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A Blaze of Glory – Cleethorpes Fire Station

From the time man discovered fire, he has also battled to control the flames.

During the middle ages, fighting fires was often limited to nothing better than buckets of water or to simply let a building burn down due to ineffective firefighting arrangements and because of the building materials used at the time; mainly wood.

A major change in the way fires were fought in our area came into being in 1887 when it was agreed at a Cleethorpes Local Board meeting that a volunteer fire brigade, consisting of six members, should be formed.

It is reported that there had been a ‘great many’ applications in answer to the initial advertisement for firemen. However the men appointed for the first brigade in our area was Mr. C. Brown (the road foreman) who was appointed captain, Mr. T.Gossop, Mr. G.Taylor, Mr. W.Marfleet, Mr. W. Osbone Jun., and Mr. C. J. Brown, who all received an allowance of 1s. per man for each practice.

During 1902 there had been much discussion regarding forming an official Fire Brigade and eventually it was decided to make the necessary arrangements, allow a fire engine to be stationed in the Council Works Department yard and arrange for a hydrant to be placed there. Early in the following year, two members of the Fire Brigade Committee were sent to London to oversee the purchase of a Horse Drawn, Fire Steamer (a Greenwich Gem) for £355 from Merryweather and Sons.  They also purchased a hose cart, two fire escape, various hoses and accessories – total cost £585.

Thus, was formed with pride, the Cleethorpes Fire Brigade.

Soon the new equipment and manpower were to be severely tested as in June 1903 the Cleethorpes Pier caught fire.

The usual morning dance finished at 12.30. It was as the orchestra and artists were leaving, that smoke, followed quickly by large flames, were noticed.  Soon the whole Pavilion was a blaze and the newly formed Cleethorpes Fire Brigade was required.

It was obvious that this fire was far too large for the local brigade to handle and consequently they were soon joined by the much larger Grimsby Brigade and also the Grimsby Dock Brigade.

It was fortunate that the tide was out, so the fire was attacked from below. A large crowd quickly gathered.  The engines worked under challenging conditions, sinking regularly into the soft sand. The men worked also under great difficulty, as salt water and sand was sucked up, damaging the boiler tubes, one of which exploded with considerable force.

The fire was eventually brought under control after three and a half hours and towards the end, the remnants of the pavilion fell in with a terrific crash. The damage included not only the pavilion but a grand piano, a cinematograph machine, stage scenery and properties, various shops and their contents.

Captain Hyde reported that his men worked well but it was clear to the new fire committee that more was needed.

It was not long before the point was emphasised, this time with a haystack fire that threatened to spread.  The emergency was not far from the station in the third field from Grimsby Road. This perhaps shows the rural nature of the area, but the nearest hydrant was in the works yard and the next on Grimsby Road.

It took 26 long lengths of hose to reach the fire, which was more than the new fire brigade owned. A runner was sent to the coast guards for help with men and their firefighting equipment. An extra 5 lengths of hose from that source did the trick.

The net result of all this was the purchase of more equipment and at a cost of £588, W. Carr of Cleethorpes, agreed to build a new fire station and cart store.

As a consequence, Cleethorpes saw its first and only fire station, built in Poplar Road opening on November 1904. At this point, the brigade consisted of eight men, including a Lieutenant and a Captain called Mr W. Hyde of Browns Building on Grimsby Road.

During this time, all of the fire brigade were from Cleethorpes living close to the fire station. This would have been handy for call-outs as very few houses had phones in these times.

Today’s Firemen need a host of skills that their colleagues in the 1880’s to the early1900’s did not have. The only criteria in becoming a member of the brigade was to be ‘of good character and physique’. However it appears that the role did not suit everyone as records show re-advertisements were fairly frequent in the early years and generally speaking, fines in the fire brigade work place were not uncommon.

Fines were made when rules and regulations were not met such as, absence from a drill without reasonable cause; wearing uniform off duty; leaving a place of drill or scene of fire, except if injured, without permission; wilfully neglecting or refusing to attend a callout; the use of improper or insubordinate language or otherwise misconducting himself.

No doubt, active service, comradeship and some excitement contributed to the attraction of being a fireman during this time, but the money paid in doing this job was also comparatively fairly good.

There were retained firemen, paid set fees and rates. For instance, the annual retaining fees for the Captain was £2/2/0; for the second in command Lieutenant was £1/10/6; for the rest of the crew was £1/1/0. The men would get extra wages from drills at least once a month, depending again on rank and for the time spent at any fire or other duties.

If a fireman reached the age of 55, he would have to retire, but he could keep the uniform and could be elected an honorary member of the brigade.

In these early days of the brigade, the biggest cause of small fires in the area was due to local fishermen.

The inshore fishermen had the habit of placing their nets into an outside copper and then adding tar. This melted in order to cover the nets but unfortunately occasionally this mixture boiled over and being very flammable, would quickly catch fire.  As houses were built very close together in our area, any fire would spread rapidly.

In such cases the firemen often had to be called out from their homes and this took a little time and allowed the fire to spread.

The situation improved about 1936 when all firemen’s houses were fitted with a bell, which was tested every night at 5.30pm.

Improvements to the brigade continued as in 1938, the fire brigade was issued with a brand new Leyland Fire engine.

During this time, a Mr. Alf (Snowy) Hopkinson lived opposite the fire station on Poplar Road. He was known to be the first driver of the fire engine, while Mr. Charlie Humberstone was known as the second driver. This meant that if any of them left the area, even to the neighbouring town of Grimsby, they would have to inform one another.

On 18th May 1940, Poplar Road saw the beginnings of our modern day fire station, replacing the older one, and 1968 saw the build of an extension.

Manned on a 24-hour basis since June 1978 with ‘round-the-clock’ fire cover. This was eventually withdrawn from the Poplar Road fire station.

Nevertheless, in 1987, Poplar Road fire station was the busiest single-pump station in Humberside. With 16 part-time firemen from butchers to teachers manning the station, there was up to 360 calls a year.

Today (2018) the station is still manned by “on call” firefighters and recently has had a mural painted inside, which depicts the original equipment and firemen, alongside a modern picture showing the present setup.