Insurance companies were mainly the first bodies to establish fire brigades to encourage custom and limit insurance liabilities. You can still occasionally see their fire insurance plates high up on historic buildings. The Provincial Insurance Co established a brigade in Wrexham in 1852. The firefighters were actually employees of the company and it was, furthermore, the first in north Wales.
Our fine town has had its share of fires throughout history. A blaze seriously damaged the parish church in 1463 and Wrexham’s “great fire” caused more damage in 1643.
“The Prince of Wales Volunteer Fire Brigade”
The town could see the benefits of a fire brigade so, in 1863, they set up a volunteer fire brigade. The launch party took place during the celebrations for the Prince of Wales’ wedding to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The new company adopted the name and called themselves “The Prince of Wales Volunteer Fire Brigade”.
Being a member of the brigade became very fashionable meaning they were able to raise funds by selling honorary memberships at 10 shillings per year. Tickets for the annual ball were always in demand and the firemen sported the finest uniforms they could afford. The arrival of a new engine from Merryweather’s in London sparked a competition in the High Street to see which of the brigade’s three engines could shoot a jet of water the highest. This event became a bit of a tradition each time the division bought a new machine.
Wouldn’t it be great if that tradition had continued? Does anybody know how they celebrated the opening of the most recent fire and ambulance station?
The volunteer fire brigade’s chief engineer was Sam Squash, who was reputedly the biggest beer drinker in town!
In 1894, the new fire station opened in Guildhall Square replacing the previous shed. They held was one of those fire-engine competitions and a tournament at the Racecourse to mark the opening.
The proximity to the Guildhall had its downsides: there was a falling-out over the level of service the following year. The volunteers resigned en masse after the council criticised them for turning up late to a fire.
The council set up their own fire brigade with the new volunteers earning a retainer to be available. Later, in 1904, they moved to a tally system – whoever turned up first received the payment – under the supervision of the one full-time professional they had in their ranks.
The fire brigade called their first steam-powered fire engine “Victoria”. The steam power was for pumping the water – horses still had to take the engine to the scene of the fire.
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The newly professional fire brigade was sorely tested in 1906 when the Public Hall, the entertainment and retail venue between Henblas Street and Lambpit Street, went up in flames. In 1915, the town acquired its first motorised fire engine – surprisingly, the first in Wales.
They named the engine “Maud Elsie” after the daughter of the chairman of the Borough Council’s Watch Committee, the body in charge of public protection. The machine carried a crew of 14 – all hanging on for dear life, I imagine! The fire station on Guildhall Square closed in 1957 when the new premises opened on Bradley Road.
Images courtesy of Denbighshire Archives and Wrexham Museum unless otherwise stated.
Source: Wrexham Museums.
We hope you enjoyed “Wrexham Fire Brigade Established 1852”. Please click here for more stories about Wrexham’s rich and varied history.