Map Page
Page Index
What's New
Contact Us



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.


First Thoughts 

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 wage. 



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 HB 76.

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 Replacement 

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 HB 4408.

The old Belsize pump was sold to an Abergavenny farmer for £13-5s-0d.


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 Dowlais.


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.

Personnel.                                Professional 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 eventually scrapped.

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; hydrants 1,704.

Wireless                                   Joint Scheme, fixed 1; mobile 3

Estimated annual cost                rate borne £19,972, total £27,779.

Fire Brigade rate                       £0.13.325d

Fire calls                                   Non chimney 111; chimney 48; false 16; SSC 124

Estimated fire loss                     £56,067

Risk category                           C


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 Road.

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 size”.

It further recommended that those unitary authorities too small for Fire Service purposes should be combined with other authorities.

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;

                                                Other appliances 4

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  reads: -

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

Calls                                         Fires 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 become.


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.

February 2004.