RETRO: Irthlingborough’s fledgling fire service

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Remember, remember the fifth of November!

For a goodly number of years November 5 was not celebrated in Irthlingborough with the usual festivities reserved for that occasion, but by attendance at a special service in St Peter’s Church!

Members of Irthlingborough Fire Brigade outside the Methodist Church

Members of Irthlingborough Fire Brigade outside the Methodist Church

From 1728, under the terms of the will of William Trigg, a successful shopkeeper and very influential person in the town, the rector of St Peter’s Church was required annually to preach a sermon on November 5 reminding his congregation of the evils of the Gunpowder Plot.

Trigg was obviously very well aware of the fact that from 1523 to 1607 members of the recusant Vaux family of Harrowden Hall lived in the Manor House which then stood in Spinney Road, Irthlingborough, and a frequent visitor to that house was Francis Tresham, one of the conspirators in the plot.

The Trigg Sermon, for which the rector received a payment of five shillings, finally fell into abeyance in the late 1970s when it was felt to fly in the face of the excellent inter-church relationships which then existed in the town.

Rector Thomas Grabham preached several Trigg Sermons and he was acutely aware of the dangers of fire, particularly as the town in his day did not possess a fire-engine.

If a fire broke out and could not be controlled the usual practice was dispatch a messenger to request the attendance of the brigade from either Higham Ferrers or Wellingborough.

In November 1881 after a spate of fires (some accidental, others certainly arson), the Wellingborough Volunteer Fire Brigade presented a bill for £11-9-6d following their attendance at a farm fire in which two hay-ricks were destroyed.

Irthlingborough needed its own fire-engine and the Rev Grabham chaired the meeting called to discuss the matter.

At a public poll 316 ratepayers voted for a fire engine with 96 against.

Strangely enough, the main opponents to imposing a tuppence halfpenny rate to cover the cost of the engine were the farmers, the majority of whom had suffered losses due to fire!

Fortunately the London Fire Brigade had recently purchased a steam engine so their old horse-drawn engine, complete with three feet of suction pipe, 120ft of canvas delivery and 80ft of leather delivery was purchased for £100.

An engine house measuring 18ft by 17ft was built, with a corrugated iron roof as it was thought that boys would have broken a slated one, conveniently next to a large pond from which an adequate supply of water could easily be drawn.

The infant brigade was faced with problems, however.

The Northampton Mercury reported that on one occasion the brigade was called out to a farm fire in Crow Hill at 9.30am one Monday, but owing to the horses being in a field some way off it was after 10am before they finally set off.

On arrival they found the stack of straw had almost burned out!

Further such incidents showed that a motor engine was a necessity, but that is another story and that didn’t materialise until 1925.

At the January meeting of Irthlingborough Urban District Council it was reported that a fire at Finedon had had severe consequences as the fire brigade there had run out of water.

Members smugly stated that such a thing couldn’t possibly happen at Irthlingborough as the council had recently purchased a motor engine for the town at a cost of £80.

The photographs in the accompanying slideshow include Sam Houghton dressed as William Trigg when members of Irthlingborough Historical Society re-enacted scenes from Trigg’s life on Sunday, November 5, 2006, when the Trigg Charity was finally wound up.

Canon Roger Knight preached the final Trigg Sermon and was then handed the customary remuneration to which he was justly entitled in good and lawful English currency – a Crown piece of the value of five shillings.

Also in the slideshow are members of Irthlingborough Fire Brigade posing with their horse-drawn engine outside the Methodist Church and on the Recreation Ground.

They are under the command of Fire Officer Joe Inward.

The local brigade members attended many Hospital Parade Day events both locally and as far away as Brighton, Stafford and Leyton in Essex in order to participate in the Four Man Hose Cart Drill competition.

The Irthlingborough team was recognised as one of the best in the country and several of the Annual North Eastern District Competitions were held in the town.

The men chosen for the team were always the biggest available.

They had to be very strong as the drill consisted of four men running with a hand cart loaded with hoses and stand-pipe over a prepared course, laying out the hoses as they went.

The final part of the drill was when the star of the team ran a distance of 100 yards with a heavy reel of hose above his head, and connected it to a nozzle.

One year Irthlingborough came second to Tottenham Fire Brigade in the All England competition.