Parish fire pump

Anyone entering Waltham’s new Village Hall can’t fail to notice the bright red parish fire pump which has pride of place in the entrance hall. After extensive restoration, it was finally unveiled on 25th October 2008. Here’s the story of how it was tracked down and restored, as well as some of its history:

Click arrow to see dedication.

Click here to enlarge

Village Heritage Warden, Cllr. Richard Snodin, had always been fascinated as to the whereabouts or fate of the ancient village fire engine, and in 2004 he set out to establish what had become of it – and if it still existed, to check the possibility of its return to the village.

Click on the photo on the left to expand it. Click here to view a close-up of the inscription.

The last known resting place of the Parish Fire Pump (as it is more correctly known) was at the Fire & Rescue HQ at Glenfield near Leicester, where it had been sent on loan many years ago… so the hunt was on! Richard and friend Alan Luntley set off on a reconnaissance mission to investigate – however, they were met with some consternation at Fire & Rescue HQ, as the staff did not really know what the intrepid duo were talking about!

Having said that, they were very helpful and a search of the premises revealed the 200 year old fire engine still sitting in a long-disused reception area of the large building! The Assistant Chief Fire Officer confirmed that the engine was indeed on loan, and belonged to the parishioners of Waltham – and subsequently suggested that they would like it removed!

There followed the involvement of the parish council, who under the leadership of chairman Peter Holbrook, gave their full support and backing to getting the engine returned to the village and putting on public display. However, a suitable ‘home’ had to be found for this wonderful local artefact, and discussions with the various bodies took place. Peter Holbrook approached the village hall committee, and arranged for himself and Richard to give the committee a presentation at one of their meetings – whereupon a unanimous decision was reached to display the engine in a prominent position in the village hall foyer.

The Waltham fire engine was made by London firm, Phillips & Hopwood of Blackfriars Bridge, around 1800. We can be quite specific about the date because Phillips & Hopwood operated between 1797-1811 and the engine was acquired by local lady Mrs. I. Greenfield who presented it to the residents of Waltham on the Wolds in 1802, it having originally seen service in London.

Mrs. Greenfield stipulated that they should use it at least once every three months! (Incidentally, the graves of the Greenfield family can be seen in the village churchyard today – and there is a memorial plaque inside the church. )

The engine was originally carried to the scene of the fire on a special horse-drawn unit, together with a water cart, and a crew of four. The other firemen followed on foot, by bicycle, or any other means of transport available.

The engine saw varied service, including a fire at Belvoir Castle c.1820, and markings inside the bodywork clearly show that it was repaired in 1885 by M. Kelham and restored in 1958 by G. Geary.

The last fire attended by the engine was a haystack fire at Mr. J.R. Morris’s farm at Stonesby on December 8th 1940. The call was received by George Garner at 4.25pm, and the engine was in attendance at 4.50pm – just before the Melton Mowbray Brigade arrived!

1 Comment

  1. Richard has added some more information about the pump:

    In 1708, The House of Commons passed the Parish Pump Act ordering that every parish must keep a water pump to help extinguish fires. However, it was another 12 years before English inventor Richard Newsham came up with an effective design for a fire-fighting water pump.

    His pump consisted of an open trough on wheels. The trough was filled with water using buckets. Inside the trough were two pistons attached to two large handles. Pumping the handles up and down squeezed the pistons and pushed the water out of a swivelling copper spout on top of the pump. The key element of Newsham’s design was a ‘gimble’ – a chain mechanism that allowed the pistons to remain vertical while pumping. This made the pump far more powerful than other designs.

    The fact that the trough was mounted on wheels meant it could be pulled to the site of the blaze like a cart. The result was the first truly effective fire engine that could race to a blazing house and squirt 400 litres of water per minute at flames over 40 metres away.

    By 1721 Newsham had built fire pumps that could be operated by up to 16 people. So successful was his design that similar fire pumps remained in operation up until the 1930s. as, indeed, was the case with the Waltham fire pump – remaining in service until 1940.

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