The history of Romford Fire Brigade from 1890 to 2014

12:00 22 March 2014

John Davis

John Davis' grandfather, Samuel Davis (middle) with brothers Stanley Davis (left) and William Davis (right) in 1937


It is now part of the third largest fire service in the world, but Romford Fire Brigade was formed in modest circumstances in 1890 by two builders.

John DavisJohn Davis

In the wake of last year’s cuts to the capital’s fire services that included Hornchurch being stripped of its specialist rescue unit, we take a look at the history of the borough’s oldest brigade.

Set up under instruction from the local board of health, Samuel Davis and business partner formed the brigade, of which Samuel, of Mawney Road, Romford, was made captain.

Little did he know that his new venture would spark a Davis family tradition that was only broken by the eighth Samuel John Davis (known and referred to as John) and his brother becoming police officers.

Samuel, an ex army Sergeant Major, was seen as the ideal candidate for the top role given his experience in managing men and maintaining discipline while in the 1st Essex Regiment of Artillery Vounteers.

Three generations of the Davis family in 1914. Far left standing up is John's grandfather, fifth from the left is his great-grandfather and next to him on the right is John's great great-grandfather. Sat next to him is James DowsingThree generations of the Davis family in 1914. Far left standing up is John's grandfather, fifth from the left is his great-grandfather and next to him on the right is John's great great-grandfather. Sat next to him is James Dowsing

Many of the original 13-strong team worked for Dowsing and Davis as builders, and the team set up headquarters in Mawney Road where the business was also based.

Nine firefighters, a secretary and an engineer complemented the Davis brothers as they attended callouts and drills across the town, which then had a population of 9,500.

To carry out their work, the men used an 80-year-old second-hand manual fire pump, until it was replaced in 1898 and sold for £5.

Another of the appliances used in the early days was the quadricycle, which was essentially two tandem bikes with a container mounted in between to store the work gear.

John Davis, whose father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great great-grandfather were all part of the brigade, recalled two family stories regarding the the work of the brigade.

“The first was the launching of the H.M.S Albion on June 1 1898, Romford was there as part of the guard of honour. A staging collapsed depositing several hundred people into the River Thames and the Romford men were responsible in saving many lives and giving first aid. They received a letter of thanks for their work but unfortunatley 39 people lost their lives.

“The second was on September 16 1916 during the First World War. There was a massive explosion and fire at the Rainham Chemical Works where T.N.T was being manufactured. One of the employees had been smoking in the Nitrate of Soda drying room and there were seven killed and 69 injured. Seven Romford firemen received the O.B.E for their work.”

The brigade’s first motor appliance was a Fiat, built on a 1922 chassis the brigade had acquired, and was first used in 1925. The first Dennis engine was bought in 1930.

The fire station was used until 1960, when Essex county council, which had taken over the brigade after the Second World War, opened a new station in Pettits Lane that is still used today, housing two appliances and staffing four watches, each with 13 men.

Ken Fry, 14 years a fireman, is based at Romford and says he doesn’t know how they would cope with having to use the manual equipment.

He said: “Those guys had it rough with the wooden ladders and the manual appliances. I can’t imagine having to use them. Their breathing equipment was rubbish as well.”

Luckily, modern firefighters to not have to deal with such handicaps, and Ken “loves” his job, despite the current issues surrounding pensions and strikes.

“It is totally diverse,” explained Ken, “One day you can have nothing to do and the next you have got to rescue people, we get some serious road accidents round here. I always wanted to be a fireman, helping people and saving lives. It’s every boy’s dream, isn’t it?”


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