Fire! 20th Century fire fighting

The following was taken from ‘Isle of Wight within living memory’ by the IW WI Federation, 1956.

Those who remember the year 1904 will also remember the fire at Appley Towers; how the smoke hung like a black pall, how the local baker made dozens of buns, and the pails of hot tea that were taken out to the tired firemen.

All the local children were piled into a dogcart to be driven to see the fire. Ryde fire engine was there and others on the way – being horse-drawn, it took some time for them to come from Sandown and Newport. I was watching an old man who had his ear to the ground as if listening. On getting to his feet he saw me and said, “Missie, bend down and tell me what you hear.”

I promptly got down, flat on the muddy road. I could hear a dull thud and asked what it was. “That’s Bertie Mearman, coming out from Sandown.” The name was enough! Who did not know the Mearman brothers? Bertie drove four beautifully matched roans in the coach between Sandown and Ryde and now they were hitched to the fire engine. I saw them coming down Marlborough Road flat out, covered with foam. People scattered as they swung through the tall gates, bell clanging, brass-helmeted firemen hanging on for dear life. Thankfully, the fire damage was not extensive that day.

William Hutt was captain of the Ryde Fire Brigade. He walked about immaculate in his blue uniform with silver epaulettes, cigar in mouth, slightly over-dined, which caused some titters from the ill-mannered. I am told  he was responsible for Ryde having such a fine fire brigade. After the fire, Captain Hutt formed his own fire brigade. He paid ten men part-time wages and bought a handpump and hose engine which was kept in the stables opposite the Towers. His men were well turned out with long leather boots hand-made by an old shoemaker in Elmfield, well cut tunics and regulation brass helmets. There was a Mission in Brading Road where Captain Hutt drilled his men. When he died in 1909 he left a wish that they were to keep their uniforms – which they did.