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P102


COMMUNITY


Belper Heritage Matters by Adrian Farmer


In June 1889, a fire brigade was created for Belper, to man a fire engine given to the town by George Henry Strutt and costing 200 guineas (£220). The brigade originally consisted of 16 volunteers, with Mr W Burkinshaw as captain, Mr Pennington as instructor and two lieutenants, J Loving and P Harrison.


gutted, and as they were uninsured, the brothers were made nearly penniless overnight. The only items surviving the fire were three carts and a drag (wagon). Several trees and gardens close by were badly burnt, and at one stage there had been fears that the nearby Baptist Chapel and the premises of blacksmith Joseph Walker could be threatened. Thankfully, the lack of wind helped people to contain the blaze, although it took two hours to extinguish it. Almost immediately, the people of the town called a meeting and opened a fund to help pay off the costs of the damage – nearly £200 was raised at that first meeting.


Adrian Farmer


In the photograph above, Harrison can be seen on the new engine, in his helmet, with beret-wearing brigade members Linthwaite and Allsop, and in front (from left to right) are brigade members Blount, Spendlove, Bodell, Stone, Holmes, Loombes, Cowley, Varney and Morley.


On the evening of Wednesday 26 June, the new engine was paraded through the main streets of the town, and people saw the men in uniform for the first time. Thousands of people turned up to see this latest gift from the Strutt family. The procession was headed by the Belper United Brass Band, and included the two other engines operating in the area – the Strutt’s own engine based at the Milford Mills, and the George Brettle and Co’s private engine. A banquet followed at the Lion Hotel.


It was unfortunate that the engine arrived just days too late to help put out a major fire in the town. Wheeldon Brothers’ business premises on Bridge Street had been destroyed by a blaze which caused nearly £1,400 worth of damage on Friday 21 June 1889. Within just a few minutes of the alarm being raised, there were over 100 people out in the street trying to help. Shortly afterwards, the Brettles and Milford Mill fire engines arrived to help combat the flames – they couldn’t save the Wheeldon premises, but sufficiently doused a joiners shop across the road so it could be saved.


Flames were reported to be as high as 50 feet in the air. The works, trading in timber, were completely


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Earlier that year on 20 February, another major fire caused £200 worth of damage to the premises of Adshead and Company on Campbell Street, when a pan of furniture paste boiled over. On that occasion the Brettles brigade had arrived in time to drench the building before the flames reached a large cistern containing several hundred gallons of turpentine, which would have created a considerable explosion. It was this blaze which had prompted George Henry Strutt’s decision to provide the town with its own fire engine.


Fourteen years later, in January 1903, there was upheaval for the brigade – not only were telephones being installed at the station, but eight of the older firemen were threatening to resign if a younger officer was made a lieutenant. He got the job, and the council accepted the resignations, taking the opportunity to reduce the brigade from 14 to 12. Two years later, this younger brigade also received a much-improved engine to work with.


If you want to know more about the history of Belper and its surrounding villages, visit St John’s Chapel in the town on the last Saturday of the month, between 10am and 12 noon. Members of Belper Historical Society are available to answer questions and there is information to read and a database of old photographs to explore.


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