Provision prior to 1894
From the 1700s insurance companies provided private fire brigades in major urban areas, funded by premiums paid by their policyholders. Fire-fighters would only tackle a fire when it affected their own insured customers. In the Victorian era thinking changed and Volunteer Fire Brigades were set up in urban areas, prompted by several notable incidents, including the Tooley Street fire in London in 1861. Chester already had a volunteer fire brigade established in the mid-1800s and they were called on to deal with any major incidents in Hoole. The Local Board of Health governed all matters regarding risk to life and two major fires, one in 1868 at the Flookersbrook Tannery and the other in 1876 at William Philips, a cheese maker on Hoole Road, both involving thatched roofs and a turnout from the Chester Volunteer Fire Brigade (CVFB), seem to have spurred the Board to consider fire-fighting provision in the area.
In August 1874 in a lengthy discussion on "The protection of property from fire" Superintendent Noblett, of CVFB, provided advice and led to the purchase of a hose for £81 and a realisation that as there were only 2 hydrants, some properties, such as Hoole House and Hoole Lodge, would not be reached.
In September 1874 a letter from Captain Smith, Chief Constable of Cheshire gave the Board permission to erect a building in the Constabulary Yard on Hoole Road, in which to keep the Reel Cart and Hose, subject to certain terms. The following month plans were prepared to obtain a tender, and in November the quote from Charles Holland of Faulkner Street amounting to £34-10-9 for the work was accepted and the building work commenced.
In 1877 the Board appointed Sergeant Clark of Cheshire Constabulary to take charge of the firehose and other equipment, and approving payment of £5 a year to do so.
In February 1886 one of his successors, Detective Inspector Downes, by then "caretaker of the hydrants and appliances in connection with the firehose reel", resigned and his successor, Inspector Brittain, was appointed. In debate it was asserted that
- "no-one apart from the Surveyor was conversant with the working of the fire extinguishing apparatus, the necessity to work in conjunction with CVFB was emphasised, and to make an effort to raise a few volunteers"
In April 1886 the Board held discussions on the set-aside of £44-1s for fire extinguishing purposes including:
- "Alteration to Hose Reel Cart £4-10s;Hoist and ladders £15;
- Equipment for 6 firemen £8-1s;
- Drill instruction £1-10s;
- Telephone to Chester Fire Station £15."
..which resulted in the latter only being agreed. It also raised the question: "Did Hoole need its own Fire Service?". However, arrangements didn’t change.
In 1894 Hoole Urban District Council was formed, replacing the Board, and its new offices opened next to Williams Terrace in Peploe Street, now Westminster Road. At the rear "accommodation was provided for the carts, horses, firehose etc." - an interesting report that also confirmed that the Council owned a horse which could be used for fire turnouts; unfortunately a year later it was necessary to hire one! The firm of W.H. Hallmark in Milton Street, was used to supply the horsepower required to pull the manual pump.
Hoole Volunteer Fire Brigade
The Hoole Voluntary Fire Brigade (HVFB) was formally established by a vote taken at the Hoole Local Board on 2nd April 1894. The Board also gave authority that the new fire brigade would be allowed the use of the Board’s equipment; namely the fire hose and other appliances – previously under the control of the Police. In addition, Chester Waterworks Company granted permission for the brigade to use their mains supply, should there be an outbreak of fire, on the condition that there should not be “no extravagant use of water”.
In May the first HVFB meeting was held. Only three men were present but this did not deter them from forming the service, and their efforts paid off as in November of the same year "the whole of Hoole Fire Brigade" joined The Station Company of Chester Volunteers, as it marched from the General Railway Station, over Hoole Bridge to All Saints Church for divine service. The Brigade was commanded by Captain R Cecil Davies and two Lieutenants, Charles Atkin and Dr Francis Butt.
Hoole Volunteer Fire Brigade sensibly adopted the Rule Book of the Earl of Chester's Fire Brigade for their own use and for managing the brigade.
Also in May 1894 details of a subscription fund "to defray the expenses of equipment etc" were published in the Cheshire Observer showing that £25-14-6 had been raised. Established local names appeared on the list of contributors including the Davies family.
Public funding was complemented by several of the volunteers buying their own equipment, and additional equipment was borrowed or acquired from surplus stock held by the CVFB. The fire helmet pictured belonged to Harry Hughes, HVFB member and, as can be seen, came from surplus stock of the CVFB.
A prize draw was also established by E.H Dawson, another HVFB member, which he ran from his newsagents in Faulkner Street, to provide additional funds for the brigade.
The role of Richard Cecil Davies (see: The Davies of Hoole)
R Cecil Davies was to be actively associated in practical fire brigade work for a period of 30 years. Initially he served with the Chester Volunteer Fire Brigade (“CVFB”) in the nominal role of fireman. In the records of the CVFB in 1886 entry No 154 details the admission of Richard Cecil Davies, aged 25, Seller Street, Chester, on the 4th February. This first period of service was to last only two years, as in the CVFB records he left the Brigade on the 21st February 1888 with “resigned” given as the reason. Some 18 months later he was elected to the Hoole Local Board and in 1893 he took up the question of whether Hoole, where he had been a resident for several years, should have its own Fire Brigade and organised a series of informal gatherings to discuss it.
With two other colleagues from Hoole Urban District Council, Dr. Francis John Butt (1863 – 1933) and Charles Atkin, together with Joseph Owen, an experienced member of CVFB, they succeeded in forming the HVFB. Davies became the Chief Officer from its formation through to his retirement from the position in May 1914, when he was succeeded by Charles Atkin as Captain of the Brigade. Davies became the Honorary Treasurer to the Brigade and held this position until his death in 1917. He was highly regarded by members of the Brigade who on the marriage of Edith, his daughter, gave a wedding present of a marble clock.
Davies was a very strong advocate for the Hoole fire brigade, ensuring it received council and local community support. Through his involvement with the National Fire Brigades Union, the HVFB’s name and activities became recognized throughout the North-West Region.
In addition to this, in 1900 Davies became Vice-Chairman of the North-West District of the National Fire Brigade’s Union (NFBU) and in 1902 was duly elected its Chairman, a position he held for two years. Due to his experience and position within the NFBU he was often asked to judge fire brigade competitions within the North-West Region and in which HVFB often competed.
The Early Years of HVFB
The newly formed brigade was able to take advantage of the new accommodation in Peploe Street (see: Westminster Road}, with the hose reel cart moving there from the Police station on Hoole Road. The Council provided a house next door, linked to Williams Terrace, initially for its surveyor Charles Atkin, which meant that he was on the spot should a turnout be required. Alfred Catherall, the foreman of the Council, also a volunteer fireman who became Superintendent of HVFB, succeeded him in living there.
At the 1895 first anniversary dinner the by then Surgeon Lieutenant Butt was presented with a silver cigarette case for "pulling through the examination 20 out of 22 scholars (of the Brigade) in the St Johns Ambulance Class". Richard Grandridge, Chairman of the UDC, offered to meet 25% of the cost of a much-needed engine, but the consent of the Local Government Board was needed for the remainder to be borrowed. The proposal to name the engine "Richard Grandridge" did not however occur because he died in 1897, before the Local Government Board enquiry in January 1898 to borrow the £300 required took place. This figure included a shed in which to house it and reports of the hearing contain much interesting information and opposition to the proposal. The loan was finally agreed and a report of a fire in Guilden Sutton in September 1899 refers to the new manual engine under the command of Sgt Joseph Owen working in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.
Members of HVFB
The nominal role of the HVFB has not been found, hence the identification of active members of the Brigade have had to be extracted from secondary sources, including press articles, personal reminisces, census records, and minutes of the Hoole Urban District Council (“HUDC”).
HVFB Captains – position gained by votes of the brigade members
- 1894, April – 1914, May: Richard Cecil Davies (Captain)
- 1914, May – 1919, October: Charles Atkin (Captain)
- 1919, October – 1924, February: Alfred Catherall (appointed Superintendent in 1913)
What can be seen from the Brigade members identified is that a significant number were drawn from, or indeed associated, with the HUDC, either being elected representatives, council officers or council employees.
- Richard C Davies, HVFB Captain
- Dr Francis J Butt, HVFB Surgeon Lieutenant (Dr Butt resigned as a member to become the Council's Medical Officer of Health in 1900.)
- Charles Atkin, Lieutentant then Capt, Hoole Urban District Council Surveyor / Collector of Rates & Sanitary Inspector
- Thomas E Powell (Council Labourer)
- William Rea (Council Driver)
- Alfred Catherall (Council Foreman & caretaker) Sergeant became Superintendent
- T H Davies
- A L Williams
- Alfred A Bennion (bricklayer) became Sergeant
- Joseph Hughes (building & motor trade)
- Harry Hughes (building & motor trade)
- Edward H Dawson (Newsagent) became Lieutentant
- E Mealing (Furniture Dealer)
- J Ball (Plumber)
- W H Hallmark (Cab & Funeral Provider)
- John Pay ( Boot maker)
- William Turnbull
- Joseph Owen, CVFB Sergeant transferred to HVFB
- J Mercer
- T Gordon
- C Fannon
- J Pritchard
- H Ellis
Long Service Medal Recipients
In 1908 Alfred Catherall was presented with his 10 years Long Service Medal; it appears that he did not join until 1898, when he was appointed foreman to the Council .By 1913 he had become Superintendent of the Brigade and was presented with a portrait by a local artist, of himself in fireman's uniform, in recognition of his success in competions year after year.
In October 1919 Charles Atkin and Francis Butt received their 25 years Long Service Bar.
Further research has identified a press article in Chester Observer; May 1926. It lists the following individuals also being awarded long service medals whilst serving with the Chester City brigade; and includes their time served with the HVFB
- Alfred Catherall - 30 years.
- S Lamb – 15 years
- T Breen – 15 years
- W Walker – 15 years
Information found in Reports of Annual Dinners
Speeches given at HVFB Annual Dinners at the time sometimes provide additional insight into the Brigade’s workings including fires attended, several outside the District, some involving work with the Chester VFB. In 1908 at the Bromfield Arms in Hoole, new uniforms, purchased with public contributions, were worn for the first time. In 1914 it was stated that the Council had provided a recreation room and a billiard table, also "The Brigade had done well in competitions".
At the annual dinner in 1913 it was reported that some 50 fires had been attended since the Brigade's formation, nearly 20 years earlier, most of them outside the District . The low incidence of fires within Hoole itself was ammunition for those opposed to expenditure on the service. They advocated the use of the Chester Volunteer Brigade instead and on a wider scale complete amalgamation with Chester Town Council for all of its functions, but HVFB continued despite this.
Some of the fires and related incidents appear below:
- 1897: Chester Town Hall - worked with CVFB and Duke of Westminster's Brigade from Eaton Hall.
- 1897: Tomkinson Street house fire
- 1899: Chester Leadworks - worked with Leadworks own brigade and CVFB and Guilden Sutton haystack fire - new engine used
- 1900: Thornton Green- Thomas Jeffs - hay, cart and lurry ablaze
- 1903: Lawton's Coachworks, Chester - worked with CVFB
- 1909: Thornton-le-Moors church belfry and Hare Lane, James Richardson's farm haystack fire
- 1913: Wrexham Road, Edwards' farm haystack fire
- 1914: Picton Hall Farm haystack fire and Densons Store, Northgate Street - worked with CVFB
- 1916: Wervin, Chapel House Farm Shotwick New Hall
- 1917: Parkgate House, Shotwick, dutch barn fire- with CVFB and Mossford Farm, Tattenhall, haystack fire
- 1918: Plough Lane, Christleton, hayrick fire - "because Mr Hallmark's horses were drawing a carriage at a wedding attendance was delayed "
Synopsis of Equipment 1899-1914
Other events and activities
In September 1899 the Brigade's First Annual Sports Day was held in the grounds of Hoole House, when the Chief Constable of Cheshire, living at neighbouring Hoole Lodge, successfully opposed a drinks licence.
The Sports Days became annual events, contests between firemen and visiting brigades causing keen competition and considerable amusement. The 1904 Sports Day was held at The Folly.
HVFB played a large part in local civic events, processions ,fetes and carnivals, etc. At the 1911 Coronation Celebrations "members of Hoole Fire Brigade (under Lt E.H. Dawson and Sgts Bennion and Catherall) mounted on the fire engine were in the procession behind the band of the Welsh Royal Field Artillery".
In February 1904, Mr R Stringer, the landlord of the Faulkner Arms, offered to present the district with a 18 inch diameter Fire Bell if the Council would accept it and provide a proper tower for hanging it. The latter was agreed, and Mr Horace Davies (brother of Richard Cecil Davies & HUDC’s Consulting Surveyor) designed and supervised the tower´s erection adjacent to the Council Offices. The picture of the brigade at the beginning of the article was taken on the handover of the new tower & bell in September 1904, and at the subsequent reception held at the Westminster Schools, William Williams, Chairman of the Council presented the 10 years long service medals referred to above.
Hoole UDC provided significant support to the HVFB in terms of funding equipment and in 1911 approved and paid for the addition of a new store and recreation room over the existing engine house in Westminster Road. . The Hoole UDC minute book for 1898 and again in 1919 record the rules for regulating the employment of the Manual Fire Engine beyond the Boundary of the Urban District of Hoole, and the charges to be paid by third parties who required HVFB services. The services themselves were detailed with their associated costs.
Merger and Dissolution
From the early 1920s, the HVFB were under constant scrutiny, from both an economic and service perspective, by the elected representatives of Hoole Urban District Council. In September 1924, it was decided to undertake a strategic review of the need to modernize the HVFB. This resulted in the UDC approaching Chester City Corporation to request it take over the responsibilities for fire protection within the UDC area. This was agreed via a 5 year contract in January 1926, and as a result at the February monthly UDC meeting a resolution was passed to dissolve the HVFB and to place the equipment with the City Corporation’s fire brigade. A letter of thanks was sent out to all members of the HVFB at that time ending their services, with some 5 members joining the city brigade as a result, including Superintendent Catherall.
At this time the Urban Disrict Council moved its offices from Westminster Road to The Elms on Hoole Road. The vacant offices were used by Moffatt and Gillespie as a drapery store, and the fire station became a lino and curtain warehouse run by Greenaway and Sons.
From Voluntary to Statutory Provision
The advent of World War II brought about a number of changes. A National Fire Service was set up with a station based in Hoole, and an air raid siren was mounted on the roof of The Elms; this was later used in peacetime to indicate a fire in the area. After the War responsibility for the fire service provision in Hoole passed to Cheshire County Council who based a fire engine in its shed in the grounds of The Elms. When the fire service was reorganised the fire engine was moved to Northgate Street in Chester and its shed used to house Hoole Branch Library.
When Hoole Urban District Council gave up its powers to Chester City in 1954 The Elms became a base and training centre for the City of Chester Auxiliary Fire Service, a practice tower being erected in its grounds. The Elms was demolished in 1985 due to extensive dry rot. A Medical Centre was built on the site which is now occupied by a Co-operative supermarket.
Material on Hoole Volunteer Fire Brigade including photographs are the copyright of Douglas Edwards; additional information provided by Ralph Earlam