Heritage: Remembering town’s horse drawn firemen

Tring Fire Brigade on their horse drawn carriage in the 1800s and the Home Farm fire of 1895
Tring Fire Brigade on their horse drawn carriage in the 1800s and the Home Farm fire of 1895

In the 1890s the Tring Fire Brigade was still using the horse drawn fire engine said to have been bought by the vicar and church wardens in 1750.

It was still in use until well into the 20th century when it became difficult to rely on a supply of horses.

The horses used were usually those of Mr Gower who had a removal’s business, and would supply them if they were not already working. He eventually changed to a motor pantechnicon for his removals.

One fire reported in 1892 was a chimney fire in the home of Mr Dover of New Mill. Although by trade a chimney sweep he had let his own chimney soot up. The Fire Brigade soon put it out.

In January the following year there was a fire at the National School when coils of pipe in the burners burst after having been frozen. Coal and coke were scattered and set fire to some wood.

It was said that the schools were now fitting the new Tortoise stoves. In the summer of that year there was a farm fire at Buckland Common.

The manager ran all the way to Tring for the brigade. On that occasion it was mentioned that it was difficult to find horses, but they were eventually supplied by Mr Gower.

In January 1894 there was a fire in the premises of Mr Sallery the butchers in the High Street. The Fire Brigade managed to stop the fire from spreading but the butchers stock was spoiled and declared unfit for human food. Tring probably had the best fed dogs and cats in the county for a week or two.

There were some lighter moments for the fire brigade.

The Bucks Herald of May 5th 1894 reports; “Captain Gilbert Grace with the Berkhamsted captain E. Wingfield held a joint “dry and wet” drill in the Cow Roast Meadow.

“There was a large concourse of spectators and the Tring Town Band, conducted by Mr Jennings, played selections of music.”

In October of the same year there was a fire at the Cow Roast. A small boy of six playing with matches caught a straw rick on fire. Tring joined Berkhamsted and they together got the fire under control. On the way home the fireman walked up the hill to rest the horses and they had just got back on the engine when Mr Richard Emery, who until recently had been captain, had a heart attack and died.

In the hard winter of 1895 there was a disastrous fire that destroyed Lord Rothschild’s Home Farm in Park Road, the home of Mr Richardson Carr. There was said to be 18-20 degrees of frost and it was impossible to get enough water. The fireman’s clothes became wet and then frozen stiff. Mr Carr sent down to the Rose and Crown for hot coffee and a substantial breakfast for the men. That night there had been a ball at the Victoria Hall for Lord Rothschild’s servants and although the fire was at 4 o’clock in the morning they were not in bed and manned Tring Park fire engine to help the town’s fire Brigade. They were however not able to save the house.

Lord Rothschild was insured and it was rebuilt to look almost the same as the old house at an estimated cost of £4,000. Captain Grace requested a new hose for the Brigade and asked that the weak supply of water be investigated.

At the fire brigade dinner in January 1899, held at Captain Gilbert Grace’s home in the High Street, it was noted that the vice-captain was Mr George Putnam.

Mr Putnam became captain when Mr Grace retired, shortly before his death in 1914, and went on to earn several long service medals before he finally retired in March 1940 after over 50 years devoted service to the Brigade.

He had been connected with the Tring Fire Brigade since its formation as an official body in 1889. Mr Putnam was then 74 years of age. In the 1890s Tring volunteer firemen would have been amazed at the fire engines and equipment available today but their devotion to their job, in spite of their difficulties, earned them respect and gratitude of the Tring people.