Stockton Fire Brigade
The first reference, in Council Minutes, to Stockton Fire Brigade, is in 1871.
“At a quarterly meeting of the Town Council of the Borough of Stockton held at the Town Hall within the said Borough on the 9th day of November 1871…it was ordered that a Committee be appointed to consider the question of providing a proper Fire Brigade for the town and that such Committee consist of the following:- The Mayor (George Lockwood), Aldermen Jackson, Knowles, Wren, Laing; Councillors Byers, Wilson, Cadle and Richardson”.
A horse drawn steam powered Fire Engine, built by Merryweather and Sons, was purchased and helmets of ‘leather, brass-mounted’, were provided for the firemen. Corporation premises in West Row, which at that time were occupied by the Stockton Rifle Volunteer Corps, were considered suitable for conversion to an engine house so this property and stables and a coach-house nearby were acquired for the Brigade.
Committee member Joseph Richardson was deputed to ask the the eminent local industrialist and engineer Thomas Whitwell to take on the role of Captain and to form a Brigade.
Whitwell at first refused on the grounds that he already had too many commitments but within two days, and due to popular demand, he relented and agreed, adding Brigade founder and organiser to his many achievements.
In May of 1872 six men were appointed as paid firemen – an engine man, a stoker, a driver, one leading fireman and two firemen. Each man being paid a retainer to ensure they made themselves available for ‘call-outs’.
In November 1872 a rate of 2d in the pound (less than one pence) was levied to cover the costs of the new Fire Brigade.
In May 1873, Call Boys were being used to call out members of the Brigade and by the end of 1875 it was found necessary to obtain a new manual fire engine and a fire escape. In the same year the post of Leading Fireman was made a full time post and, from that date, the retainers paid to the rest of the Brigade ceased and they were only paid for attending fires and practice drills.
By 1877 it appears that the bell in the Town Hall clock tower was being used to call-out the Brigade. In April of that year it was recorded in the Council Minutes “that the Town Hall Keeper be informed that the Fire Bell is not to be rung except by order of the Chief Fireman”. This practice was soon abandoned as it became obvious that not only did ringing the bell summon the Fire Brigade, but also anyone else who wished to take advantage of this free entertainment, getting in the way of the firemen as they rushed to the scene of the fire.
After a serious fire in South Stockton in 1876, Thomas Whitwell suggested that they should have their own Brigade and he was again tasked with its formation. This he duly did and by 1878, joint demonstrations involving both Brigades were being planned. Unfortunately, Thomas would not see them.
Thomas was the younger brother of William Whitwell and in 1859 they had co-founded the Thornaby Ironworks. On the morning of August 5th, 1878, Thomas was called to the works to inspect a malfunctioning furnace. He and his foreman, John Thompson, decended by ladder into the ashpit of the furnace. As they did so there was a blast of escaping steam and both men were badly scalded. They managed to climb from the furnace but both were to die of their injuries later that day. Stockton Fire Brigade had lost its first Captain as a result of burns, not on duty at a blaze but at his own ironworks.
In 1879, the Stockton Fire Brigade building in West Row was connected with the South Stockton Police Station, and with the private fire brigade at Blair’s Works ‘by telegraph wire’.
In 1883 a coach-house and shed in the Ship Yard Inn were rented to serve as a temporary fire station while new premises were being built in West Row at a cost of around £1,300.
In 1890 it was considered necessary to insure the firemen against death and disablement at a total premium of £9 per annum.
While there was no charge for men or appliances attending fires within the Borough there was a scale of charges for attending fires outside of the Borough, depending on whether the Steam Fire Engine or the Manual Fire Engine were deployed. In either case the horses needed to pull the appliances were hired and the cost charged to the property owners and their insurers.
The Brigade Captain was paid one guinea (21 shillings) for attendance at a fire, but only if the fire was outside of the Borough. The rest of the Brigade were paid on a sliding scale from the deputy captain, who received 3 shillings for each hour attending a fire, down to the ‘pumpers and assistants’ who were paid 6d per hour.
The following conditions also applied: “in all cases of special damages to engines or appliances, firemen’s uniforms and boots, compensation must be made. Reasonable refreshments will also be charged in addition to the above.”
At a meeting of the Fire Brigade Committee in February 1911 the following resolution was carried:- “That in the opinion of this Committee the time has arrived when the Corporation should possess a Motor Fire Engine…”. This was rejected in Full Council the following month.
It was not until January 1913 that a contract was signed with Dennis Bros. for the provision of “a 60hp Dennis Petrol Motor Turbine Pumping Engine of 450 gal/min with an auxiliary pump for the First Aid Hose Reel, and fitted with a 30ft overhead sliding ladder.” This appliance was delivered in June of 1913 and christened the Thomas Whitwell. A second and larger Dennis was delivered in July 1921.
In March 1922, consideration was given to replacing the solid tyres on the No. 1 Fire Engine with pneumatic tyres but no action was taken.
In 1929 the Brigade was again re-organised, this time as a professional brigade. It consisted of a Chief Officer (full time), a Second Officer (full time). a Sub-Officer (retained), one Fireman (full time), twelve Firemen (retained), six Firemen (probationers), one Call Boy (full time) and one Call Boy (part time).
In 1936 the outbuildings in Fire Station Yard were removed and part of the adjoining property was purchased to allow for the enlargement of the yard. The firemen’s quarters were improved and a new house was built in Regent Street for the Chief Officer.
In September 1937, Mr S Chapman was appointed Chief Officer. He was to be the last Chief of an independent Stockton Fire Brigade as during the Second World War, at midnight of 17 August 1941, the Brigade’s personnel and property were transferred to the National Fire Service. After the war Stockton did not qualify to be an independent Fire Brigade Authority, its affairs being managed by Durham County.
The above is an extract from Tom Sowler’s excellent book ‘The History of the Town and Borough of Stockton-on-Tees’.