The risk of fire was a perpetual concern for the people of Southampton throughout its history, but it is difficult to identify precisely when organized prevention measures were first introduced. From the 16th century the Court Leet records show a concern for the safe storage or removal of combustible material, and the ready availability of water for the putting out of fires. At this time the spotting and dousing of fires was probably the responsibility of the Town Watch and other volunteers. A Local Act of 1747 made provision for the building of extra conduits, the construction of sources of water and manufacture of equipment for extinguishing fires. In 1765 ‘fire engines’ are mentioned on land near the Bargate, which suggests a certain amount of preventive organization. It is not until 1804 that official firemen are referred to, when 24 were appointed in June of that year. From this date there was a steady improvement in both the efficiency of the service and the repair and maintenance of equipment. An Act of 1836 replacing that of 1747 established a Fire Department under the auspices of the town’s Waterworks Commissioners.

The Great Fire of 1837 (see below), however, demonstrated that there was still plenty of room for improvement, and later that year an additional voluntary service was set up, the Southampton Honorary Fire Brigade, under the chairmanship of Joseph Rankin Stebbing. This service lasted for about 16 years and the competition and rivalry it provided stimulated further improvements in the efficiency of the official fire service.

Fire Department Headquarters

1) 1837-56 Winchester Terrace.
2) 1857-1905 Orchard Street (later Bargate Street), on the south side near its eastern end.
3) 1905-1909 The George Inn Yard. The George Inn stood on the west side of Above Bar Street (image 1).
4) 1909-1965 St. Mary's Road, on the east side north of Argyle Road (image 2). This was built by Messrs Dyer and Sons for £4,210. The original folding doors had 'Stuart and Moore quick opening apparatus'.
5) 1965- Redbridge Hill, on the south side north of Walnut Grove.

Local fire stations included one in Portsmouth Road, Woolston, now the Old Fire Station Surgery.

Fire Crew in the George Inn Stable Yard

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Photograph, c.1905

Fire Station, St Mary's Road

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A horse-drawn fire engine emerges from the station in St Mary's Road.

The photograph above shows the last turn-out of horses in 1916. The horses are driven by Mr. Collins. They were replaced by Motor fire-tenders, which had first come into service in 1908.

see also

Further reading:

Gateway Firefighters: A History of the Southampton Fire Brigade, by Alan House. (HS/lq)
Gateway Fire Engines: The Firefighting Appliances of Southampton Fire Brigade, by Alan House. (HS/lq)
Serving the Community: St Mary’s Fire Station, 1909-2000, by Alan House. (HS/lq)
The history of the Southampton Fire Guard Service (1944), County Borough of Southampton. In Archives, D/Z 67. This appears to cover the Air Raid precautions taken in the war.


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