County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil Fire Brigade
A Brief History
by Mike George
To review the developments of the Fire Brigade since
the granting of Borough status to Merthyr Tydfil in 1905 is to trace its
whole history as an effective fire-fighting force. To appreciate this, let
us take a brief glimpse into the years before 1905. There was no fire
brigade in the strict sense of the word but at four Police Stations,
handcarts were housed, on which were kept hose and other fire appliances.
Each handcart was in the charge of a reserve duty policeman whose duty it
was to propel his cart to the scene of the fire, obtaining what assistance
he could en-route. Bearing in mind the hilly nature of the district this
must have been an exhausting task in many cases. It is interesting to note
that some concern was being expressed in the meetings of the Watch Committee
in the 1890’s regarding the inefficiency of these fire-fighting methods.
The inception of Borough status was the signal for
dispensing with this rather haphazard arrangement. The Watch Committee
meeting on the 1st. October 1906 considered the provision of
three fire stations to be sited at Merthyr, Dowlais and at either Treharris
or Merthyr Vale. Each station was to be manned by 12 firemen who were to be
chosen from trades connected with building construction, that is, masons,
plumbers, carpenters etc. The whole brigade was to be supervised by a
Captain with a Lieutenant as his deputy. These proposals, which marked a big
step forward from the previous provisions, were not implemented but they
undoubtedly led to the formation, four years later, of the Borough’s first
full-time Police Fire Brigade.
The Birth of a Brigade
A report presented to the Borough Council on 24th
February 1910 by Mr J.A. Wilson, the Borough’s first Chief Constable,
provided the basis for forming the brigade. It recommended that a new motor
fire engine be bought and that the Borough Police provide the personnel to
man it. A nucleus of 12 full time men were to live in or near the Central
Police Station, in which the new engine was to be kept, whilst the remaining
members of the constabulary were to act as auxiliary firemen.
The full time Police-Firemen, when on duty, were
allocated beats near to the Central Police Station in order that they could
be readily available if needed to attend a fire. For these additional duties
full time Police-Firemen were to be paid 2/- (10 pence) weekly extra in
their wages and the auxiliary members were paid 1/- (5 pence) per drill,
maximum payment to be 12/- (60 pence) per annum in addition to their normal
The First Appliance
Following on from the Chief Constable’s recommendations
it was decided to purchase a new motor fire engine. In the fullness of time
an order was placed with Messers. John Morris & Sons of Salford for them to
build an appliance on a Belsize chassis, the cost of the first motor
appliance was to be £920.
As if to justify the decision to end the reign of the
handcarts, it was at about this time, March 1910, that the two most serious
fires ever experienced by the town were to occur.
The first involved the Pendarren Girls School at which
damage was later estimated to be around £2,000, whilst the second fire was
in a marine dealer’s premises at Caedraw where damage to property and
contents was estimated at £600.
Delivery of the new Belsize fire engine was not to be
effected until the following year and in March 1911 Police Constable No54
John Davies was dispatched to the Morris works in Salford to obtain a
knowledge of the mechanism of this appliance.
In April 1911 following delivery of the appliance,
which had wooden artillery wheels and solid rubber tyres, it was proudly
exhibited to the public when it took part in the May Day Show processions at
both Merthyr and Treharris.
The registration number allocated to the appliance was
Thus, in only six years, the citizens of the new
Borough had witnessed a revolution in the methods used to protect them from
the hazards of fire.
The Brigade retained its original form for many years
and it was not until the year 1932 that any serious change was contemplated.
This became necessary when it was found that the symptoms of old age were
becoming apparent in the now 21-year-old Belsize/Morris appliance.
Recommending replacing it by a new motor fire engine,
the Chief Constable at the time, Mr Mansell Davies, stated in a report that
“it all too frequently broke down on the way to fires.”
Opposition to the plan to purchase the new fire engine
was experienced from the Ministry of Health, whose technical advisor had
stated that the condition of the old Belsize pump did not warrant its
replacement. For the next several months a great deal of negotiation took
place without success, it required the personal intervention of Mr Wallhead,
the local Member of Parliament before grudging permission was obtained from
the Ministry to proceed with the replacement.
As a result, and at long last, a Leyland Cub FK fire
engine was bought at a cost of £927-10s-0d. It was delivered to the Brigade
in October 1933 and once again we find the name of Police Constable 54 John
Davies linked with the new appliance, since he had been promoted to Sergeant
that same year as Chief Engineer of the Brigade for the sole purpose of fire
fighting and ambulance duties. He continued in this capacity until
retirement in 1938, his successor being Police Sergeant J R Allen.
The registration number of the new Leyland Cub pump was
The old Belsize pump was sold to an Abergavenny farmer
The Dark Clouds of War Gather
The first major development in the organisation of the
Merthyr Tydfil Borough Police Fire Brigade was enforced in 1938 by the
growing threat of war. This year saw the introduction of Air Raid
Precautions (A.R.P.) legislation and when the Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.)
was formed in the Borough as the fire fighting arm of the A.R.P., 500
volunteer men were enrolled.
These A.F.S.volunteers received extensive training and
gave excellent wartime service both within the Borough and later when
mobilised to assist at “Blitz” raids on the oil tanks at Pembroke Dock and
in the cities of Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and Portsmouth.
On the 18th August 1941 another change took
place when all fire brigades throughout the United Kingdom were reorganised
into a single unit to form the National Fire Service (N.F.S.). The main
station in the Borough was then at the requisitioned premises of Messers
Horrocks, Mineral Water Manufacturers, Dynefor Street, Merthyr Tydfil, with
two whole-time stations at Dowlais and Treharris. All three stations now
formed part of B Division of No 20 Fire-force in No 8 (Wales) Region.
To augment the peace time Leyland Cub and the A.F.S.
issue trailer pumps, the National Fire Service issued a number of appliances
to the Borough stations, amongst them were Fordson 7V/Sulzer heavy pumping
unit GLM 789, Austin K4/Merryweather 60’ hand operated turntable
ladder GXN 219 and a Fordson 7V escape carrying unit.
Austin K2 auxiliary towing vehicle GLT 91 towing
a trailer pump went to Treharris with a similar appliance allocated to
Peace in our Time
The fire brigade, which was returned to the control of
the Borough Council on 1st April 1948, bore no resemblance to
that which it had provided up to 1938. Mobile fire appliances now numbered
seven, including the original Leyland Cub, but of more importance was the
provision for a full time staff of professional firemen. The Central Fire
Station was still at Horrocks premises in Dynefor Street where 21 whole time
men were employed supplemented by 12 part time firemen. The whole brigade
was under the command of the first Chief Fire Officer J R Allen Esq. BEM
with Station Officer D J Davies as his Deputy.
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Fire Brigade
The entry in the 1948-49 Fire Protection yearbook for
the brigade stated the following: -
Stations Whole time
1; retained 2.
23; retained 37.
Appliances. Pumps 3; pump escapes 1; tenders 3;
trailer pumps 3.
Equipment. Hose 14,110
ft; BA sets 4; hydrants 1,600.
Estimated annual cost. £14,000
Fire Brigade rate £0.1s-1d
During the three years up to 1951 attempts were made to
provide more suitable accommodation for the brigade. In 1951 a fire station
was completed in part of the Old market Hall in Wellington Street, and the
brigade moved into these more spacious quarters at the end of August.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer D J Davies was appointed
Chief Officer on 25th July 1951 when ill health forced Chief Fire
Officer J R Allen to prematurely relinquish his command.
Station Officer H O Tucker, Grad I.Fire E. who left the
Exeter City Fire Brigade to take up his new appointment on 1st April 1952,
filled the vacant rank of Deputy.
The demand for the services of the Brigade continued to
increase enormously and necessitated an increase of two men in the whole
time establishment. Two modern fire appliances were also purchased to
replace wartime machines that had become inefficient. These were an AEC/Merryweather
pump escape, HB 7321 acquired in 1952 and a Bedford S/HCB water
tender HB 7547 purchased in 1953.
The old Leyland Cub was still on the run having been
converted in 1954 to carry a 400-gallon tank of water for use at remote
farms in the Borough. Sadly it suffered a severe mechanical defect and was
During 1954 the recreated A.F.S allocated two Bedford
SH 4x2 self-propelled pumps to the Borough, these were to be located at
Merthyr and Treharris. The registrations of these two “Green Goddesses” were
NYV 320 and NYV 323. Another vehicle to be delivered that year
was Landrover HB 7912
An improved 4x4 version of the very capable A.F.S
self-propelled pump was issued to the Borough in 1956 and registered as
RXP 666. This vehicle was to be retained by the Brigade on the
disbanding of the Auxiliary Fire Service in 1968.
The 1957 entry of the Fire Protection yearbook
reflected the progress the Brigade was making. The entries now read: -
Personnel Whole time 27, retained, men 32;
women 1; auxiliaries, men 3; women 7.
Appliances Pumps 5; pump escapes 1; tenders 3;
trailer pumps 6;
other appliances 3.
Equipment Hose 18,370ft; BA sets; 4 lighting
sets 2; foam
Generators 4; branchpipes 8;
Wireless Joint Scheme, fixed 1; mobile 3
Estimated annual cost rate borne £19,972, total £27,779.
Brigade rate £0.13.325d
calls Non chimney 111; chimney 48; false
16; SSC 124
Estimated fire loss £56,067
Further improvements to the front line appliance fleet were made throughout
the 1950’s with the
introduction of Rolls Royce powered Dennis F25 water tenders registration
numbers HB 9708
in March 1957 and AHB 1 in July of1958.
A Bedford SH/Miles bodied water tender was bought in
the early part of 1958 for use at Treharris, this carried the registration
number HB 9700.
The 1960’s history of the County Borough of Merthyr
Tydfil is inextricably linked to the disaster that befell the small mining
community of Aberfan on 21st October 1966.
At 0915hrs on that misty morning millions of tons of
water saturated coal waste slid down from the tip above the village and
engulfed Pantglas Junior School and eighteen houses in the adjacent Moy
By 0930hrs the first of many appliances from the
Brigade were in attendance, the task facing them was totally overwhelming.
Hundreds of firemen from throughout south and west Wales and the western
counties of England were eventually mobilised to the incident, but sadly
after 1100hrs that morning, no further live casualties were ever rescued.
There were many acts of personal heroism that day but
the figures indelibly marked in the memory of every one involved in that
traumatic incident were, 116 children and 28 adults died.
Understandably, few that attended that awful scene on
that fateful day are willing to speak of the horrors that were “Aberfan”.
The ever-increasing demand upon the brigade’s resources
to attend and deal with special service calls was addressed by the purchase
in 1969 of a purpose built emergency tender.
The machine was based upon the Commer VAC chassis and
bodied by Dennis. It was allocated the registration number EHB 680G.
The Final Chapter
The June 1970 Report of the Departmental Committee on
the Fire service, better known as the “Holroyd Report” was to sound the
death knell of all County Borough Fire Brigades. The report concluded that
“Many fire authorities areas are too small to support viable brigade units.
The fire Service in England and Wales should be based on a much smaller
number of units rather than at present and they should be more uniform in
It further recommended that those unitary authorities
too small for Fire Service purposes should be combined with other
What the report missed completely was the pride,
passion and sense of belonging felt by the members of these “small
brigades.” It also failed to acknowledge that for the past 100 years the
brigades he wished to consign into history had protected and served their
respective communities with increasing efficiency.
In the fullness of time history will show that big
brigades are certainly not more cost effective and it remains to be judged
whether they are more efficient.
By now with Divisional Officer T G Doyle D.F.M, A.M.I
as the new Deputy Chief Officer, the 1970 Fire Protection Directory
statistics record the following: -
Personnel Whole time
39; retained 31
Appliances Pump escapes
1; water tenders 4; emergency tenders 1;
Equipment BA sets 12;
foam generators 6
Estimated annual cost 395,301
Fire Calls Fires 303;
SSC 83; false 103
Risk category B to D
In 1970 the Brigade took delivery of a Leyland
Beaver/Carmichael/ Orbitor 72-foot hydraulic platform, an unique combination
of chassis and top hamper. It was registered as HHB 247K
In 1972 the last appliances that were procured in the
name of the County Borough were a pair of Bedford TK/HCB-Angus water tender
ladder appliances registration numbers HHB 705K and HHB 853K.
The final entry for the County Borough of Merthyr
Tydfil Fire Brigade in the 1973 edition of the Fire Protection Directory
Personnel Whole time
37; retained 34.
Appliances Pump escapes
1; water tenders 5; emergency tenders 1
Hydraulic platforms 1.
Equipment BA sets-Oxygen
12; air 6; foam generators 6.
Annual cost of Brigade £141,580
402; SSC 98; false 86.
The originators of the original plan to provide
efficient fire protection to the residents of the Borough can have had
little conception of what fruits their efforts would bear in the preceding
years, but we like to imagine that they would be proud to see the active and
efficient unit the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil Fire Brigade was to
On 1st April 1974 the County Borough of
Merthyr Tydfil Fire Brigade was amalgamated with the greater part of the
Glamorgan Fire Brigade to form the new Mid Glamorgan Fire Brigade.
This short history is based in part on an article first
written in 1955 by D J Davies, former CFO of the County Borough of Merthyr
Tydfil Fire Brigade.
Mike George QGM; Grad I Fire E; M.I.Pet.