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Fire engine: West Hartlepool Fire Brigade

This is an early, motorised fire engine from the 1920s, belonging to the West Hartlepool Fire Brigade. The earliest ‘fire engines’ were essentially a water pump on wheels, pulled along by four firemen. Throughout the 1800s, these were adapted to be pulled by horses and later powered by steam. Running boards were added so that the firemen could ride along too, saving their energy for the important job of firefighting. Firefighting was an exclusively male profession, until 1983, when Josephine Reynolds became the first British female firefighter.

Fire engine: West Hartlepool Fire Brigade, 1920

This fire engine is pictured outside the fire station in Barnard Street (now Clarke Street), in Stranton (it was replaced by the current one in Stockton Street in 1959). It was equipped with an extendable ladder on its own set of wheels and a bell at the front, rung by one of the firefighters to signal for other road users to make way. The firemen would travel on the outside of the vehicle, hanging on – literally – for dear life as they sped to the site of the fire.

It would have attended the ‘great timber yard fire’ of January 1922 – one of the worst disasters in Hartlepool’s history. At its height, this terrible fire, which broke out at George Horsley and Son’s timber yard, covered an area the size of 80 football pitches and destroyed several streets of houses nearby. Happily no-one died, but it caused over £1 million worth of damage and as many as 100 people were left homeless. The fire made the national news, and even King George V contributed to the Major’s disaster fund.

The British Pathe video shows firefighters tackling the blaze.

Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council