Formation of the Parish Brigade

The provision of equipment to protect life and property from the effects of fire is taken for granted in this country. Through various Acts of Parliament everyone can now expect to receive the services of a fire brigade, when required, free of charge. This was not the case in the closing years of the 19th century. In Broadway at this time there were more than three hundred properties, some quite large, and a population of around 1500 people to protect. Despite this there were virtually no fire fighting facilities in the village.

In the 1870's, some members of the community in Broadway had recognised, and discussed, the need for a fire engine. Their concern was probably prompted by a large fire in nearby Childswickham in October 1873 when three families lost their homes, as cottages and barns were destroyed by fire, and by other lesser fires which occurred in and around Broadway at that time. Also, an appalling house fire in neighbouring Willersey in 1843, when seven lives were lost, was still then well within living memory (for details see chapter on Fires 1739 -1939). Incidents like these were sometimes attended by the district fire engine from Evesham. Although getting them to the incident could be a somewhat lengthy process. In order to get the engine turned out it was necessary for a rider to be despatched to Evesham to raise the alarm. Thus a couple of hours could elapse before the Evesham Brigade arrived on the scene. The electric telegraph reached the village in 1851, so may also have been used to call the Evesham Brigade, although this service would only have been available during the hours the Post Office was open.

By 1895 some fire fighting equipment was stationed in the village. Hoses and a stand pipe had been supplied by Evesham Rural District Council for use in the event of fire. These are likely to have been in place from the time water was first piped to the village in about 1875. The water main, fed from a reservoir at the top of the village, had a number of fire plugs or hydrants attached. In the event of fire, hose would have been connected directly to the water main via the stand pipe. By the 1890s enough hose was available to reach from the main to all the properties along its length, although there was unlikely to have been sufficient pressure of water, especially higher up the village to do any serious fire fighting.The hose and stand pipe, and presumably a branchpipe, were kept by Christopher Smith, a brazier. His house, near to the Old Schools in the High Street, was conveniently positioned in the centre of the village.
Fire-fighting branches
Illustrations from Merryweather& Sons catalogue of c.1900 showing fire-fighting branchpipes (branches).
Consideration was still being given to fire protection when, at a meeting of Broadway Parish Council on 29th July 1895, it was unanimously agreed to accept the services of a "Volunteer Fire Brigade". In January the following year the clerk to the Parish Council, Giles Stephens, wrote to Evesham Rural District Council asking if the nine volunteers could use the Broadway fire hose for practice. Permission was given by the R.D.C. on the understanding that the firemen only used one length of hose at a time, and that it was thoroughly dried and cleaned before being put away. Hose was made either of leather or canvas so it was essential it was clean and dry before being stored to prevent rotting. The District Council also requested that great care be taken of the other equipment.
Those who now believed there was adequate fire cover in Broadway must have been shaken from their apathy by the events of 3rd September 1897. A fire, made all the more dramatic because it occurred at night, destroyed the Lower Mill and the adjoining house in Cheltenham Road; a property owned and occupied by parish councillor Benjamin Burrows. Thanks largely to the efforts of the many villagers who turned out to help, most of the contents of the house were saved. But, it was said at the time, that if a fire pump had been available within one hour of the outbreak, the house itself could have been saved. Although the water main did not extend as far as the Mill there was an almost limitless supply of water available in the adjacent mill pond. Unfortunately, over three hours elapsed before the arrival of the Evesham fire engine. (for details see chapter on Fires 1759 -1939)

Prompted by this fire, and the resulting local concern, Broadway Parish Council moved quickly towards setting up a fully equipped fire brigade. They contacted Evesham Rural District Council for advice, asking whether they were permitted by law to provide a fire engine. The District Council confirmed that under Section 6, sub section 1c(ii) of the Local Government Act 1894 the Parish Council was empowered to supply a fire engine, and under various other Acts were able to borrow money for its purchase, and also provide an engine house.

The Lighting & Watching Committee of the Parish Council under the chairmanship of Robert Cordell was given the job of finding a suitable engine and to consider methods of funding. There were many meetings to discuss progress, including a well attended public meeting in the Old Schools. Another meeting was attended by a representative from Merryweather & Son of London, the fire engine manufacturers. At this time the fire engine manufacturers were amongst the best sources of information and help with regard to setting up a fire brigade, there being no government body to turn to. Catalogues and specifications of various engines were obtained from Merryweather's. These were scrutinised, and from a short list of three the committee eventually decided to recommend that a Greenwich Manual fire engine be purchased at a cost of £116:10s.
Several methods of meeting the cost were considered, including a loan from the County Council or donations from the insurance offices. A view was widely held at this time that it should be the responsibility of insurance companies to provide fire protection. This view was not necessarily shared by the companies themselves. Their initial response to the request for donations to fund Broadway’s fire brigade was honest, if a little mercenary. They replied that it was not in their interest to provide fire engines, because, if the fear of fire were removed, property owners would give up buying insurance! This attitude surprised and disgusted Isaac Averill, a parish councillor, who recalled that several large offers had been received from insurance companies when the provision of a fire engine had been contemplated some years earlier. In defence of the insurance companies it must be pointed out that the burden of providing fire protection was continually increasing. The population of the country was rapidly expanding and improvements in living standards, such as gas lighting, brought increased fire risk. Also, it was unrealistic to expect the insurance companies to protect uninsured as well as insured property. Despite this, several donations of about five pounds each were eventually received from some insurance companies. The question of financing a fire engine was resolved when Edgar Flower, a businessman who lived at Middle Hill House in Broadway, offered to meet the full cost. Including the painting of the Parish Arms and the words "Broadway Fire Brigade" on the side, this amounted to £121:7:6d.
Isaac Averill
Isaac Averill
In addition to the engine, helmets, belts, tunics and boots were required. Merryweather & Son's estimate for these items was about £100. This sum and £4:10s for the harness was met from parish funds. The engine was ordered from Merryweather & Son, and duly despatched by them on 16th November 1897. It travelled by rail from their works in Greenwich Road London to Honeybourne, as the railway to Broadway was not yet built. Two weeks later it was put on display outside The Lygon Arms Hotel, where it was probably stored prior to the building of the engine house. It was the day of the grand opening of the new reservoir which brought many visitors to the village. The brand new engine attracted much interest, and it must have made a splendid site.
Edgar Flower's generous donation was followed by another from Isaac Averill. He gave a plot of land, and agreed to build an engine house on it. A specification for the house was drawn up, based on information received about the size of the engine, and builders were invited to submit tenders. Of the four received it was decided to accept that of £71:5s from Gill Brothers of Bourton-on-the- Hill. The engine house was built during February and March of 1898 on the land given by Isaac Averill. The plot, measuring 25' x 19' adjoining Keyte's Lane, now forms part of the present fire station's forecourt. It was a simple stone structure with tiled roof and a large pair of wooden doors. As the transporting of building materials was done free of charge by some of the villagers, Gill Brothers' final bill was reduced to £67:12:3d.
(Photo of engine house)

It was to the credit of all those concerned that, in less than three months after the devastating fire at Lower Mill, the village had been provided with a well equipped fire brigade.
Broadway village green c.1900
Broadway village green c.1900