*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 having a separate Fire Station within the Windsor district, thus allowing more ample fire protection to the area.
The First Windsor Fire Station
The Voluntary Brigade was originally housed in a shed on Macquarie Street, rented from J.W. Chandler, an undertaker and Captain of the Windsor Volunteer Fire Brigade for 7/6 a week (approximately $43 today). It was reported that the wooden shed was hardly appropriate even to house the equipment, as there was no accommodation for the volunteers, and the location of the shed was some distance from the town and roadway, making response times to fires unsuitable.
In March 1910 an inspection by the Board of Fire Commissioners discovered that the Brigades Manual Fire Engine was in need of repair, and so it was sent to Basin’s Coach Work’s in Ultimo where a great amount of work was carried out, including a major reconstruction to the body and a reconstruction of the hose box. The pump was repaired and made standard size, independent lever breaks were fitted to the appliance and finally four coats of paint were to be given.
In November 1912, the Board of Fire Commissioners resumed a portion of land fronting Fitzgerald Street, which was part of the original Fitzgerald Estate belonging to Robert Fitzgerald.17 The notification for the acquirement of the land was published in the Government Gazette on 6 November 1912. The cost of the land was £137 (approximately $15, 700 today).
In August 1913 the Town Clerk wrote to the Board of Fire Commissioners, stating that too much of a delay was being experienced in the erection of a new Fire Station since the land had been acquired. Indeed it was not until January 1915 that the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW called for tenders for the construction of a new Fire Station. On 26th February 1915 the Board of Fire Commissioners accepted the tender of Mr. W. Robertson for the erection of a new Windsor Fire Station. On the same day, the Onus Brothers Electrical Engineers of Richmond were granted the tender for the electrical work on the new Fire Station. The Station was constructed at a cost of £710 (approximately $68,400 today).
On 21 June 1915 the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW informed the owner of the premises currently occupied by the Windsor Brigade, that after 30 June 1915 the Brigade would no longer require the use of the property on Macquarie Street. The Brigade began operating out of the new station on 1st July 1915. The new station building was made of light brown brick with a dominant Federation Free Classical style front façade. The words ‘Fire Station’ were added above the single engine bay.
Windsor Fire Brigade had been established as a Volunteer Station, however during the Second World War, two permanent officers were attached to the station. This was an emergency war measure and the retainment of permanent staff after the war was discontinued when Windsor Brigade returned to being a Volunteer Station.
In April 1954 Windsor Council wrote a letter to the Board of Fire Commissioners requesting a permanent fireman be considered for appointment at both Richmond and Windsor Fire Stations as it was the responsibility of volunteers to prepare and mount gear, and this isn’t always able to be done at short notice.45 Records show, that since 1916 local residents and Windsor Council had been requesting permanent staff for Windsor Fire Station. In 1954, the Board of Fire Commissioners responded to this latest request by stating that regulations made employed firemen available for an average of 56 hours per week, which would mean that three officers per station would need to be employed to man the station at all hours. The Board then suggested an alternative which had been put in place in other country towns, proposing to employ one fireman for the hours of 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, after which time the volunteer Captain would assume control while the permanent fireman is off-duty.46 The content of this letter from the Board of Fire Commissioners to Windsor Council was published in the local paper, causing the local community to become unhappy with the Board’s response, however the Board did not bow to pressure and a permanent man was not assigned to the station at this time as it was not deemed necessary.
The end of an era came in June 1982 when Captain Allan Armstrong resigned from the Windsor Volunteer Brigade. In so doing he ended an era of father and son Captaincy totaling 106 combined years. Captain Allan Armstrong, was a farmer like his father, served under his father, joining the Windsor Brigade in 1939 he served for 26 years under his father, before becoming Captain in 1965. He remained in the position of Captain, until his voluntary retirement, totaling 43 years of service with 17 years as captain. During this time he received the Long Service Medal in 1969 and the Queens Medal in 1973.
We hope you enjoyed this quick snapshot of the history of Windsor Fire Brigade!
-Museum of Fire Heritage Team