Fire Brigade

From Historical Hastings

Early Days

Before the introduction of a fire-brigade, much of the burden on extinguishing fires fell upon the property-holders, a number of which purchased insurance-bonds to ensure their property would be attended by the fire-service paid by those bonds, or self-extinguish the fires.

The St. Leonards Commissioners started to seriously discuss the possibility of purchasing its own fire-engine in 1838/9, the ones based in Hastings were felt to be too far away. A fund was set up, and after a couple of false-starts, the fledgeling town had its own engine housed in the upper St. Leonards mews[1]

The Hastings Fire Brigade was set up on the 3rd of July 1861 after a public meeting in the town hall, due to criticism of the Council’s semi-voluntary service. The brigade was possibly the first volunteer brigade in England.

The brigade consisted of three sections, of 13 men each (a foreman, engineer, sub-engineer and ten pioneers or firemen)[2], being founded by William Montague Glenister (1828-1894), who was the captain until 1889. The sections were then in the following locations;

No 1 Section: Old Town Hall, High Street[3]
No 2 Section: 'Castle Road', Wellington Square[3]
No 3 Section: St. Leonards Police Station, Mercatoria Square[3]
"St. Leonards Volunteer Steam Fire Brigade"[4]. This existed until 1891, when it became affiliated to the borough brigade.[5], although Brett suggests that the pre-existing St. Leonards Brigade was wound up at the end of 1861, with a volunteer section under the overall command of Captain Glenister being utilised as a replacement[6].

A fourth section at Halton was formed in 1879 and a fifth in Bohemia in 1891[2]. There is reference to five sections attending a fire in the High Street in December of 1879, but it is believed that this is including the St. Leonards Steam brigade[7].

Telephones connecting fire stations to both each other and the main Police Station were in place by 1883[4]

A management committee was formed consisting of the Hon. Secretary, Hon. Treasurer and a Collector of Subscriptions. The management committee consisted of the Superintendent, Secretary, Treasurer, Foremen, and Engineers, sub Engineers and six firemen who were chosen by ballot[2]. Funding for the Fire Brigade initially came in the form of subscriptions collected from local fire insurance offices. In addition to this various organised social and fundraising events and participation in local events assisted with funding. Starting in 1880 there was an annual Competition Fete with races and drills.[8]

1900s Expansion

In 1909, the brigade bought a 'Merryweather' 'Gem' steam fire engine which was based at the 'Central Fire Station'. Around this time, there was also recorded a surgeon and 3 lieutenants, with a staff of 70 men, divided into nine sections, the principal station being in Middle Street.[9] There were six 'manuals', one 'steamer' and five 'escapes', one in the High Street, one at the Central Cricket Ground, Queen's Road, one at Undercliff, St. Leonards, No. 7 Brigade (Clive Vale)[10] in Mount Road, and one in Corporation yard, West Marina; nine hose reels and six fire pumps, and one 'escape and reel' combined; the residences of the firemen being connected by telephone and electric bells with the principal station, they can all, in case of fire, be summoned immediately.[11] There is also reference to a fire station being situated at Kings Road[12]


Arrival of the fire engine 'Mary' August 1921

The first motor fire engine in the Hastings area was called Mary, being received in August, 1921[13]. The christening ceremony was preceded by a demonstration of the fire brigade's escapes against the walls of the Municipal Hospital and adjacent properties. The wife of Alderman Hocking, then Captain of the Brigade, was to christen the engine. After a number of attempts, the bottle of champagne finally broke and the engine could be christened. As the R.A.M.C. band struck up the tune 'Keep the home fires burning' to much amusement from the crowd, the assembled throng broke up, and the appliances returned to their various stations[14] and Mary was housed at the fire station in Shepherd Street. Allowing for much faster response times, Mary attended many fires including the house at Beauport Park in 1924.[15] The engine was reputed to be capable of a top speed of some 60 miles per hour from the recollection of its first driver, Mr J. G. Jefferson.[13]. The registration number was DY 1898, it was described as a 'motor pump' and the chassis number is thought to have been 11627.[16]

At this time, the Fire Brigade had 92 members. During the 1930s, it was established that a new professional brigade was required for the town and the volunteers were officially disbanded on the 1st of October 1938; their last fire being the catastrophic fire at Dengates that occurred on their last day[17].

Professional Brigade

In 1938, the County Borough of Hastings set up a professional Fire Brigade, employing some of the volunteer firemen. There was a tour and key handover ceremony at each of the borough's fire stations on the 1st of October 1938[18]The headquarters around this time was in Marina[19]. Upon the incorporation into East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS), the borough's stations became area 31.

Major Fires

14th January 1893   :   Jenkins Fire
9th December 1904   :  Mastins Fire
4th January 1909   :  Tapners Fire
15th July 1917   :  Hastings Pier Fire (1917)
18th February 1937   :  Stricklands Fire (1937)

Fire Stations

Priory Road Opened 1891[20]
No 2 Castle Hill Road[21]
No 7 Section (Opened 1896)[22]. This was situated on the corner of Mount Road and Clive Avenue. There was a Police Station adjacent.
Seaside Road (Opened 18 March 1905)[23]
West Marina Opened 1905[24]
No 3 Shepherd Street Opened 1908[25]
Battle Road Fire Station situated on Battle Road


References & Notes

  1. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 2 Chap. 21
  2. a b c The National Archives: Records of the Hastings and St. Leonards Volunteer Fire Brigade 1861-1938 | The National Archives, accessdate: 17 January 2020
  3. a b c Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Tuesday 01 January 1867
  4. a b Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 26 May 1883
  5. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 21 March 1891
  6. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 9 Chap. 65 Pg. 2
  7. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 27 December 1879 Pg. 0005
  8. Records of the Hastings and St. Leonards Volunteer Fire Brigade 1861-1938 (HASMG:2004.65 - Hastings Museum & Art Gallery)
  9. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 05 February 1910
  10. An Illustrated History of Clive Vale (Brian Lawes) pg51
  12. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 29 June 1907
  13. a b Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 27 October 1934
  14. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 27 August 1921 Pg. 0003
  15. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 04 March 1922
  16. 'Leyland Fire engines 1909-1930' published by the Leyland Society (Peter Simpson - Historical Hastings Facebook group)
  17. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 1 October 1938 Pg. 0011
  18. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 01 October 1938
  19. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 09 April 1949
  20. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 08 February 1896
  21. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 24 July 1880
  22. An Illustrated History of Clive Vale (Brian Lawes) pg 52
  24. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 18 March 1905
  25. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 03 October 1908