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On Friday May 12th 1693, a great fire devastated the centre of Long Eaton. In less than two hours 14 houses burned down along with many outbuildings, barns and their contents, with possible damage to the church. There is no record of what - if any - arrangements were in place for such an event. There was however a fire engine in the town in 1855, although it is not known who owned it. In January of that year, at a general parish meeting, it was decided that the fire engine become the property of, and maintained by the parish. A resolve was also made to have 14 men to assist the managers (Alfred Tunicliffe and William Hollingsworth) to get the engine to the fire and operate the equipment. They were to be paid by the parish.
Originally the fire engine was kept in a wooden shed next to Mr Heaps shop, where West Gate now joins Main Street. As the town grew, it became necessary to improve the service and one of the first actions of the Long Eaton Local Board was to purchase the 'Shoulder Of Mutton Close' from Mr Bennett in 1876 as a site for the brigade headquarters. This is where the present station now stands. A tender for £575.15.0 by Mr F. Perks was accepted in October 1883 and in 1884 the first proper fire station and stables were built on the close, Francis Perks first contract in Long Eaton.
In January 1884 Austins newly built factory was burnt down and the brigade under Captain Norris remained all night to ensure that the fire did not spread. The local board sent the insurance company an account for £50. It was returned unpaid with the excuse that there had been reports that the brigade was not sober at the fire; an allegation strongly denied. The engine used on this occasion was not up to the task, and the board was asked to buy a large manual engine capable of sending 174 gallons per minute to a height of 140 feet. After consulting the superintendent of Nottingham Fire Brigade, Mr Knight, it was decided that although a manual engine required 36 operators, it would be more economical in the long term. Lack of money being an ever present problem. The manual cost only £350 compared to £720 for a steam operated engine, which would also need a skilled engineer at a further cost of £100 per year. In 1885 a summoning bell was bought from Taylors of Loughborough for £7.16s and two years later bells in the firemen's houses were provided by the telephone company. These helped reduce the time it took for the firemen to reach the fire.
In 1890 there were two fires which soon proved that the available resources of hand pumps, coupled with an unreliable water supply, couldn't cope with large fires. These were at Hills factory (Woodland Mill) and Fletchers factory. Many large 4 & 5 storey factories were built during the late 1800s, in spite of the fact that there were no mains water, fire escapes or mechanical pumps.
On April 21st 1892, fireman Jabez Barsby died, he was buried in Long Eaton Cemetery, the coffin being carried on the manual fire engine, the firemen wore full uniform. This was the first funeral of a fireman in Long Eaton this set a precedent for future funerals of long serving firemen.
A Miss Lucy Booth, who was born in 1895 at what was then the Long Eaton fire station, Tamworth Road, was a member for many years of the 74th branch of the Red Cross which was held in the old Sawley school during the 1950's. As a child, it was her job to fetch the horses from the field when the fire brigade were called out to a fire.
The first recorded death caused by fire since the Brigade began was on January 9th, 1897. The alarm called the engine at 10.40pm to 7, North Cottages in Orchard Street. The ground floor was well alight, and the charred remains of Mrs Ann Winfield were found in the front room. She had pulled her bed closer to the unguarded fire for warmth and a falling coal had set light to the bedclothes.
In 1906, a new Merryweather fire engine was purchased. The outbreak of World War I brought concerns about the possibility of Zeppelin raids. With this in mind, a siren was fixed to the chimney of the electricity works in Milner Road. Plans were made to turn off all street lighting should the siren sound, and the firemen would report to the station for duty. The efficiency of the plans were proved on March 5th 1916 when the siren was sounded. All the regular firemen, plus a number who had retired, responded immediately.
In 1917, concerns were raised about whether the Long Eaton Fire Brigade should be called on in the event of a fire at the Chilwell Munitions Factory. Many opinions were put forward as many thought the Brigade was already stretched too far by the needs of Long Eaton. In spite of the many objections and the fact that the Council's insurance company refused cover for the firemen, it was finally agreed that the Brigade would assist should a fire occur at the Munitions factory. A year later, on July 1st 1918, a great explosion followed by fire did occur at the factory. Long Eaton Brigade immediately turned up to assist, despite the risk of further explosions. It took two days to dampen the fire down.
Requests by Sawley for the Long Eaton Brigade to attend fires there, had been repeatedly turned down and it became necessary to resolve the problem once and for all. In 1920, negotiations began between the councils of Long Eaton and Sawley to enlarge the boundaries of the town to include Sawley. The matter was settled on October 1st 1921. New Sawley and Wilsthorpe became part of the Long Eaton Urban District, bringing them under the protection of the Long Eaton Fire Brigade.
A large fire which seriously damaged Trent College in July 1922 was the last time the steamer was used at a major fire. Later that year a Dennis motor engine was purchased and a Mr F. L. Carter recruited from Dennis' works to be the fire service engineer. By 1928 the brigade was completely motorised. In 1930 the old station was replaced by one with five bays, which remained until the new county station was opened nearby in 1978.
May 1932 saw the Brigade called on to play a role in a different catastrophe. Heavy rain during Saturday and Sunday 21st and 22nd May left most of Long Eaton under water, and the firemen had to be on constant duty day and night for a week in an attempt to pump out flooded buildings. The fire station itself was also affected, and water reached the axles of the vehicles. Plans were made to move them onto higher ground, but by Wednesday most of the water had receded, just leaving isolated spots, such as under Sawley railway bridge.
In the early hours of Sunday December 2nd 1934, a policeman on his beat noticed smoke coming from the roof of the Scala Theatre, and immediately called the Brigade. Despite arriving quickly, and on forcing open the doors the men found the whold building to be well alight, and although they played eight jets of water onto the flames, it was soon obvious that nothing could save the theatre. The men turned their attentions on saving the adjoining buildings and spent the entire day damping down the debris.
May and June 1937 saw an outbreak of arson attacks on Oakleys Mills, Everest Upholstery, Slater Upholstery, Britannia Mills, Chambers Packaging at Toton and Sawley Grange Farm. The Brigade had to purchase an extra 1,500 feet of hose as there wasn't enough time between callouts to dry out and service the existing hoses. The arsonist was eventually caught and sent to Borstal for three years.
Because of the threat of war, the Air Raid Precautions Act was introduced on January 1st 1938, followed closely by the Fire Brigade Act, placing local authorities under obligation to maintain efficient Brigades. Air raid sirens were fitted to the Harrington Mills water tower, Jones & Stroud, the Sheet Stores and the drill yard behind the fire station. 104 men and women were recruited into the ARP and the Auxiliary Fire Service.
On August 28th 1940, a bomb landed on 28 Netherfield Road, New Sawley, the home of Mr and Mrs Cripps. Mr Cripps was buried in the debris and although rescued, died a week later in hospital. Two adjoining houses were severely damaged, and a Mrs Coleman and one of her daughters were killed in Reedman Road, the next street.
The Brigade became part of National Fire Service in 1941. In 1948 Fire Brigades were handed back to County and City authorities and Long Eaton became part of the Derbyshire Fire Service.
After the war, life began to return to normal. But in February 1946, the town was flooded extensively again. The worst areas affected were the Market Place, Tamworth Road and Sawley - which were under very deep water. The fire station was again flooded to a depth of 21 inches. There was a large fire at the New Palace Theatre which turned out to be arson and the Greyhound Stadium was practically destroyed by a fire thought to have been started by sparks from a passing steam train. Fortunately 40 dogs were rescued from the blazing kennels, an heroic act which bought five firemen PDSA certificates.
At the end of 1952, firemen had to rescue 22 horses from a fire at the Co-op stables in Chapel Street, but could do nothing to save 100 tons of hay and straw which was stored there. Over the years the Brigade have been called out because of earth tremors (1952), hurricane force winds (1962), and attended countless road accidents, releasing injured people trapped inside their vehicles.
As the number of fire calls rose, the Brigade acquired new equipment to increase efficiency. Floodlights and a generator unit enabled them to cope better with fires at night. A wireless scheme sharing a wave band with Derbyshire Police was introduced, and the fire alarm telephone boxes were taken out of use as numbers of public call boxes and private telephones rose. Two more areas of risk were added in 1966 when the M1 motorway and the East Midlands Airport were opened. 1971 saw what was possibly the biggest fire the Brigade has had to deal with in Long Eaton. Orchards five storey lace factory in Main Street was being used by Liptons as a tea packing factory. An intense blaze completely destroyed the building. Over 150 firemen from four brigades were called in with 22 pumps, four turntable ladders and two salvage tenders. The remains took three weeks to dampen down.
The present fire station was completed and ready for use in March 1978 on the site of the old stable block which had been demolished in 1976 in preparation. The rest of the old station was demolished straight after the firemen moved into the new building.
The Brigade celebrated its Centenary in 1983 with a reunion as part of the celebration. Over 70 firemen past and present turned up to commemorate 100 years of Fire Service in Long Eaton. In 1984 the Brigade received 8,985 calls in Derbyshire, 687 were answered by Long Eaton compared with only four calls in Long Eaton in 1884.
This brief history of the Long Eaton Fire Brigade is by no means complete, but we have tried to include the most notable facts among the many and varied events the Brigade has experienced over the last 100 years or more of operating in the town.
Information courtesy of "The Book Of Long Eaton" by Mr Keith Reedman, "The History Of The Fire Service In Long Eaton 1883-1985" by Michael Goy and "Sketches of Long Eaton & District" By Arthur Hooper, kindly provided by Mrs E. Stevenson.