Horse Power, Not Horses

By Michael Bissett-Powell
Part 3 of 5

The internal combustion engine had been used for motive power in vehicles since the very end of the 19th. Century, firstly in cars and then for commercial transport. 

In Guildford the Dennis brothers, John and Raymond, had been making and selling bicycles for some years and then established a factory in the town centre in 1901 to manufacture cars, commercial vehicles and fire engines. Their first factory, Rodboro Buildings, still stands at the junction of Onslow Street and Bridge Street.


 Exquisitely drawn plates of Dennis Fire Appliance for Reigate Borough (Left) & Wimbledon (Right)

Unsurprisingly the local fire brigades in the County were keen to order the latest technology and the first recorded order was probably placed by the Kingston Fire Brigade in 1909, followed by Guildford in 1913 (who placed repeat orders in 1926, 1929, 1931 and 1937) and Carshalton in 1914.


Cobham's Technologically Advanced 1928 Merrweather Hatfield Fire Engine

  Fire stations required modification so as to accommodate these mechanical monsters. In Sutton, for example, the Throwley Road station had been designed with a woodblock floor in the appliance room, complete with slots to ensure that the steamer wheels would run straight as the horses pulled the machine out and into the narrow street. Timber infill panels were later fitted to provide a smooth floor for their Dennis pump-escape.

New Surrey stations were sometimes built if the coffers of the local authorities in Surrey allowed for the expense. Poorer parishes adapted their stations and used a car or light truck converted for use as a fire engine. Rapid developments in fire-fighting and the increasing costs of the best modern equipment had an interesting side-effect as a few neighbouring fire brigades shared costs by amalgamation. Hence, the Esher and Dittons Fire Brigade were able to buy a Dennis engine in 1926 and a Dennis Ace in 1938. Coulsdon and Purley combined to buy a Dennis in 1932. The Windlesham Urban District Council worked with the adjacent Bagshot Council ~ in fact the Bagshot fire station in Swift Lane once had a carved soffit announcing it as “Windlesham U D Fire Station”.  A faded photo shows their motor pump of choice, possibly a Merryweather. Co-operation extended beyond the county boundaries and Grayshott in Hampshire and Hindhead in Surrey ran one brigade based in Grayshott village with a station located in front of the Village Hall.

The combined Grayshott and Hindhead Fire Brigade pose proudly with their humbly converted Morris Commercial

Almost four decades of the 20th. Century elapsed with fires being fought throughout Surrey with varying degrees of efficiency and co-ordination.  In peacetime the service coped, but the storm clouds were gathering and in September 1939 war against Germany was declared.  For more than a year the various Surrey brigades prepared for bombing raids and possible invasion; then, in 1941, all brigades in England, Wales and Scotland were amalgamated as the National Fire Service. (Ireland’s NFS started a year later).  In part 4 we look at the effects of the NFS and the auxiliary fire service on the county.

Dennis Fire Engine of the Caterham Fire Brigade (Note solid tyres)


Fire Stations Of the Period

The majority of stations of this period are as listed in Part 2 (Early 20th Century)