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Cockermouth Post Article February 2013 - The Early Fire Service in Cockermouth

The recent fire at a garage in Cockermouth (which happened, interestingly enough, right next door to the Fire Station!) set me thinking about the development of fire services in the town. Cockermouth’s first motor fire engine was bought by subscription for £500 in 1923. Captain Joseph William Grave served 25 years as Captain of the Cockermouth fire brigade. Sadly, he died whilst on duty at a farm fire in Lorton in 1935. He had been directing operations when he suddenly felt unwell and died. Aged 72, he had already decided it was time for a younger man to take his place and had just tendered his resignation. Joseph had been badly burned in a petrol fire at Cockermouth some 20 years previously but had continued to give loyal service to the town. When he began his service it was on a horse-drawn engine, housed at the Fair Field. The Fire Brigade was later housed on Lorton Street, before moving to its present home.

The earliest type of fire engine would have been a hand-operated pump, carried on a horse-drawn vehicle. We know there was a meeting in 1817 to draw up rules for improving the fire service, when charges were fixed for dealing with fires in town and in the nearby villages. By 1847 the Vestry (precursor of the Town Council) was paying £16 per quarter for the maintenance of the fire engine, and in 1864 a booklet was produced: Rules of the Cockermouth Volunteer Fire Brigade. Dr Henry Dodgson was the Superintendent of the Committee charged with implementing the service, and the booklet lists 16 Acting Firemen and 30 Reserve Firemen, as well as 2 engineers and a Foreman (who had charge of the engine). The booklet set out in some detail duties of members of the Fire Brigade, as well as uniform, drill duties, care and maintenance of the fire engine. Sadly, all did not go according to plan: on one occasion in 1876, the brigade was called out to a barn fire in Greysouthen, where one catastrophe followed another – the engine had first to be excavated from beneath debris in the engine house, and then refused to budge because wheel bearings had rusted up. After speedy repairs, somebody set off to track down a pair of horses from the Globe Hotel, and the engine set off. It got as far as Brigham where a wheel parted company with the engine. Having fixed that, fate was against them because a few hundred yards further on, off came another wheel. They eventually reached the fire, started pumping, and pointed the hose hopefully – water emerged, but from everywhere but the nozzle! No doubt a day they wanted to forget, and we should probably count our blessings nowadays.

Gloria Edwards

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