• Museum of Fire Heritage Team

Station Focus: No. 81 Windsor (1863-2016)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the centenary of Windsor Fire Station and the opening of the new Windsor Fire Station back in 2016. Should you wish to use any of the information and pictures provided we ask that you please reference the Museum correctly and contact the Museum for permission where applicable.

Last week we shared the story behind the disasterous 1874 Windsor Fire. To read more about that incident (click here).

Before there was a Fire Brigade in Windsor

Prior to the establishment of the volunteer brigade there were a number of fires in the local area that made it clear to residents that a Brigade was needed. One such incident occurred in the late hours of 2 March 1858, when one of the largest fires ever known in Windsor broke out suddenly on the premises occupied by Mr. William Griffiths, a draper, of George Street. The fire was noticed by a neighbour, who seeing smoke issuing from Mr Griffith’s premises kicked in the front shutters to be greeted with flames. Mr Griffith’s and his sister were both in their beds, and the counterpane of Mr Griffith’s bed was on fire before he noticed the blaze. Before long the fire attached itself to the adjoining premises, occupied by Mr W. Alderson, saddler and shoemaker. Quickly the extensive premises were engulfed with tremendous flames, illuminating the town and neighbourhood for miles around. The whole of Mr. Griffith’s goods, together with a large sum of cash, were reduced to ashes. Mr. Alderson’s stock-in-trade was luckily saved by the active exertions of the townspeople, but the premises were completely destroyed. The greatest exertions were used by the public to prevent the extension of the fire to the other houses. Luckily there was no breeze; otherwise nothing but a special interposition of providence could have saved one half of George Street from being burnt down. The great credit for this was due to the numerous townspeople, who untiringly exerted themselves on this exciting and most unusual of occasions. The water carts of the whole town were busily employed during the fire. Mr Griffith’s stock in trade was insured, but it was feared that other sufferers were not in the same position.

The Establishment of a Fire Brigade in Windsor

Despite this shocking fire a Volunteer Fire Brigade was not established until 1863. There was so much excitement about the formation of a Brigade that most of the town turned out to see the Brigade’s newly acquired appliance when they paraded it for the town.

In a public meeting convened by the Hawkesbury District Progress Association in March 1902, a member of the volunteer brigade at the time, Mr. D. Holland, recollected on when the Brigade was formed,

“...a public meeting was held, subscriptions were collected, officers were elected, Mr. Coley was the first superintendent, and an engine was purchased … regular yearly meetings were held (where) officers were elected; those who wished to become members handed in their names, and certain men were the recognised firemen. The firemen wore uniforms and took a great interest in their work”

Windsor was first equipped with a reticulated water supply in 1899. This piped water system, which was pumped from the Hawkesbury River into 20,000 gallon (over 75,000 litres) holding tanks, is one of the essential infrastructure features necessary in establishing a successful Fire Brigade to allow ease of access to the town’s water supply for firefighting efforts. Once installed, it allowed the Brigade ease of access to the town’s water supply for firefighting efforts.

In 1902, there was much discussion amongst the local community as to the organisation of the Windsor Fire Brigade. There were reports that the current Brigade was quite unorganised, having held no meeting of Brigade’s affairs amongst its members for five years. The local residents were concerned that the volunteer firemen were undertrained and unprepared for the outbreak of fires. The concerns were repeated over the course of the next decade.

In 1910, the Municipality of Windsor was included under the New South Wales Fire Brigades Act, and the Windsor Fire Brigade was brought under the control of the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW. Under this new patronage, the path towards a more organised and equipped Brigade for Windsor community was underway. In the annual report for 1910 it was reported that the Brigades manual engine was in bad condition and 47 years old. The 1910 Annual Report also states that the Brigade attended only two fires and both of these resulted in the total destruction of the building involved.

Not everyone was happy with the establishment of Windsor as a fire district under the Fire Brigades Act, particularly those residents of the nearby towns of Richmond and Pitt Town, which were included within the Windsor boundary. On 11 April 1910 members of these two communities sent a petition to the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW arguing that as both localities were;

“…purely agricultural district, with no water supply available for the use of a Brigade in case of fire. That the buildings on the river frontages are too far from the water to receive any benefit from the Brigade appliances. That most of the area is too far from the proposed station to receive any benefit from the Brigade.”

Therefore they requested that the Board of Fire Commissioners alter the boundaries of the municipality of Windsor so that the residents wouldn’t be taxed for a service they would otherwise not be able to benefit from. Their concerns were heard as in the 1914 annual report, Richmond is noted as havin