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Tonbridge Fire Brigade


The Birth of the Towns Fire Service  

After the Great Fire of London in 1666 brick replaced old wooden houses and owners began to insure their premises against fire. Insurance companies were granted charters to provide fire assurances and they realised it was in their own interests to hire men to put out fires in buildings under their cover.

 Because many years ago houses were not numbered like today and they had very little formal "addressing system" these Fire marks were used as a way of telling the insurance company which buildings and houses were insured. The policyholders where issued with a metal badge or fire mark which was fixed in a very visible place to the outside of a building. These Fire marks were made from Lead or Copper, with the policy number below.If a fire broke out it was not unusual for more than one company's 'brigade' to arrive at the scene. However if the fire mark were not there own, they would leave the building, to burn.

 Tonbridge Town

The first person to provide fire-fighting equipment for the towns was probably the well respected George Hooper a local solicitor (1660 1744). During his life it is said that he had a preoccupation with fire precautions and as such gave eighteen leather fire buckets to the town.


When George Hooper died in 1744 and his will directed the following:


"that my executor within three months after my decease do layout the sum of forty pounds for a water engine or engines to be placed in the parish church of Tonbridge, for the use of the said church and Tonbridge town to extinguish fire (which God prevent)

The engine was indeed kept in the lobby of the parish church and was subsequently joined by two fire hooks (used for pulling thatch from roofs). These hooks can still be seen in the lobby of the parish church today.

Kent Insurance Company Maidstone 1802-1901.The emblem is based on the arms of Kent. Hengst (the horse) was a Saxon Chieftain who invaded Kent, and 'Invictor' means 'unconquered' 

 Fire Hooks in Use

 Fire Hooks inside the Parish Church Lobby

 leather fire buckets

Circa 1814

At a parish meeting, it was decided to erect a permanent building to house the engine. This was to be built near the south gate of the churchyard, on the outside of the churchyard fence and against the wall of the vicarage field. 


  Circa 1870

With the formation of the ‘Local Board’, the fire engine, fire buckets and fire hooks were taken over by the ‘Lighting Committee’, which reported to the Local Board. At this time in 1870 the fire brigade consisted of nine firemen and a Superintendent. Mr William Dove became Superintendent in August 1871, after his father's resignation. A year later in September 1872 the role was taken over by Mr Charles Corke. 


  Circa 1873

A grant was given by the ‘Royal Society for the Protection of Life’ for a free fire escape for the use of the district.


  Circa 1875

The ‘Lighting Committee’ had been absorbed by the ‘Highway Committee' and subsequently the control of the Fire Brigade.  


  Circa 1876

 It would appear that there were two fire brigades in Tonbridge, one being mentioned as the ‘Steam Fire Brigade’. At this time the fire brigade equipment was now being kept in the ‘Crown Yard’, which was to the rear of the Local Board's offices. These were located where Barclays Bank now stands.  


  Circa 1880


It was agreed to combine the two brigades under the charge of Captain Le Fleming, with all equipment being housed at the Crown Yard. 


   September 1883

Saw the arrival of a new 42 FT ‘Shand Mason’ fire escape. A London fireman was procured to drill the volunteers in its use.

Tonbridge Fire Brigade in the Crown Yard circa 1887 note spelling on the two pumps Tunbridge & Tonbridge also the new 42 FT ‘Shand Mason’ fire escape

July 1889

A large steam horn was erected at the Tonbridge Waterworks, in order that the Tonbridge fireman may be summoned when required. 



The volunteer fire brigade sent a deputation to the Local Board complaining at the state of the engine house and equipment. The Local Board agreed to set up a committee to look into the Fire Brigade.

One month later the committee reported back to the Local Board

  • with the following recommendations:-

  • that a competent authority be called upon to report on the fire brigade.
  • that four 60 ft canvas hoses be brought.
  • that the fire escape and cover be repaired.
  • that the Local Board should be responsible for expenses at fires.

    that ten new fire hydrants be placed in the town.

    that a permanent committee be formed for fire brigade matters.

    The newly formed "Fire Brigades Committee" spent much of the next ten years trying to persuade the Local Board and later Tonbridge Urban District Council into providing more suitable accommodation and better equipment for the fire brigade. 


     Terrible fire in the High Street -1900

     A Father and three children burned to death

    It was not until tragedy struck in 1900, when Harris’ Drapers Shop, next to the ‘Bull Hotel’ caught fire that the long sought after improvements were made to the Tonbridge Fire Brigade.
    Between 11 & 12 o’clock Thursday evening September the th 1900 a serious fire broke out at the establishment of Harris Outfitter situated between the Bull Hotel and Mr Vanes grocery stores. The fire seems to have commenced in the kitchen at the back of the premises, and was first seen by a Mr Fayat a French gentlemen who with his wife were staying in the Bull Hotel. He at once raised the alarm and Miss Ellen Collins & Miss Capleton the barmaid hurried to the Waterworks and acquainted Mr Flood Fire Officer of what had accrued. In the Meantime every effort was made to awaken the inmates and there was no doubt they were all asleep – they consisted of Mr Charles Tatten age 46 his wife and four children Helen 16, Charles 14, Hilda 12, Elizabeth 6.

    Mrs Tatten was seen at the upstairs window of which she climbed out in the direction of those present, clambered along a narrow balcony in her night dress and was rescued by means of a ladder taken from the Bull Hotel .

    The only boy living in the house her son Charles 16 was seen clinging to the window sill of the highest window and when he could no bear the heat no longer he fell and was caught by Mr W.H. Ongley and surprisingly was not to seriously injured.

  • The Towns Fire Escape ladder

    Why was the New Fire Escape ladder not brought out to aid in the rescue, Mr Charles William Wolley ran to the Castle Grounds for the Fire escape ladder as he past many houses and shops shouting Fire and waving his hands hoping that other would assist . On reaching the Castle grounds he found the gates shut and tried to open them but they seemed to be locked. Mr Wolley then ran back to the fire, roomers soon spread that the Escape Ladder was locked up in the Castle grounds.

    By the time the fireman got the Hydrant to work all hope of saving the property was out of the question. A thrill of horror ran through the crowds when it was known that Mr Tatten and his Daughters were still in the building. Every effort was made to save Mr Tatten and his Daughter but the flames roared through the building destroying everything in its way. The flames blistered paint on the shutters of buildings on the opposite side of the road. The steamer pump was set in at the Botany stream providing water, any chances of saving the family was lost. The Fireman was directed to save the other premises, The Bull Hotel & Mr Vanes groceries establishment.

    The Firemen battled to control the spread of the fire to the other buildings and after sometime they managed to get the fire under control. Eventually entry was made to the Harris building only to find the body of the manager Mr Tatten at the bottom of the stairs where he had tried desperately to help his three Daughters. 

  • The Inquest  

    The inquest lasted several days and the Jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death and recommended unanimously that the Urban District Council should provide a properly equipped fire Brigade. The jury also congratulated the brigade for saving the adjoining buildings and asked the coroner to recommend the council to at once install an electrical communication between the call office and the fireman as the steam horn at the time of the incident had insufficient pressure to sound. The alarm points should be placed at different points in the town. It was also for the Urban District Council for the necessity for a public Mortuary. After the tragedy the inquest also recommended that the Fire brigade Escape Ladder be wheeled out of the castle grounds at dusk every night and placed under the old town hall for all to see .










    Laying the Foundation Stones The New Fire Station -1901   

     It was decided to build new premises for the fire brigade and tenders were sought from local builders. The contract went to John Jarvis from Tunbridge Wells at a cost of £1,750. In July 1901 construction of the new fire station began The serious purpose of the building, which was to be marked by the formal proceedings of Monday, needed no decoration to carry home its lesson. Tonbridge is providing, at a considerable expense, as good a Fire Brigade Station as is needed for the housing of the appliances and the comfort of the brigade which will, we hope, protect the town against any similar tragedy to that which horrified us last year - the Harris Drapers Fire.          

  •  The Ceremony

    There is nothing theatrical about such a work; it is all very earnest and very real, and any great display of bunting would have been out of place. The few flags were in keeping with the holiday, not with the duty that happened to fall upon a holiday. The firemen formed in the Castle Grounds with the Rifle Volunteer Band, while a very large number of people gathered around the site of the building. On a temporary platform before the foundation stones, were collected the principals of the ceremony and representative people – Mr. W. Baldwin, Chairman of the Urban District Council, Major H. Finn, Chairman of the South Eastern Fire Brigades’ Union, Mr. F. E. East, J. P., and Mr. R. W. Annison, former Chairmen of the Tonbridge Urban District Council, Captain Barham, Captain W. H . Stepney (Sevenoaks), Captain W. H. Ferguson (Tonbridge), Mr. G. E. Jemmett, Dr. Manning Watts, Mr. T. Vane, Mr. A. J. Gower, Mr. B. E. Butcher, Mr. L. Breeze, Mr. A. H. Neve, Clerk to the Urban District Council, Mr. A. Williams, Assistant Clerk, Mr. W. L. Bradley, Engineer, Mr. L. Le Fleming, Mr. G. Nunn, and Mr. W. N. Hogben.

    Mr. Annison said that as one of the committee entrusted with the task of the formation of a Fire Brigade under the direct control of the Council, and for the erection of a Fire Brigade Station in Tonbridge, he had been requested to say a few words by way of introduction to that ceremony, and recognising, as he did, the object that had brought so many of them there from distant parts of the county, and the very large amount of work that had to be got through that day, he could promise them that his words would be very brief. He thought they would all agree that it was particularly appropriate and well timed that the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Fire Brigade Station should take place when there were so many present who were engaged in the beneficent work for which that station was to be erected, and few would think the time wasted that was thus employed. And if the Chairman of the Council would pardon him for saying that which would come very much better from his lips, he would like to give a very hearty welcome to the members of the fire brigade which had visited their town.

    He was aware that Tonbridge is one of the smallest towns that had been  honored by a visit from their association for this purpose, but he hoped that the result of this meeting will be as satisfactory to them, as he was sure it would be pleasant to Tonbridge people. Most of them were aware that up to the present Tonbridge had been dependent for protection against fire on the efforts of a voluntary Fire Brigade, supported by subscriptions raised in the town and neighborhood, while it had received first £20 and afterwards £40 from the Tonbridge Urban District Council. The Council had also granted the Fire Brigade the use of a shed, at the back of the premises formerly known as the Free Library, for the storing of the engine which was paid for by subscriptions from residents in the neighbourhood, partly inside and partly outside Tonbridge, and it was only fair to say that the Fire Brigade had been more frequently employed attending to fires outside Tonbridge than in the town itself. And they, of the Tonbridge Urban Council, recognised what they owed to the officers and men of the fire Brigade for the services they had so willingly rendered. They knew and admitted with gratitude that Tonbridge was kept free from serious fires for a considerable time. That immunity was interrupted by the lamentable fire of last year. For some time past the Council had been considering plans for the erection of a Fire Brigade Station on the site of the shed at the back of the Free Library, a shed that was not properly constructed for the storing of an engine, which might have been seriously injured there. So the Council applied to the Local Government Board for their sanction to borrow money for that purpose and received their sanction.  But the scheme waited because it was intended that the Castle Grounds should be taken into the possession of the Council, and it was thought, universally so, that these grounds would be best for that purpose. Shortly after the Council had acquired these grounds, Mr. Bradley prepared a fresh set of plans for this site, and many of the gentlemen who were present at the last meeting of the Fire Brigade Association, held in Tonbridge, would remember that they were asked to inspect those plans, and they had met that day to lay the foundation stones of that building, in the hearty hope that the building now to be erected would be thoroughly suitable for the purpose for which it was required, and would be fit to play its part in the scheme for safeguarding the lives and the property of the people of this town.

  • Mr. A. H. Neve said his duty was a very pleasant one, and he was also glad to say that his remarks would be extremely brief. They all knew that Major Finn was captain of the excellent fire brigade at Lydd, and he was also president of the South Eastern District Fire Brigades’ Association. And Major Finn had kindly consented that day, being in the neighbourhood, to lay the foundation stone of their new Fire Brigade Station at Tonbridge. He need not say anything about the services that Major Finn had rendered to the Fire Brigades’ Union, for he had worked with them many years as captain of the Lydd Brigade, and had greatly assisted the efficiency of that brigade. Many of them knew, and all of them ought to know, that Major Finn commanded the brigade which took first prize in an all-England competition at manual drill. It was, therefore, with great gratification to his friends in fire brigade work that he accepted the position of chairman of the South Eastern District of the Fire Brigades’ Union. He (Mr. Neve) hoped that his term of office would be a pleasant one, as he was sure it would be a successful one. And it was a great gratification to them in Tonbridge when they knew that Major Finn had consented to lay the foundation stone of that building. It was his (Mr. Neve’s) duty to hand Major Finn a silver trowel, the intrinsic value of which was small, but it was a symbol of the work he had undertaken, and it would serve to remind him of the service he had rendered to the people of Tonbridge by accepting the official request to undertake the work he was about to perform.



    Major Finn then used the trowel to apply the usual modicum of mortar that is left for the final laying, and the stone having been lowered into its place, properly squared, he declared it to be well and truly laid.The trowel, a very handsome silver one (supplied by Mr. A. E. Cornell), bore the inscription:  “Presented by A. H. Neve to Major J. Finn, J.P., on his laying the foundation stone of the new fire brigade station, Tonbridge. May 27th, 1901.” Mr. W. L. Bradley, engineer to the Tonbridge Urban District Council, who prepared the plans for the new station, then presented a similar trowel to Mr. W. Baldwin, chairman of the Council, for the laying of a second foundation stone. Mr. Bradley said he had a similar duty to that carried out by Mr. Neve, namely, to present to Mr. Baldwin a trowel to lay one of the foundation stones of that building. He hoped that that building, which he had taken a great deal of trouble to design, might meet every requirement. He was sure that the station was very much needed, and would be of great use in the saving of life and property .Mr. Baldwin then used the trowel in the laying of the stone, and declared it to be well and truly laid. This trowel was identical with that presented to Major Finn, and with the alteration of the names of the giver and the recipient, the inscription was similar.



     The trowel, “Presented by Mr. W. L. Bradley to Mr. W. Baldwin .J.P. on his laying the foundation stone of the new fire brigade station, Tonbridge. May 27th, 1901.






    Mr. F. East, J.P. added that he had just been asked to propose a vote of thanks to their Chairman, Mr. Baldwin, and to Major Finn, who had just laid the foundation stones of their new Fire Brigade, Station. He could only say a s Tonbridgian, and speaking on behalf of his fellow townsmen, that they were very glad indeed to have these gentlemen to come forward and lay those stones in connectin with the Fire Brigade Station. It had been said that Tonbridge was a little town, but they might visit bigger towns and not find a Fire Brigade Station as good as theirs would be, and few towns of anything like that size had a better one. He need hardly say to the friends that had come to visit them that day that they in Tonbridge gave them a hearty welcome. He knew how much depended on the efforts of the men of the Fire Brigades in this county and everywhere else. He would like to know any man whose blood had not got to fever heat in joy and gratitude to the Fire Brigades when he saw them at work. He remembered as a boy seeing a great fire, and he saw a fireman get up to the window of the blazing house to be beaten back again by the smoke. Encouraged by the huzzas of the people, that brave fireman made a second effort, got in, and came out bringing with him the life he had risked his own to save. He thanked all who had come there that day, and especially their friends who had come forward for the stone-laying.

    Mr. J. Le Fleming had great pleasure in seconding the vote of thanks proposed by Mr. East. He had taken a great deal of interest in that matter, for until a little time ago he was connected with the Fire Brigade work, and he had always urged the necessity for a Fire Brigade Station. They started a scheme for a station to be held in that famous building, the remains of which they saw – the old Town Hall; but it was found that they were infringing the rights of the public. Then they went to a little hut, which he did not think he could find now, and then they went to the top of the Rose and Crown yard. At last they got to the old Free Library. But they had always wanted a proper Fire Brigade Station, and therefore he felt the importance of that stone-laying, and he heartily endorsed all that had been said of the necessity for such a Fire Station as they would shortly see erected. He cordially seconded the vote of thanks. Major Finn said he heartily thanked Mr. East and Mr. Le Fleming for the way in which they had proposed that toast, and the ladies and gentlemen around for the way in which they had received it. It gave him the greatest pleasure to be there that day to assist in that ceremony, and he thought it a very great honour to be asked to do so. Mr. East had said that their new Fire Brigade Station would be better than those in neighbouring towns. He could assure them – and he had seen a great many stations – that they would have the best Fire Brigade Station in the South of England. He did not propose to make a long speech, for they all wanted to get back to the work of the competitions in which many of them were engaged, but he would mention that he had just received notice that his most gracious Majesty the King had consented to become a patron of the National Fire Brigades’ Union . Mr. Baldwin said he was very much obliged to them for thanking him. He believed that firemen were engaged in one of the grandest works that men could be engaged in. He admired the firemen, who gave their spare time and their holidays to make themselves efficient in such a good work as they were engaged in. He trusted that that building would be a great blessing to the town. The band then played the National Anthem, the firemen standing at the salute, and all the gentlemen of the gathering uncovering.



    The Grand Opening - 12th April 1902 

     For some years the Urban District Council has had under it’s consideration a scheme for providing a Fire Brigade for the town and Urban District, and as each step was taken it was subject to criticism, not only from the rate-payers, but from surrounding neighbours as well.

    It will be well within the recollection of most people that the laying of the foundation of the new station marked an important period in the promulgation of the scheme, and on Saturday last the reception of the new engine and the opening of the station formed the successful issue of a venture, upon which the Council are to be congratulated. The early part of the day brewed ill for a pleasant afternoon, but about noon the sky cleared and the sun shed it’s brightness over the town, touching up the bright red colouring of the Fire Station, within which had that morning been graced the new “steamer” engine from Messrs. Shand, Mason and Co., of London. Although somewhat out of sight the new station is sure to form one of the attractions of Tonbridge, and Mr. Bradley is to be also congratulated on the satisfactory result of his efforts. On the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone . “We have been told by one gentleman that ours is the complete station in Kent; and last Whit Monday Capt. Finn said it was the best fire station in the South Eastern District; while Mr. Hitchcock tells us it is the best, bar one, in the world.”  Surely Mr. Bradley must feel proud of such a testimonial.And the new steamer too is a possession the town will appreciate     

    Tonbridge Urban District Council 1900 - William Baldwin Centre

    After having been admired by the inhabitants during it’s journey round the town, how excellently it carried out the tests to which it was submitted, give one a feeling of confidence in any work it may be expected to do in the future. As the stream of water was thrown over the tall shaft of the new Electric Lighting Station it was easily understood that there was not a building in Tonbridge but could come within the protection of the new Brigade. 


    Shortly after two the Fire Station Square was the centre of attraction, and a large crowd witnessed the assembling of a number of brigades from surrounding towns, whose glittering helmets and shoulder straps shone in the bright sunshine. First of all came the Tunbridge Wells Military Band, and immediately behind them the old hand-pump, bearing the date of 1801. Truly a good opening to such a precession, and forming a unique contrast to the steamer which would bring up the end, one of the latest and most improved of modern appliances. As though to mark the progress of the fire engine, the old steamer of the Tonbridge and District Brigade, bought in 1876, was followed by the Tunbridge Wells Borough manual, while a steamer from the same town preceded that of the Urban District Council.
    The following were the names of the brigades present: -

      • Tunbridge Wells Borough, with manual fire engine – Capt. Westbrook, Third Officer Hayward, Supt. Spurrell, Bernard Westbrook (secretary), and six men.
      • Maidstone Borough Brigade – Lieut. Wainscott and nine men.
      • Late Maidstone Volunteer Brigade – Capt. French, Sergt. Fort, and four men.
      • Tonbridge Union Brigade – Capt. Gane and six men.
      • Tunbridge Wells District, with steamer – Supt. Mason, Engineer Willicombe, and thirteen men.
      • Sevenoaks Urban District Council – Capt. Jabez Mann, Supt. Hancocks, and four men.
      • Leigh Fire Brigade – Drill instructor Baldwin and eleven men.
      • Tonbridge and District Fire Brigade – Capt. Ferguson, Supt. Palmer, Engineer Skinner, and nine men.
      • Southborough Brigade – Capt. Stringer and two men.
      • Tonbridge Urban District Council Brigade, with new steamer – Chief Officer Bradley, Second Officer Boyd, Engineer Ashby, with six honorary and eight ordinary firemen. 
  • Chief Officer Bradley at the Opening of the New Fire Station 1902


    Here the ratepayers had assembled in eagerness to watch what would be the result of the trials to which the engine would be put, and, as before stated, the results were such as to inspire confidence both in the appliances and brigade.

    On one side of the stream, which, after passing through the Castle Grounds, wends it way along the side of the Recreation Ground, rose the tall shaft of the Electric Power Station, with the Union Jack, which marked its completion, still floating from the top, though hardly stirred by the slight breeze which blew. From the water level to the coping round the summit measured a good 126 feet, but to the top of the flagstaff over 140, and it was to the latter that the water was to be forced.
    As soon as the new steamer was in position Mr. G. E. Jemmett mounted the side-board and addressing those present, said – “The Council, in considering the question of the purchase of a new fire engine for the use of the Brigade today inaugurated, considered tenders from numerous makers and ultimately, after inspecting engines in course of construction at the works of all the best engineers, accepted the offer of Messrs. Shand, Mason and Co. for the supply of an engine, which has today been delivered.

    The test requirements were extremely strict, not only as to the construction and materials of the engine itself, but also with regard to the work it would be required to do. In every respect the engine has been examined by the Council’s officers, and has been found in every way equal to the Council’s requirements. The formal tests now about to be applied include a trial as to the time within which steam can be raised and water delivered after the match has been applied. The water should go completely over the flag at the top of the chimney shaft (which has a height of 150 feet), commencing to flow from the 15-16th inch nozzle, held by the firemen, within 6½ minutes. The match will be dropped in by Mrs. Baldwin, the wife of the Chairman of the Council. Two ¾ - inch jets will afterwards be thrown at one time 100 feet high. Four lengths of hose will throw half inch jets to a height of seventy feet; and then a one inch nozzle will throw a solid body of water to a height of from 100 to 120 feet. This will be required for places where a large quantity of water is required, but the building is of no great height. I congratulate the town on possessing what I am sure will prove to be an admirable engine. It was build by a firm that is second to none in the world, and the name alone is sufficient to guarantee that the quality is the best that could be produced.” He then called upon Mrs. Baldwin to light the fuse required to kindle the furnace.

    Mrs. Baldwin having gracefully performed this task, the result was awaited with eagerness. Smoke quickly issued from the funnel, and steam was obtained as follows:- 5lb pressure, 4 mins. 59 secs.; 10lbs., 5 mins, 29 secs.; 20lbs., 6 mins.; 30lbs., 6 mins, 59 secs.

    The tests were carried out under the personal supervision of Mr. Whitehead, representing Messrs, Shand, Mason and Co., assisted by an engineer from the firm, and both these, knowing the capabilities of the engine, were able to demonstrate the power and quality of the machinery. Mr. Whitehead is to be congratulated on the success of the day’s proceedings, which only tended to prove the remark made by Mr. Jemmett, that the firm of Messrs. Shand, Mason and Co. are second to none. The members of the new brigade, too, were not idle, and eager to associate themselves with the splendid steamer, lent a willing hand in preparing the hose, &c.
    The first test was a 15-16th inch jet. Two lengths of hose were coupled to the engine, and at the other end into a large breeching and one large length of hose. From this a jet was thrown to a height of 150 feet, and as the spray curved over the Union Jack at the top of the shaft the crowd cheered, and the band played “Rule Britannia.”
    Next four 50ft. lengths of hose were coupled, two from each delivery, with two ¾ inch jets, and the water was thrown to a height of 140 feet, or up to the coping of the shaft.

    For the third test four lengths of hose were coupled with two breechings to the two from the engine, and four half inch jets were brought into play, each jet throwing a spray of water to distance of 100 feet.  In the last test a one inch nozzle was used, working from a breeching attached to the two outlets of the engine; and a solid stream of water was thrown over the shaft to a height of at least 160 feet, this performance again being greeted with cheers. Throughout the whole of the tests the engine ran smoothly and easily, it being noticed that there was a minimum of vibration, while but few sparks were emitted from the funnel.  


    The new Steam Fire Engine acquired by the Tonbridge Urban Council is of special interest in that it is of the new type recently introduced by Messrs. Shand, Mason & Co., bearing many important improvements, and for which orders have already been given for a large number of engines by the London County Council and the Corporations of Glasgow, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Blackburn, Preston, Burnley and other large towns.


     Chief Officer Bradley at the Opening of the New Fire Station 1902


    The new engine, which has been selected from all the types on the marked for its lightness and special suitability for country work, follows the lines of the Shand-Mason patent “Double – Vertical” Steamer – well known throughout the country – in its main construction, but differs from the earlier machines of this type in that the steam cylinders are fitted with the new patent variable expansion arrangement by means of which the power of the engine can easily be regulated to the work to be done and a saving in the use of steam effected which has permitted of a reduction of nearly 10 per cent in the weight of the engine. Moreover, less fuel is consumed, the work of the engineer is lightened, and the exhaust being safer, far fewer sparks are emitted.
    The principal features of the Shand-Mason “Double Vertical” Engine are its twin double-acting steam cylinders directly upon a corresponding pair of double-acting pumps, these being placed vertically between the side-frames at the rear of the quick-steaming boiler furnishing the motive power. Two piston-rods convey the movement of each piston to the corresponding pump-rod, and a special form of connecting rod is introduced, the rods running from a joint in the headpiece of each pump to the pin of a double-throw crankshaft. This arrangement minimises friction and facilitates the smooth working of the machinery thereby considerably lessening the wear and tear; the absence of vibration greatly lengthens the life of hose and suction-pipe, while the design of the engine ensures a steady flow of water whether at high or low pressure. Other features of the engine are its lightness in comparison with power, its simplicity of design, and the rapidity and ease with which the pump valves and other parts can be got at for inspection or cleaning or overhauling when required.

    The boiler is of the firm’s patent inclined water-tube type, and as this is capable of raising steam from cold water to 100lb pressure per sq. inch in from 6 to 7½ minutes while stationary or 8 to 9 minutes while travelling, the difficult not to say dangerous task of stoking on route is avoided. The fire is lighted on leaving the fire station or when on the way by means of the novel though simple apparatus for the purpose fitted at the front of boiler and the full head of steam is obtained while travelling without any stoking whatever.
    It is thus possible to have the furnace door at the side in preference to the rear, the side position having important advantages, so much so that the Metropolitan Fire Brigade has in all recent orders expressly specified this arrangement. Briefly the advantages are as follows:- The engineer being away from the hose and suction-pipe connections and having all the gauges and boiler fittings within easy reach, can perform his work better; the position is more convenient for cleaning, oiling, &c., the centre of gravity is kept low, allowing the engine to travel more easily and safely, the design of the engine is less cramped and a lower position of the suction-inlet is permitted, which is very useful when working from a depth.

    The boiler fittings and feeding apparatus – of the most complete character and well adapted to their purpose – bear several important improvements recently introduced, including a safety sight feed for boiler. Alternative means of keeping the boiler supplied with water are provided to meet all contingencies. The lubricating arrangements have been very carefully designed, and are as far as possible self-acting.
    The engine is for its capacity the lightest steamer constructed, but though light in weight it is very strongly built, steel entering freely into construction of both carriage and frame. The parts of the machinery with which the water comes into contact are of gun metal, bronze, or other non-corrosive metal. The engine is mounted on strong high wood spoke wheels with steel axles, springs, and side frames, and is furnished with a full-size hose box, the lid of which forms seats for the firemen. When fully stowed with the necessary hose and other gear, and with men mounted, the engine can be rapidly drawn by a pair of horses, or, for nearby fires, can be easily drawn by hand.

    The pumping capacity of the engine is 300 gallons per minute, and a powerful stream of water is easily projected to a height of 150 feet through a 15 – 16in. jet-pipe, or as many as four smaller jets simultaneously to a good working height. Of exceeding compactness and finished in handsome style, the woodwork painted vermilion and bright metal parts highly burnished, the name of the Urban Council painted in gold with colour shading and surmounted by the arms of the town upon the sides of the large hose box, the machine presents a fine appearance. A brass tablet on front of engine bears the steamer’s name, the “Salamander.”
    It is fitted with a powerful double-lever brake, acting on both hind wheels, and is provided with a full supply of suction-pipe, a loud sounding gong, and other accessories.



    At the conclusion of the tests, so satisfactorily carried out, a move was made to Bank Street, and the new engine was drawn up in front of the Station, while the crowd was kept back by a ring of firemen. The members of the new brigade were drawn up in a double line on one side, while Mr. Annison, the Chairman of the General Purposes Committee, mounted to the driver’s seat. On one side of him stood Mr. Whitehead, and on the other Chief Officer Bradley. Mr. Whitehead, in the name of Messrs. Shand, Mason, and Co., formally handed over the engine to Mr. Annison, who in acknowledgment said: Mr. Whitehead, the representative of the makers, has just handed over to me, to receive on behalf of the town, this fire engine, which you have had the opportunity of seeing at work this afternoon. I have great pleasure in receiving it, and my first duty will be to ask Mrs. Baldwin to christen it.

    Mrs. Baldwin, stepping to the front of the engine said: I feel it a great honour in being asked to name this engine, which I trust will be the means of saving many lives. I have great pleasure in christening it “Salamander, the Fire King.” As she spoke she raised a bottle of champagne fastened above the bar, and letting it fall, it broke, amidst enthusiastic cheers.
    Mr. Annison then went on the say that that day marked the completion of a scheme which had occupied the attention of the Council for many years, and he ventured to say that no work the Council had undertaken had met with more approval than that they were now engaged in. Nearly twelve months ago they had met delegates from the South-east of England, interested in fire brigade work, and they were kind enough to be present at the laying of the foundation stone of the Fire Station. At that time it was expressed that the building seemed admirably arranged for the purpose intended, and those who had seen the building since would have seen that they had been engaged in making arrangements for the extinction of fire, which were now satisfactorily ended. He did not mean to exclude the Volunteer Fire Brigade, which had done such excellent service for the town during so many years past, and had so well carried out what they had undertaken (cheers). He took that opportunity to thank Captain Ferguson for what they had done for the town (cheers). The arrangements made for extinction of fire not being considered satisfactory, the members of the District Council met the gentlemen residing in the neighbourhood, and it was thought best to make arrangements of their own. The result of these deliberations they saw that day. He had great pleasure in accepting an engine which had worked so well.

    He now had to hand it over to Chief Officer Bradley for the use of the Brigade. If that gentleman discharged his duties in the Fire Brigade in the same satisfactory way as he had carried out his work in the Council he would give complete satisfaction to the town. The Fire Station had been prepared under his supervision and from his designs. He hoped that the scheme they had arranged for the extinction of fire would keep Tonbridge safe from that danger for many years . Chief Officer Bradley said that he was very proud to accept the care and charge of that fine engine, and with the engine the charge of the Brigade. He trusted that the choice of the Council in placing him over that body might be a good one, and that the duty he had under-taken he might carry out faithfully and to the best of his ability.

    He knew that he had good men amongst the Brigade, smart men, ready to go at once and do their duty. The tests of the engine had been very satisfactory, and such as would not be required in the ordinary way. In naming the engine Salamander, the Fire King, he had done so because that being was supposed to be one against which nothing could stand, and he hoped that the engine would carry out that tradition and allow no fire to stand against it. He would like to thank the officers and men of the various brigades for attending there that day and assisting in carrying out of that ceremony.
    Mr. Annison then descended from the engine, and walking to the door pressed the electric call button, whereupon the doors flew open and the ceremony was then complete. A great number of people availed themselves of the opportunity granted them, to inspect the building, and after these had dispersed, the officers and men of the visiting Brigades were entertained to tea in the new building.


    In the evening the chief officers of the various Brigades, and the members of the Urban Council Brigade, with others, numbering upwards of 40, were entertained at supper in the recreation room at the new Station, at the invitation of Chief Officer Bradley.
    Mr. R. W. Annison presided, and was supported by Chief Officer Bradley, Mr. W. Baldwin, Mr. Wm. Hitchcock, Mr. A. H. Neve, Capt. Westbrook, (Tunbridge Wells), Capt. Ferguson, Mr. Whitehead, (Messrs. Shand, Mason & Co.), &c. A capital repast was served by Mr. W. Austin.
    The tables cleared, the Chairman briefly proposed the usual loyal toast that of “The King and the Royal Family,” which was accepted with the usual expressions of respect and loyalty.
    Chief Officer Wickenden, of the Tunbridge Wells Salvage Corps, said that before he proposed the next toast he would like to express his regret and that of the officers and men of the Salvage Corps at not being present at the ceremony in the afternoon. He was present at the laying of the foundation stone of the building. With regard to the Navy, Army, and Reserve Forces they were all of one opinion that it was right that the Navy should take the prior position in the toast, and that it should be maintained second to none in any country (hear, hear). They had remarkable instance during the long and serious war which they were still engaged in of the value, and strength of the Army, and the wonderful resource of the country. As to the Reserve Forces they had again a splendid instance of the wonderful response made throughout the country. He was glad to couple with the toast the name of Fireman Flood, who had returned from South Africa.
    Fireman Flood in response thanked them for the way they had drunk his health, but he was sorry the task of replying had not been given to somebody else, for instance Lieut. Wainscott of the Maidstone district. As regarded the Navy they all knew they had done their best, and the same might be said about the Army. The Auxiliary Forces had only done their duty in fighting for their King and country when called upon Lieutenant Wainscott also responded in a few suitable words.

    Captain Westbrook next proposed “the new Tonbridge Fire Brigade.” He said they were all very pleased to be there that day to encourage the new brigade. The Council felt in their wisdom that they ought to take the means of protection from the fire in their own hands and the brigade they had now got should become an excellent force. They had been all delighted to assist in the laying of the foundation stone of the new station. He had been to many, but this was the most complete he had ever seen (hear, hear). Two years before the Tunbridge Wells authority had determined to have the best engine that could be obtained and had sent him to visit the different makers, and the result had been that they had purchased the sister engine to the one handed to them that day. It was the best engine he had seen and had done its work remarkably well. When he was shown the proposed tests on the previous day he felt that if they could get the water over the shaft they would do well. The water had been sent 20ft. higher than the original test. He was most pleased to be there and wished them every success, and he hoped they would not have too much work to do, but that they would have enough. He was pleased to notice at the tests that the firemen did not leave the work to the representatives of the makers, as he had found was done at many tests. He was glad to see the Tonbridge firemen realised their duty and had worked in an energetic manner to render the tests a success.

  • He coupled with the toast the name of Chief Officer Bradley, who although only a young man in fire brigade work was a capable officer, and he had every reason to think he would give to the Council a capable brigade. If at any time he (Captain Westbrook) could be of any assistance to Chief Officer Bradley he would willingly render it .
    Chief Officer Bradley, who was received with loud applause, thanked them very heartily for the way they had received the toast of the Fire Brigade. He was sure that as a new brigade they had had ready support that day. He was sure the Council and townspeople must that day have thought that if they went on as they had started, they would make a good brigade. Given time he was sure they intended to make themselves thoroughly efficient, and become one of the smartest brigades in the country. It may be that sounded a little boastful (no, no), but he would leave it to time to prove; at any rate they would do their best (hear, hear). He was afraid they had robbed Captain Ferguson of some of his men, but he knew he did not bear them any ill-will for that. They were there to protect the town an they intended to do it (applause). In their station they had as good a one as any in the country, and when they had filled it with all the necessary appliances they would be fairly set up. He spoke with great satisfaction of the tests which their engine had undergone, and said that they had a few more appliances to add, and then they would be ready for any emergency. He had personally to thank the Council with everything needed in fitting out the brigade, and he hoped that as time went on they would show they were worthy of it .
    Mr. W. M. Hitchcock proposed the next toast, that of the “Tonbridge Urban District Council,” and said that over 40 years ago he had been a member in a fire brigade in Australia, but having got the fire spirit he supposed he would always be a fireman. The true heroes of the world, in his opinion, were the firemen, medical men, nurses, lifeboat men, and preachers of the Gospel, who aimed at saving life both in this world and for the next. He was a new comer to the town, having only been here two years, but in two years what he had seen of the Council was that they had done useful and good work. He thought they could be congratulated at the election of a few days ago. The Council had done many wise things, but the wisest was to provide for the safety of the public from the ravages of fire, and they had done it with no niggardly hand (hear, hear). He had seen but one station, that at San Francisco, to equal theirs.

    He had never seen one so handy and so business-like. They had a good judge for chief officer. He was of opinion that what the Captain said would be fulfilled in the future, and that the brigade would be one of the best in the country. He would not say they would yet. It made him feel forty years younger to be there that night.
    The first time he was at a Fire Brigade dinner was a similar occasion to that. They had all been fired with the same spirit and desire to be useful to the town in which they lived. They were a volunteer brigade and had to pay for everything, their only advantage being that they were exempt from the jury list. That brigade was going on still. It was a real pleasure to meet with so many ready to risk their lives for their fellow men. There was joy in feeling that every day they lived they were on the look out to help their fellow men (applause). It was a glorious thing to join a thing like that. If they could beat the late brigade, in which Captain Ferguson had rendered such excellent service, let them do it by all means.
    Mr. W. Baldwin, Chairman of the Council, acknowledged the hearty reception of the toast and said that many good things had been said about the Council, which he thought he himself might have said, but he would not inflict them upon them again. He was glad to hear from Mr. Westbrook that they had done the right thing. They were glad that they had such a capable chief officer, and they felt safe in his hands. He did not know what to say about the Council. They had done the best they could, and he was glad to hear that met with some approval. The two years he had been chairman had been two happy years; the members had supported him, and the officials had helped him, especially Mr. Neve and Mr. Bradley. If it had not been for this support they would not have done so well as they had done. They wanted to see their town go on, and they had made many strides in the past years. They had purchased the Castle, which they thought was a good thing, and they had also formed the Library and Technical Institute.

    It had fallen to his lot too during his term of office to proclaim the King. Then there had been the laying of the foundation stone of that building, and they were proud to hear what had been said about the building. The credit of it belonged to Chief Officer Bradley, as he had planned it. They had been sorry to rob Capt. Ferguson of his brigade, and they would have been glad if it had been practicable they could have worked together in the surrounding districts. Somehow or other the latter thought they wanted to fleece them, but he must say that they had no such idea, and never intended such a thing. They had been obliged to put figures together, and they had done as they thought best. They now had a brigade of their own, but he hoped they would never be wanted. He quite agreed with Mr. Hitchcock as to what had been said about the brigade, because he believed they were engaged in one of the most noble works, saving life. He trusted they would all have health and strength. They had a good engine, and he hoped that fire would not stand much chance. He thanked them very much for what they had said in reference to the Council .


    Captain Ferguson then proposed “The National Fire Brigade Union and Fire Brigades generally,” and in doing so said that the Union was formed fourteen years ago with the object of getting hold of as many brigades as possible throughout the country. The Whit Monday competitions gave them some idea of the work the Union was capable of doing. He went on to refer to the proposition to hold competitions at Margate, when there would be a camp for a week, open to all brigades. He had the Honor to couple with the toast the name of Captain Westbrook, who had been appointed life member of the Union for services rendered. It was a unique fact because there were only two men in England who had been so appointed, Captain Westbrook and Sir A. Shaw, of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. He sincerely hoped that Chief Officer Bradley would make the Brigade a success. He was proud to think of the number of young fellows who gave up their time and energies in such a work. To save life was one of the finest lives they could live, and he wished them every success. He loved the service, and lived in Tonbridge, and as an old fireman he would like to see Tonbridge top the lot. They could do it, for they had got few smarter men in the service. He hoped that in a year or two they would carry off some of the prizes offered by the Union.

    Capt. Westbrook said that as executive officer of the South Eastern District he was proud to be called upon to return thanks for that toast. They had members all over the world, and the Union included some six hundred or seven hundred Brigades. The South Eastern District was the first in England to form the Death Levy Fund, but the whole of the other districts had taken it up and he hoped great good would result from it. If the All England Meeting was held at Margate they wanted to devote one day to the South Eastern District, and Tonbridge having won the challenge cup for hose drill would be entitled to enter that special drill against all England. He thanked them for coupling his name with the toast. 

  • Mr. A. H. Neve proposed “The Chief Officer of the Tonbridge Fire Brigade, our host,” which he said, he should certainly have called the toast of the evening if that name had not already been given to a toast earlier in the evening. They had heard of a great many qualities possessed by Mr. Bradley, but he (Mr. Neve) possessed one at least, that of having been thrown more in contact with him than anyone else. To put it in a nutshell, Mr. Bradley’s had been good work well done. He had presided over the birth of the brigade, and even before it was born it was in his mind, and he was preparing the house for it. He put on paper the house in which they were then assembled. Even while it was only on paper someone on the Council said it was the best fire station in Tonbridge. Capt. Westbrook had said it was the best in Kent. Last Whit Monday Captain Finn, of the Lydd Brigade, said it was the best in the South Eastern District, and Mr. Hitchcock had told them it was the best in the world, bar one. If that did not please Mr. Bradley it ought to. That was one thing he did in connection with the Brigade; then he had to organise it, and it said a great deal for the confidence the fellows had in him, when the Tonbridge men rallied round him. They had some excellent men, as had been shown that day. They had heard of something unique, in that they had honorary firemen running in the same brigade as ordinary paid firemen. They had many instances of either one or the other, paid brigades or honorary firemen pure and simple, but here they had a paid brigade, with honorary member who threw themselves into the thing simply for the love of it. Whilst speaking of his other qualities they must not forget Mr. Bradley’s quality as an entertainer. They had spoken of one or two things he had done, but what he was going to do in the future only the future could tell them. He suggested to the honorary members that they should perfect themselves in ambulance work. A fireman was only half a fireman if he did not know ambulance work. The toast having been received with musical honours, Mr. Bradley said that he thanked them heartily for the toast and the heartiness with which they had received it. It had given him a great amount of pleasure to entertain them there that night, and he hoped they would go away and think about their little brigade. Mr. Neve had been saying kind things about him, but he was afraid he did not deserve them all. Since he had been in Tonbridge he had endeavored to carry out his duties in his best and most straightforward manner. He had always received great encouragement from the Council, but when he drew up the designs for that building he felt almost afraid to bring it before them. A building of that sort was not to be built for a small sum, but for the amount expended they were getting full value. He was proud of the station, and he hoped they would be all able to carry out their duties in the fire service in the most efficient manner  Mr. Annison said it had given him great pleasure to be there that night. From all he had seen of Mr. Bradley since he had taken on the post of surveyor, and had gradually added to it so many other posts, and not the least important that he had received that day, he had wondered how he found time to carry out all his duties. That he was a good organiser the large amount of work he did showed that. He was pleased to meet the members of the new fire brigade, and was sure that from all they had seen that day told that the step the Council had taken was a right one. The step the Council had taken with regard to the fire brigade recently had met with approval throughout the whole town. It had involved expenditure which they would have been glad to have seen reduced, but they could not have done that without reducing the efficiency of the brigade. It was pleasant to come to a topic like that because the conduct of the Council did not always meet with the approval they thought it ought to receive. Referring to the last election he must say he was a little bit disappointed, and was also sorry that Mr. Baldwin was sharing in the apparent disfavour with which their past conduct had been treated by the people of Tonbridge. He thought it possible it was due to the fact that they did not take the trouble to solicit votes. He had never done that, and he would never do it. He believed it was a matter in which the ratepayers had a perfect right to use their own discretion. He objected to it, and whatever happened he would pursue just the same course as he had on this occasion. 
    Mr. Agnew next proposed “The Visitors” in a few chosen words, which was suitably acknowledged by Engineer Skinner and Superintendent Palmer.

    Mr. C. J. Batchelor next proposed the “Health of the Chairman.” He had been connected with the Council during the past twelve months, and he could speak quite well of how Mr. Annison had helped Mr. Bradley in bringing the fire brigade to a successful issue. He had fathered the scheme throughout, and it was no fault of his that outside brigades were not brought in. He had done all he could to get the brigade on its present footing, and he would no doubt give them his support in the future . 

    This bell last summoned the Men to the old Tonbridge Fire Station at 11:40 18 th April 1985

    Throughout the evening a capital programme of musical and vocal selections was rendered the singers being ably accompanied by Mr. C. Hubble. The chief items were as follows:- Song, “Little Sue,” Mr. C. Hubble; Song, Fireman Neve; Song, Fireman Flood; Song, Fireman Fuller; Recitation, “The Uncle,” Fireman Poole; Sing, Sub-Engineer Russell; Duet, “The Two Beggars,” Fireman Baldwin and Mr. C. Hubble; Song, “Who Carries the Gun?” Fireman Agnew; Piccolo solo, “ Playful Kittens,” Mr. E. W. Parsons; Song, Fireman Foster. The Proceeding terminated with the singing of the National Anthem.



    Headstone of a Brass Fire Helmet in Tonbridge Cemetery - Victor George Neal a Tonbridge Fireman.  Fireman Neal did not die in active service he died from a motorcycle accident in Pembury Road 

    The Salamander was mainly looked after by Second Officer Boyde, who made specially shaped sticks to clean every part of the Engine. The ‘Old Sally’ was, in the early days, drawn by horses taken from cabs in the High Street and later by a Republic lorry. Tonbridge Fire Brigade displayed its new fire pump on many public occasions. On Sunday mornings they would pump out the town's swimming pool and during ‘cricket week’ they played hose football. Captain Bradley and Second Officer Boyde trained an efficient fire-fighting team. Its success in national and international pumping and hose running competitions led to the selection of Tonbridge as the venue for a major international display in 1909. The display was opened by ‘Prince Arthur of Connaught’. The teams from all visiting brigades camped on the sports ground and a group of Belgian fireman were guests of honour. It is said that this display is the most photographed event in Tonbridge's history.


  • Over the next 25 years the brigade was run along similar lines by the council, with various purchases of equipment and vehicles. Due to the rapidly deteriorating international situation during 1937-38 the Government passed the ‘Fire Brigades Act 1938' . This required that the urban districts must make provision for the fire extinction by providing and training a fire brigade. The Act created 1688 fire authorities. The Secretary of State appointed inspectors, training centres and endeavoured to standardise equipment. All this gave rise to the ‘Auxiliary Fire Service’. In 1941, the Fire Services (Emergency Provisions) Bill became law. This did away with the Independent Fire Authorities and Nationalised Fire Brigades to form the "National Fire Service"




    The National Fire Service was divided into 39 fire forces, of which the majority of Kent was in ‘Fire Force 30". However Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks were in ‘Fire Force 31 ‘. The station number of Tonbridge was station 1U. During the war fireman had to deal with incendiary devices, flying bombs and the Blitz, often having to travel great distances to assist other fire forces. It is known that Tonbridge crews assisted in London and Portsmouth. After the war in 1948 ‘Kent Fire Brigade’ took control of Tonbridge fire station and the Kent County Council became the Fire Authority. The fire station in Castle Street was used by the Kent Fire Brigade up until the new fire station in Vale Road was opened in 1985. The fire station in Vale Road was opened by ‘HRH The Princess Royal’.