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1882: Fire brigade takes Cuckfield by surprise

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Shand Mason fire engine c1862, more info below.

We gather from a daily contemporary that the old-fashioned town of Cuokfield was taken by surprise on Saturday evening, shortly before 9 o'clock. The band had ceased Cheap Jack was haranguing and disposing of his wares, the shops were crowded with customers, fresh from the harvest field, and groups of idlers, we're lounging in the street, when suddenly the steam fire engine dashed in, drawn by a pair of horses, at full trot, and loaded with a detachment of the Burgess Hill fire brigade, pulling up with its accustomed whistle at the Talbot Hotel.

The country folk were struck with surprise and wonderment, for nothing of the kind, it is said, had been seen in the town before, and the visit was unexpected. The engine was instantly surrounded by hundreds, all eager to ascertain its nature and asking the most surprised and surprising questions. Having shown the power, blown off steam, partaken of refreshments, the firemen took their departure, leaving the rustics in as great an amazement as was evinced on their arrival.

They had previously paid a visit to Cuckfield Park, Major Sergison’s, where placing the engine in a proper position and stretching the hose to the large pond below, they played the water admirably and artisticly over the mansion and buildings, every member of the brigade seemingly at home with his work; the question arises, in case of a fire in the town how about a supply of water?

Will the Local Board think it over? Perhaps so. When it is remembered that no less than five rick fires -mostly of a serious character- were reported last week, the immense utility of these volunteer fire brigades in country districts will be the better appreciated. In fact, these fires have been so frequent of late that it is not quite reassuring to hear brigade having an outing of this sort mentioned, but of course the whereabouts would be known at headquarters, and being all in working order, it might happen that time will be gained rather than lost.

Horsham Advertiser, 23 August 1882

Photo: Built around 1862, the Shand Mason fire engine is on loan to the London Museum of Water and Steam at Kew from the London Fire Brigade Museum.

As well as providing water that was safe to drink, the water companies made better firefighting possible. Continuous water supplies meant there was a ready source of water for the fire brigade. This meant that fire bridges developed better ways of pumping water from the mains supply to the source of the fire. By the end of the 19th century, most urban fire brigades had steam powered mobile pumps, which were hauled to a fire by horses.

The Museums’ Shand Mason fire engine, on loan from the London Fire Brigade Museum, was built around 1862. In around 1876 it was sold to the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Works Company, but not for use as a fire engine. Instead it was put to work as a trench engine, pumping water out of flooded excavations and burst water mains.

Weight 2.2 tons, water output 900 gallons per minute, date of manufacture 1862.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details



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