Two weeks ago we printed a picture of the M&B fire brigade at their Cape Hill brewery fire station in the 1950s. The photograph was kindly sent in by Mr E. Simpson of Felixstowe, who wrote about his time as an apprentice cooper at M&B, his friends in the cooperage, and of serving with the brewery fire brigade.
The following account of the M&B fire brigade is taken from a copy of the M&B works magazine, The Deerstalker, from February 1949, loaned to us by Peter Howen of Halesowen, son-in-law of Joe Webb, Mr Simpson’s good friend in the cooperage.
It covers the history of the brigade from its formation up to when the article was written: “The Brewery Fire Brigade was formed in 1882, the strength being two officers and eight men. An old manual hose cart and ten lengths of leather hose constituted the appliances and these were accommodated in a small room in the Brewery.
“The first outside call to which the Brigade were summoned was a fire at Messrs. Nettlefolds.
“Mr Harry Mitchell was the popular first captain and the first competition in which the Brigade participated took place at the Aston Lower Grounds.
“A steam fire engine was purchased in 1886 and a new fire station had to be built to accommodate it. The strength of the Brigade was increased to sixteen men.
“Three years later, in 1889, the Brigade took part in competitions that were held in Paris and other towns in France.
“In 1894 the Brigade suffered a great loss by the death of Captain Harry Mitchell.
“At the National Fire Brigade Competitions held in Windsor in 1897, the Brewery team carried off the Duke of Marlborough Cup for the smartest and best turned-out Brigade and were honoured to receive the congratulations of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.
“The Dennis motor pump was purchased in 1911 and the personnel was augmented by a further six members. Superintendent Hamilton retired after thirty years’ service and was succeeded by Supt Chris Taylor.
“During the first World War, the country was divided into areas for the purpose of better fire protection, and the Brewery Brigade was chosen to represent a certain district, a privilege granted to only a few private brigades.
“Horses were dispensed with in 1924, and a new Leyland pump was added to the appliances. This machine was exhibited at the second Wembley Exhibition. During this year the late Mr Owen Butler was appointed Second Officer in the Brigade.
“October 1927 was a most important milestone in the history of the Brewery Fire Brigade. The present Fire Station was opened by the late Sir William Waters Butler, Bt. and it is generally conceded that it is the finest private Fire Station in the country.
“At the National Fire Brigades’ Association Annual Competitions in 1934, held at Yeovil, the Brigade won the National Escape Shield and thereby secured the distinction of having won all the National Events staged by the Association.
“A new Leyland ‘Cub’ fire engine was purchased in 1938 and was regarded as a most valuable acquisition, rendering yeoman serviced during the war years which followed.
“At the outbreak of war in September 1939, a scheme which had been arranged for such an emergency was put into operation. Supplementary measures were taken for the protection of the Brewery premises against possible air attacks and members of the Brigade were on duty each night to deal with emergency calls. During the severe attacks which were made by enemy aircraft in 1940, the Brewery Fire Brigade were able to assist the Borough Brigade in dealing with the various incidents which occurred in the area. Assistance was also given to the Birmingham Fire Brigade in some of the earlier incendiary raids which were made on the city.
“Supt Taylor retired in 1941, after 30 years’ service and was succeeded by Supt Joseph A. Slim.
“Mr Slim’s already heavy responsibilities were considerably increased by the formation of the Fire Guard and he received valuable assistance from the Officers and Members of the Brigade in the training of the personnel.
“Several incidents occurred on the Brewery premises during the many attacks on the Midlands. The most serious fire was caused when incendiary bombs struck the Bottling Stores stacking shed and was only quelled after five hours strenuous work on the part of the Members of the Brigade.
“During the whole period of hostilities, the Members of the Brigade completed 81,133 man hours of voluntary night duty and during raid ‘alert’ periods.
“The success of the Brigade, both locally and nationally, over a long period of years, owes much to the sustained interest, enthusiasm and encouragement always displayed by Captain Arthur Mitchell.
“The Brigade are happy to know that Mr Davey Cole has taken over the mantle of Mr Arthur, and are assured of his support in their voluntary service to the Brewery and the community. It is interesting to note that agreement has recently been reached with the joint Borough Brigades of Smethwick and West Bromwich to render assistance in emergency.
“A Dinner was held at the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, Smethwick on 23rd November last, at which Mr Davey Cole presided, to commemorate the ‘coming of age’ of the Fire Station.”
We have selected some pictures from our archive showing M&B fire brigade’s engines through the ages. Our first picture dates from 1911 and it shows the firemen, resplendent in their polished brass helmets, with the brigade’s first petrol-driven fire engine, along with a horse-drawn engine, and a trap to carry supporting crewmen. The photograph belongs to Robert Pedler of Droitwich and appeared on the front page of Bugle 709 in March 2006.
Our second photograph is of John Bowen’s restored 1956 Dennis F24 fire engine, which was part of the Cape Hill fleet from the late 1950s to the early ’80s, and first appeared in Bugle 692, December 2005.