! Fire!? dies away in the distance, and they are gone.
    A volume of smoke just beginning to be tinged with the red reflection of the flames shows where the fire has broken out. We want to see these men at work, so we hasten along to the scene of the fire. Here we are at last. The lower part of the house is already burning fiercely, and the flames are rapidly spreading upwards, till from every window smoke is beginning to pour forth. There are some people left inside who cannot get out, because the stairs are burning. But help is at hand, for the crowd in the street is opening and cheering as the tall fire-escape is rapidly pushed through by eager and willing hands. Quickly, quietly, and without any confusion, the fireman sets? his ladders up and leans them against the window-sill of the smoking room where he is told there are some children. How still and quiet every one is, as he nimbly runs up the ladder, opens the window, and jumps into the room! And then, when he comes again to the window, carrying the frightened children whom he has found, what a deafening cheer the crowd give for the brave fellow But they are all brave fellows. There is not one among them who would not do the same if he had the opportunity.
    But see, there go some in at the smoking doorway to hunt through the? house, to find out where the seat of the fire is, and to see that all the people have been rescued. And if you could follow them, you would see them, when entering the rooms, stopping to close the doors behind them, and to shut all. the windows, because where there is a draught there the fire burns quickest and fiercest. You would see them rushing up over the blazing stairs and through volumes of smoke, and searching into every nook and corner with. their lamps. When their lamps begin to burn dimly, or go out in the heavy. smoke, then they hasten away from that spot, lest they should become over?powered with the impure air and be suffocated.
    The waterman is here now, and has got a good supply of water, which is rising from the plug-hole in a foaming fountain, and is spreading over the. ground, till the fire is reflected as in a glass. The firemen have unrolled their leathern hose, and the ground seems to be covered with gigantic worms. The nozzle to one length of hose is being screwed on by yonder fireman, and as he raises it and points it, the stream of water rushes through and against the burning mass, and a cheer bursts from the excited crowd; and again and again they cheer, as other firemen, some from the ground and others from the houses around, point their hose and throw stream after stream of water upon the fire. 
    There are 58 fire stations, where 39 steam fire-engines and 115 manual engines, or engines through which the water is pumped by hand, are kept ready to be sent out at a moment?s notice to any fire. There are 137 fire-escapes and 575 firemen. In one year the firemen were called to as many as 4,292 chimneys on fire, and altogether the engines ran 25,754  journeys, or a distance of 58,377 miles, and at the fires they pumped 21,000,000 gallons of water on the flames. You will, I am sure, say, ?What a noble body of men they are!? and will wish them ?God speed? on all their journeys, when I tell you that in one year, out of 160 people whose lives were in danger, the London Fire Brigade rescued 127.

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Headquarters of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade

Metropolitan Fire Brigade - photograph


In Southwark Bridge Road are the headquarters of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, marked by a lofty tower, from the summit of which a constant watch is kept. The Brigade, established in 1866, is maintained at an annual cost of ?130,000 per annum; and the area which it protects extends over 118 square miles. There are nearly sixty stations, and ten times as many call-points. In the course of a year some 5,000 alarms, of which, however, a large proportion are false, are given, and from thirty to forty million gallons of water are used in extinguishing fires. The Brigade, which is under the control of the London County Council, numbers some 750 officers and men, with Captain Sexton Simonds at their head.

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Municipal Journal and London, July 7, 1899

The fire brigade came dashing down the Strand at Wellington Street to-day with the usual wild cries of "Hi! yi! hi! yi!" which always creates a sensation in the streets. One of the engine horses came down on the slippery pavement, but the men had the team going in an incredibly short time. The suggestion so often made that the firemen should abandon their wild and alarming cries and substitute a gong is bitterly opposed by the firemen. They have always yelled "Hi! yi!" and they always will do so.

R.D.Blumenfeld's Diary, December 29, 1901

[-7-] The duty of extinguishing fires and protecting life and property from fire in London devolves on the Council under the Metropolitan Fire Brigade act, 1865, which authorises the provision and maintenance of an efficient force of firemen so equipped  as to conduce to the effective performance of their duties. Under that statute the Council's predecessors, the Metropolitan Board of Works, took over on 1st January, 1866, the force (consisting of 130 officers and men) known as the London Fire Engine Establishment previously maintained at the cost of most of the fire insurance companies, together with the stations (17 in number), and the engines, plant and appliances of the establishment.  Some of the parochial authorities had, under the provisions of the Act 14, George III, c.78, maintained in a more or less efficient state some manual fire-engines, but, on the constitution of a fire brigade under a public body, these authorities ceased to maintain the engines, most of which, with the men in charge of them, were absorbed in the new organisation, which was gradually extended throughout the whole of London. The saving of life from fire had for many years been undertaken by the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, which was supported by voluntary contributions, and which had some 85 fire-escapes stationed in various parts of London, few being in the suburbs; but on 1st July, 1867, the escapes and most of the attendants were, under the provisions of the Fire Brigade Act, transferred to the Fire Brigade.
    The funds provided by the Fire Brigade Act for the maintenance of the brigade were (1) the produce of a halfpenny rate on all the rateable property in London; (2) contributions by the fire insurance companies at the [-8-] rate of ?35 per million of the gross amounts insured by them in respect of property in London; and (3) a contribution of ?10,000 a year by the government. Although the revenue thus allotted increased year by year, its increase was far from keeping pace with the constant calls from all parts of London for protection from fire. Some temporary financial relief was afforded by the Metropolitan Board of Works (Loans) Act, 1869, which (1) authorised the interest on borrowed money to be paid, and the principal to be redeemed out of the proceeds of the metropolitan consolidated rate, apart from the halfpenny portion allocated for fire brigade purposes; and (2) provided that the amount to be raised for the annual working expenditure on the brigade should be equal to what would be produced by a halfpenny in the ? on the gross annual value of property, instead of, as before, on the rateable value. One result of the passing of the Local Government Act, 1888, (by which the Council was constituted), under which a county rate for all purposes is levied, was virtually to repealk the limitation of the amount which might be raised from the ratepayers for fire brigade purposes. Since that year the expenditure on the brigade has therefore, like that of other departments of the Council's service, been determined solely by what the Council has judged to be the requirements of the case.
    It may here by mentioned that the Council has resolved to seek parliamentary authority to alter the title of the brigade to "London Fire Brigade," and the title of the chief officer of that force to that of "chief officer of the London Fire Brigade." The word "metropolitan" is used in connection with areas (eg. metropolitan police, metropolitan water, and metropolitan gas), of which London forms part only, and which are of much greater extent than what comprises London. The title Metropolitan Fire Brigade is therefore misleading.
    [-9-] Under the Fire Brigade Act the Council may permit the brigade to proceed outside London for the purpose of extinguishing fire. In such cases the owner and occupier of the property on which the fire occurs are jointly and severally liable to pay a reasonable charge in respect of the attendance of the brigade. The officer who receives a call to a fire outside the county is authorised to exercise his discretion in each particular case, but the practice is for the call to be immediately responded to. Assistance is thus not infrequently rendered outside London, particularly in the districts bordering on the eastern side of the county. No direct charge is made for services rendered by the brigade in connection with the saving of life or the extinction of fire (save in the case of chimney fires) within the county of London.
    The scale of charges (except in the case of the Victoria and Albert docks) for the attendance of the brigade outside the County of London is as follows-
    For the attendance of a floating fire engine -
        First hour ?6
        Each succeeding hour of part of an hour ?1
    For the attendance of a tug-
        First hour ?5    
        Each succeeding hour of part of an hour ?1
    For the attendance of a manual engine, a land steam fire-engine or a horsed escape  ?2
    If the steam engine be got to work-
        First hour of part of an hour  ?1
        Each succeeding hour  10s.
    For the attendance of a curricle engine or a hose-cart ?1
    For the attendance of a manual fire-escape ?1
    For each pumper per hour or part of an hour 1s.
    The charges for the attendance of the brigade at the Victoria and Albert docks are as follows-
    For the attendance of a floating fire engine -
        First hour ?15
        Each succeeding hour of part of an hour ?2
    For the attendance of a tug-
        First hour ?10
        Each succeeding hour of part of an hour ?2
[-10-] These sums include charges for firemen, horses, coal, assistance, use of appurtenances, etc., but out-of-pocket expenses are charged in addition.
For fire brigade purposes London is divided into six districts as follows- The central or F district (in which are the headquarters and the Watling-street, Whitefriars, Tooley-street, Waterloo-road, and Scotland Yard stations); the A or west end; the B, the northern part of the City and the middle part of London north of the City; the C or east end; the D or south-east; and the E or south-west district; the two latter being entirely on the south side of the Thames. Each district is in charge of a superintendent, who is assisted by a district officer, both of whom reside at the principal station of the district. The A, B and C districts (ie. London north of the Thames except part of the central district) are supervised by a third officer of the brigade, who resides and has his office at the Euston-road station, whilst the D and E districts (ie. London south of the Thames, less part of the central district) are, with the river-stations, supervised by the second officer of the brigade, who resides and has his office at the headquarters in Southwark-bridge-road. North Woolwich, a detached part of the county of London, is, for fire brigade purposes, considered to be in the D district, notwithstanding that it is on the north side of the Thames. The superintendent and the district officer of the central district are accommodated temporarily at the Whitefriars station. The senior superintendent of the brigade resides  at the chief station, where he is, under the chief officer, responsible for the arrangements for instruction and mobilisation. The chief officer controls the whole organisation from headquarters, where he resides.
    When the Council came into existence early in 1889 the fire brigade was admittedly not large enough properly to protect the whole of London, the provision in various suburban districts being notoriously inadequate [-11-] to the requirements. This has been corrected, and for some years past the Council has been engaged, not only in enlarging and improving old stations, but in carrying out a scheme of additional protection laid down after careful consideration of the needs of London as a whole. The scheme, which was approved on 8th February, 1898 [and somewhat enlarged in 1901] provides for the placing of horsed-escapes at existing fire-stations; for the establishment of some 22 additional stations provided with horsed-escapes; and for the discontinuance of nearly all the fire-escape and hose-cart stations in the public thoroughfares. The method formerly in vogue of affording protection by means of fire-escapes and hose-carts in different parts of London had little to commend it. On the occurrence of a fire a few of these men attended, but every night the large majority of men were never called out. The escape itself is a heavy machine to push, and under the most favourable circumstances the fireman in charge of such an appliance could be of service only within a radius of, say, 400 yards on the flat, and even then it required a very active man to be fit for work after pushing  his escape to a fire. Assuming the effective radius for fire-escape work to be 400 yards, the county can be protected  by hand-escapes in only a very partial way, and no escape, however light, drawn by hand could protect a much larger area, as it would be limited by a man's physical capabilities. To remedy this state of things it has been determined to extensively use escapes carried on vans drawn by horses.

London County Council, Note Book on the Fire Brigade, November 1903
Jas. Truscott and Son, Ltd., Printers, London, E.C.

Victorian London - Health and Hygiene - Hazards and Accidents - Causes of Fires

FIRE BRIGADE (L.C.C.).- The following is an extract from the report of the Chief Officer ... for the year 1907 ...
    The total number of fires, excluding chimney fires, attended by the Brigade during 1907 was 3,320, this number being 523 less than in 1906; of these 3,320 fires, 27 occurred outside the County of London.

   Trades No. of Fires
Bakers 13
Buildings (under repair) 28
Coffee Houses 19
Commons, roads and open spaces 102
Confectionery 42
Engineers 6
Greengrocers 24
Cabinet Makers 47
Printers 13
Private Houses 975
Private Houses (lodgers in) 571
Tailors 42
Victuallers 59
   Causes of Fires No. of Fires
Ashes, hot 86
Candles 134
Curtains coming into contact with candles etc. 59
Children playing with matches 140
Electric circuits, defective 88
Flues, defective 109
Gas brackets, swinging 13
Gas, escape of  95
Gas stoves 17
Hearths, defect in 4
:Lights thrown down 725
Sparks from locomotive 23
Stoves improperly set 50
Unknown 343

Charles Dickens Jr. et al, Dickens Dictionary of London, c.1908 edition
(no date; based on internal evidence)

see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here