Hertford Fire Services ― HALS Exhibition and Open Days
Fire services in Hertfordshire have a surprisingly long history. One of the first known references is an entry in the St Albans parish register for 1665, noting that:
…many sudden fires having happened… the sum of £40 was collected by means of a rate… for the buying of two substantial engines of brass and their carriages.
Don’t imagine, though, that this refers to what we think of now as a fire engine. Each “engine” would have simply been a barrel mounted on a carriage, with a pump that could shoot a small amount of water into the flames ― but only if you were right on top of the fire.
Until the 19th century, most firefighting, in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, was organised either by the parish or by the insurance companies that sprang up in the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The parish fire services would tackle any fire in their immediate area, whereas those provided by the insurance companies were strictly for customers only. Homes insured would have a relevant metal fire mark fixed outside ― and, if there was no mark, your house would be left to burn down.
Today, thankfully, we have a well-organised, county-wide fire service that’s there to serve us all. To celebrate more than 450 years of firefighting in Hertfordshire, there’s a great new exhibition on show at HALS. Not only does it feature extensive photos and documents, but you can also see some fascinating artefacts ― including a brass helmet from the beginning of the 20th century and a Shand Mason screw thread branch or jet pipe with adaptor.
In addition, many fire stations will be holding open days during September. This includes Hertford Fire Station this Saturday (7th September), and HALS will be there, sharing some of the information to be found in the archives and here on Herts Memories about the history of firefighting in the county. You’ll also be able learn more about firefighting in the present, and children (or even adults) will be able to try out some of the equipment and experience what it’s like to be a firefighter.
You can find out more about when your local fire station will be holding its open day on the Hertfordshire County Council website, and meanwhile why not pop into HALS and have a look at the exhibition? You never know ― it might inspire you to stay and explore what we have in the archives about firefighting in Hertfordshire over the centuries.