• Museum of Fire Heritage Team

Station Focus: South Tamworth Fire Brigade (1878 - 2020)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to commemorate the opening of South Tamworth Fire Station at a ceremony held on Wednesday 19 August 2020. 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.

The Establishment of a Fire Brigade in Tamworth (1878-1899)

Tamworth was incorporated as a Municipality in 1876. Later in the year on 14 September 1876 a meeting was held in the local Mechanics Institute with the purpose of forming a local Volunteer Fire Brigade. The hall was over three-quarters full and it was considered highly desirable to establish a local Fire Brigade. Despite this initial interest in the establishment of a brigade it would still be a few years until a brigade was formed.

Support for the establishment and equipping of a brigade was hard to find. In 1877 the council allocated funds to the acquisition of an appliance and public donations were requested. Sadly, only one donation was received, £25 (approximately $4,000 today) from Alderman Abraham Cohen who would later up his donation to £100 (approximately $15,600 today) after no one else to donated. It was Cohen and another local man Levy, who rented a site opposite the Commercial Hotel to store the new appliance in a corrugated iron shed.

Over a year later, in August 1878 there was still no brigade, however it was reported that a trial was held for the new fire engine which had been purchased by the town and imported from England. Sadly, however, it did not live up to the description provided by the seller. It was agreed that the appliance would be useful for a brigade when one was formed however the water did not project as far as expected. For the engine to work a plentiful water supply was essential as were sixteen hands for the pumps. This was hard to come by in parts of Tamworth, and without a brigade many questioned how effective the new appliance would be. By the end of 1878 twenty-four volunteers had been secured, under the leadership of James Lambert, to form the first Tamworth Volunteer Fire Brigade. The Fire Station was a 4m x 4m tin shed and was located on Peel Street. The Brigade occupied it for 1 shilling rent a year (approximately $8 today).

The first fire call attended by Tamworth Fire Brigade occurred in September 1880 when there was a fire a short distance from the town. This event proved to be a disaster. Fifteen minutes elapsed before the fire bell was rung and then only a handful of people could hear it. Once at the station there was confusion as to how to operate the appliance, which meant that a further 15 minutes elapsed before the brigade left for the fire. Now 30 minutes later the brigade arrived on the scene to find the fire had already destroyed the building. Having already turned out the brigade decided not to waste the opportunity to practice and so turned their hoses onto the ashes.

The original Tamworth Fire Brigade, 1878. [Museum of Fire collection]

In September 1887 Superintendent Bear of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) visited Tamworth on his way through to Brisbane. He suggested that the brigade’s engine be transferred to West Tamworth and that the brigade seek a Government grant for the purchase of a new one, given it had been causing troubles lately. The old one could be used at a sub-station in West Tamworth.

Around 1895 the brigade was forced to move into temporary premises as the owners of the shed they rented required it after they suffered a fire at their General Store. In the interim the brigade established a temporary station on land in Fitzroy Street near the Post Office.

Shortly after this the brigade was re-located to the corner of Marius and White Street, where the Train Station now stands. The brigade remained in these premises until 1898-9 at which time the brigade was disbanded.

The “New” Tamworth Fire Brigade (1899)

In 1899 Tamworth received a reticulated water supply which made the job of finding water to fight fires easier for the local brigade. At this time the brigade was not considered well organised and so after it was disbanded a new brigade was formed. The new brigade was trained in the use of a new appliance and techniques for a town with a reticulated water supply. Two more hose reels were also purchased; one was located in a shed near the Council Chambers while the other was located in a shed on Peel Street in West Tamworth, following the suggestion Superintendent Bear made ten years earlier.

In 1904 land in Lower Street was notified for a new fire station however it wasn’t until 1908 that a new station was built on the banks of the Peel River with a cottage attached. The shed that housed a hose reel near the Council Chambers was re-located to the back of the new station and it was used to house horses.