History of Firefighting in Uckfield

The first recorded fire brigade in Uckfield was a volunteer brigade in 1868 costing the princely sum of 57 pounds 9 shillings and 11 pence for the first year.

The history of horses, buildings, equipment and incidents will unfold over the next few months on this site. Many thanks to Ian Ritchie for supplying the information.

The beginning

According to the Uckfield Guide of 1869, “an excellent fire engine has recently been purchased by public subscription and a volunteer fire brigade is being formed”.

The brigade was formed under the direction of its first Superintendent, Luther White. It was founded by annual subscriptions totalling £19.8s.0d and any major expenditure was dependent upon local appeals for donations.

The picture below was taken in 1878 outside The Bridge Hotel.

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The town’s first fire station was a hut in New Town, next to the local forge, somewhere in the vicinity of the current Old Forge Filling Station.

The first appliance was a Merryweather horse drawn manual pump. However, the brigade did not possess its own horses and in the event of a fire, had to rely on Bourners, a local carrier, or the nearby undertakers.

The first fire attended by the brigade was in August 1868 when it was summoned to a farm fire in Mayfield, however, the majority of these early fires are recorded as having been ‘under control’ by the time the brigade arrived.

At this time, the firefighters each had a sign outside their house in the form of a gas street lamp with the word ‘Fireman’ painted on the glass. They were summoned to duty by the firing of a maroon or by messenger.

When the New Inn at Hadlow Down caught fire in the middle of the night a messenger on horseback galloped through the darkness to fetch the Uckfield brigade.

Horses had to be rounded up and harnessed before the firemen – who still had to be roused individually by messengers – could respond to the call. When they eventually reached Hadlow Down a few hours later there wasn’t much left of the New Inn.

First annual report

The fire service still has a copy of the report of the Uckfield Volunteer Fire Brigade for the first year, ending June 24, 1869. It reads:

“In presenting the annexed Balance Sheet, the Brigade are happy to state that the Engine has already rendered good service in several cases of fire. The first occurred at Mayfield on … at a farm in the occupation of Mr Hoadley, and the Brigade were successful in saving a quantity of hay. The buildings, consisting of a barn … were destroyed before the arrival of the Engine.

“On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, the Engine was taken to a fire at Poltrow Farm, Framfield, the property of the Rev. J. Goring. The dwelling-house was destroyed, but the Brigade were instrumental in saving the whole of the farm buildings, and stacks of hay and corn.

“A stack of hay, the property of Mr. Baker, situate near Mount Ephraim, in the Parish of Uckfield, was supposed to have been set fire to on the 13th October. The Engine was sent for and was quickly on the spot, but owing to it being in the day time, and plenty of assistance at hand as well as a good supply of water, the fire was providentially subdued before the Engine arrived.

“On the evening of the 27th of May, a fire broke out at Maresfield Park, the residence of Lady Shelley, which threatened the destruction of the entire mansion. The Brigade were on the spot as quickly as possible but owning to an abundant supply of water and assistance being at hand the fire was got under control without the assistance of the Engine.

“On the night of the 10th of June a fire broke out at Waldron, on the premises of Mr. Ellis, the Engine was at once sent for, but this fire was also got under control before its arrival.

“It will therefore be seen that there have been in some cases good service done by the Engine while it was ready to give it in other cases, had it been required.

“During the year it has been found necessary to increase the general outfit of the Brigade by the addition of uniforms and other necessaries for four more members. An extra 9ft. Length of suction hose has also been obtained, at a cost of £5. The Brigade is now in a thoroughly efficient state, and the Engine is fully equipped for any emergency.

“It will be seen from the annexed Balance Sheet that the Brigade is in debt to the amount of £38 1s. 11d. This debt is caused by the extra articles of equipment which it was found necessary to purchase, which are enumerated above, and not be the working expenses of the Brigade. An appeal is therefore made for donations to clear off the above debt, that the efficiency of the Brigade may not be impaired by throwing the burden upon the annual subscription.

“LUTHER WHITE, Superintendent”

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According to the 1874 Kelly’s Directory, the Uckfield Volunteer Fire Brigade was still operating from its fire station in New Town, but it is known that as early as 1887 there were moves to build a new station with cottages for six firefighters. These plans however, would remain a dream for the next 50 years.

Kelly’s Directory for 1899 shows that the brigade was operating with 16 men commanded by Captain Luther Martin. The station, pictured below in 1905, stood where Frills All Round (formerly Culverwells) now stands. It would be the brigade’s base until the 1920s.

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Ian Ritchie writes about the brigade getting its first mechanised pump here: Uckfield’s firefighting history – brigade gets horse-drawn steamer.

See also:

Uckfield Fire Station today

Uckfield’s firefighting history – Second World War

How Uckfield fire service developed after Second World War

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