Fire at Gaddesden Place Part 3 of 3

Map shpwomg the footprint of the fire station between 1885 to 1914

In the last two newsletters, we have explored the fire of Gaddesden Place and the accounts of the men working to save the building. Since then, we have looked through the Gazette to find out how funds were raised for a new steam engine to help improve the work of the volunteers of Hemel Hempstead Fire Brigade.
It was clear that the fire had an impact on the people of the town. An article the week after the fire addressed the ‘fire brigade efficiency’, and included a rather poetic call for action:

‘We trust that the great fire at Gaddesden Place, that lit up for a brief and unfortunate space the hills forming the Gade Valley will also have illuminated the Hemel Hempstead public in its duty towards the local fire brigade and in its light we shall now see our way to grant a necessary and proper building for the housing of its gear and thus a great calamity may not have been without its uses. Shall we wait for a nearer and more deadly fire in our own midst before we understand the need of efficiency?’

The small building to the right of this image, shows the fire station before redevelopment.

It was noted at the time that unlike St Albans and Watford, Hemel Hempstead had not been invited to take part in any of the various competitions for local fire brigades. This seemed like a great knock to the town’s pride, as it was felt that this was not due to the ‘lack of zeal’ of the firemen themselves but the antiquated engine and poor equipment that they possessed.
The money and the site for the new fire station were very quickly found, after the fire of Gaddesden Place. We can read in the Gazette that the designs and builders were soon employed before the full amount needed to build was even raised. The total cost of the new building was about £500 and in today’s money this was close to £40,000.
After many discussions about the location for the new building, land was donated on either side of its original site. The land was donated by two well-known names in Hemel Hempstead. The first was Mr Walter Grover, who was in residence at The Bury, the old registry office which overlooks Gadebridge Park. The second donor was Lt.-Col. Lionel Paston-Cooper, who also went by the name Lt.-Col. Lionel Hervey-Bathurst. Lt.-Col. Paston-Cooper was married to Mary Ethel Paston-Cooper, the daughter of the famous surgeon Sir Astley Paston-Cooper.
The site for the new building meant that the fire brigade could keep their central location and made good use of the frontage to the main road. The Boxmoor Trust donated all the funds needed for the building from their surplus taken from inhabitant householders of the parish of Hemel Hempstead. During their annual surplus distribution meeting, we learn from the minutes that Mr Hodgson presented a statement in connection with the new fire station building account:

‘The total cost was about £500, and the indebtedness at the present time was £366 16s. 2d. He would like to ask the meeting to vote the balance of £206 to the fund, which would only leave £164 to find, and perhaps in another year they could wipe that off. He thought the statement a very satisfactory one. (Hear, hear).’

black and white photo of the fire station when it was first open fire fighters and horse stand outside the new buildingHemel Hempstead Fire Station in Queens Street, opposite the junction with Marlowes. Image attributed to ‘Culverhouse, Hemel Hempstead’.

The foundation stone laying ceremony took place on 18 April 1906, and, in addition to the official stones, a set of bricks destined for the lower part of the wall was arranged for interested people to lay with their name. The initials of those who laid them were carved to show on the inside wall of the station at the cost of 5 s, with all proceeds going to the building fund. The old slanting engine house at the foot of the high street in the old town was replaced with what was described as a ‘modern structure befitting the importance of the town’. It was a two-storeyed structure in the Elizabethan style of architecture so that it would be in harmony with the shops and offices which adorned the approach to the high street, known as The Broadway.
In just two months, in June 1906, a little over a year after the Gaddesden Place fire, the new fire station for Hemel Hempstead was opened by Alderman Balderson, the senior trustee of The Boxmoor Trust.
The first item on the programme was the presentation of a silver key, suitably inscribed, by the Mayor to Alderman Balderson on behalf of the Council, and the worthy ex-Mayor lost no time in fitting the key to the lock in the doors of the new station. As he turned it and threw the doors open, amidst applause, Alderman Balderson said:

‘I have very much pleasure in declaring these doors open. I am very glad of the privilege of performing this ceremony, and I trust that it will be many a long day before it is required to be opened for the engine to be brought to any of our homes.’

Mr Kimich, who owned a clock and watch makers shop in the old town, made and supplied the clock at his own expense. The Mayoress, by pulling the cord, then uncovered the clock on the building. In her speech she joked that the clock would be of much benefit to a very large number of people, especially to ‘those who were in the habit of getting to church late on Sundays’, which apparently went down very well with the crowds. Tea was provided afterwards in the new fire station, followed by a series of dry and wet drills performed in excellent times, by the Hemel Hempstead Brigade in the Bury Meadow.
Soon after the opening of the new fire station, work commenced to raise the £400 (approx. £30,000 in today’s money) needed for a new steam engine. In November 1906, we can see that the committee used the fireworks celebrations to persuade the public to subscribe and boost the funds for a new steam engine. At that point, only half of the money needed had been raised and, in the Gazette, they pleaded:

‘Where there are fireworks there must be fire and in case of fire what do we do? I hear a chorus of answers, “Send for the Fire Brigade”. Quite true. That would be the only sensible thing to do. But supposing that Fire Brigade was not sufficiently equipped, it would not be of much use to send for it, would it? You all say “No”. Very well. The Hemel Hempstead Brigade is not efficiently equipped. They want a steamer fire engine.’

This photo of the Hemel Hempstead Fire Brigade was taken in about 1910. The steamer engine is still horse drawn and the steam part is used for the pumping of the water, rather than having men hand pumping. We believe the engine and crew are parked in front of The Bury and the man on the far right could be Chief Officer Hancock.

Even ‘small villa residents’, were encouraged to donate as little as 5 s, or £20 in today’s money, for the much-needed engine.
By the end of 1906 the committee had enough money to finally purchase a steam fire engine and they accepted the tender of Messrs. Shand, Mason and Co., for the supply of one of their latest models of engines to be delivered next Easter. On 3 April 1907, the new steam fire engine for Hemel Hempstead arrived and was handed over to the Mayor on behalf of the town and a christening ceremony took place on the Market Square, High Street. Afterwards a demonstration was given in the Bury meadow and the annual dinner in connection with the brigade took place in the evening at the Town Hall.
We know that the new steam engine was affectionately called Mabel, but this is not reported in the christening ceremony. The only time we can see the reference to this name is in a letter written into the Gazette. In this letter, dated 13 June 1908, the reader asks where is Mabel? ‘I understand it is nearly three months ago since the last practice took place. Surely, sir, it is not doing the machinery any good, lying dormant at the Brigade station’. This letter was quickly followed up, the next week, with two letters in defence of the volunteer fire brigade, the first acknowledging their hard work and pointing out that the men had been recently awarded their certificates in first aid. The second letter was written by Captain Hancock and he states that Mabel was in fact moved at least two or three times a week and that steam fire engine practices cost money. He goes on to invite them to the next practice, so ‘that he may come and observe ‘Mabel’ for himself and also bring a donation to help pay expenses.’
The first time we can see the fire engine being used is in the reporting of a major fire in Leverstock Green on 21 July 1911. This fire took place at a barn and stabling adjoining The Three Horseshoes. The article in the Gazette reports that ‘a message was wired to the Hemel Hempstead fire station, and the Brigade under Captain Hancock, turned out smartly and was quickly on the scene with the steamer’.

In the centre, you can see the building of the old Hemel Hempstead Fire Station as it stands today. Google Maps.

We hope you have enjoyed reading about our research into the Gaddesden Place Fire and the subsequent improvements made to the brigade in Hemel Hempstead. We thank the volunteers who have worked through old copies of the Gazette to help us report on this episode from Hemel Hempstead’s past.

Read parts one and two of the Gaddesden Place FireIs there a subject you would like us to research? Get in touch to let us know via


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