On 9th April 1846 the Chesham Fire Brigade was officially founded when sixteen local townsmen met at the Crown Inn. Prior to this a volunteer service and other private services existed, employed by Chesham’s factories and other businesses.
The Chesham Fire Brigade was funded by a public subscription, with extinguishing expenses – such as the payment of the fire fighters, the hire of horses and fire extinguishing equipment – being covered by the property owner’s insurers.
In 1846 Chesham’s population was around 6,000 and fires were uncommon, with the Brigade’s logbooks recording only one of two fires a year. This was usually in relation to crops, with hay or wheat catching alight in the dry summers.
Small domestic incidents were generally taken care of by the homeowner and neighbours. As many homeowners were uninsured, they would have to pay any extinguishing expenses and replace any damage themselves. In this case the Parish and neighbours would often fundraise to support the cost.
Upon its formation, the Brigade’s uniform is thought to have consisted of a single-breasted tunic, light coloured trousers and wellington boots. Their equipment included buckets, ladders and two hand-operated fire engines that were kept in a shed on Wey Lane.
Before mains water was introduced in 1884 the Brigade was dependent on water stored in wells, cisterns, ponds and rivers in order to extinguish fires.
The smaller of the Brigade’s hand-operated engines required six people to operate, whist the larger fire engine needed twelve.
By 1856 the Brigade’s equipment had fallen into disrepair and the Chesham Fire Brigade ceased to function.
As Britain’s population grew and industry developed, fires became more frequent and insurance companies became unwilling to cover the growing compensation. In Chesham the many factories and workshops posed a major fire risk, with their use of electrical machinery and stores of material such as timber.
Several large fires are recorded from the turn of the century, including a fire at Jesse Wright’s Woodenware Factory on Broad Street in 1907 and an incident at Long’s Boot Factory on Sunnyside Road in 1905.
Insurance companies reached out to the Government for support, leading to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act of 1865 and the formation of a new public body in London: the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. This development resulted in the reformation of the fire brigades in local authorities and in 1868 Chesham Fire Brigade was re-established.
Upon its reformation, the Brigade adopted new rules and regulations and a new uniform comprised of a tunic and leather belt. This was replaced in 1883 when the dark blue, double breasted tunics worn by London’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade were purchased. Boots were supplied by Chesham manufactures Plato and Moss, and later by Frank Baynham. The Brigade’s first helmets were made of leather but were replaced in 1904 by the distinctive brass helmets.
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