Fire was a major risk in all towns. The parish church was seriously damaged by fire in 1463 and Wrexham’s ‘great fire’ caused more damage in 1643. The first fire brigades were established in the main by insurance companies as a means to encourage custom and limit insurance liabilities. Their fire insurance plates can still occasionally be seen high up on historic buildings.
The Provincial Insurance Co. established a brigade in Wrexham in 1852, staffed by employees of the company – it was the first in north Wales. This helmet, despite being rather small, was worn by one of the volunteer members of the company’s fire brigade.
The town could see the benefits of a fire brigade and wanted everyone to enjoy them so in 1863 a volunteer fire brigade was set up. The launch party took place during the celebrations for the Prince of Wales’s wedding to Princess Alexandra of Denmark and so the new brigade was called the Prince of Wales Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Being a member of the brigade became very fashionable and they raised funds by selling honorary memberships at 10 shillings per year. Tickets for the annual ball were always in demand and the firemen always sported the finest uniforms they could afford. The arrival of a new engine from Merryweather’s in London was marked by a competition in the High Street to see which of the brigade’s three engines could shoot a jet of water the highest. This became a bit of tradition each time the brigade bought a new engine. Wouldn’t it be great if that tradition had continued? Anyone know how they celebrated the opening of the new fire and ambulance station?
Above Picture: This photograph shows the Prince of Wales volunteer firemen on the bowling green, in Eagles’ Meadow, behind Mount Street. Image courtesy of Wrexham Archives.
The Volunteer fire brigade’s chief engineer was Sam Squash, who reputedly was the biggest beer drinker in town. In 1894 the new fire station opened on Guildhall Square replacing the previous shed – there was one of those fire engine competitions and a tournament at the Racecourse to mark the opening. Proximity to the Guildhall had its downsides; there was a fall out over the level of service the following year. The volunteers resigned en masse after they were criticized for turning up late to a fire. The council set up their own fire brigade with the new volunteers being paid a retainer to be available. In 1904 they moved to a tally system – whoever turned up first would be paid – under the supervision of the one full-time professional.
Above Picture: Victoria, Wrexham’s first steam-powered fire engine. The steam power was for pumping the water – horses were still required to take the engine to the scene of the fire.
Picture: Late 19th century fireman’s helmet. Brass ones went out of fashion with the spread of electricity.
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 motorized fire engine – the first in Wales. The engine was named ‘Maud Elsie’ after the daughter of the chairman of the Borough Council’s Watch Committee, which was in charge of public protection. The engine could carry a crew of fourteen 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.
Above Picture: Maud Elsie and welcoming party, 1915
Above Picture: Wrexham Fire Brigade and engines outside the Fire Station, Guildhall Square, Chester Street.
Images courtesy of Denbighshire Archives and Wrexham Museum
Source: Wrexham Museums.