Last week our story on floods in Tamworth - this week fires. Will the disasters never end? Perhaps next week we'll talk about traffic!
With early Tamworth having mainly wooden buildings, no efficient town water supply and no fire brigade, there was always danger of serious fires in the small but growing town.
With the first Town Council established in 1876, the following year Mayor P.G.King led the quest for our first local fire brigade, which was eventually established in 1878. Our first "engine" was in fact a workforce-drawn device with two large wheels, a water container, hand pump and some hoses, known locally as "The Little Squirt". The fire station was a 12' x 12' corrugated iron shed in Peel Street, situated near the present Centrepoint Arcade, with a barely audible fire bell located at the back. On one occasion "The Little Squirt" was summoned to a fire up the hill in West Tamworth, but the four-man brigade couldn't cope with the incline and a dozen onlookers were required to assist by pushing the vehicle to the site of the fire.
Eventually in 1908 horse power was introduced, with the new station being a brick double-storey building with a horse paddock in Lower Street (now Kable Avenue).
In 1919 the fire brigade became motorised. Being no longer required, the two grey horses were sold to be used locally in a baker's cart. All went well until one day the fire bell rang, leading to an immediate automatic response by the horses who headed to the fire station with the cart, the baker losing control.
The first of Tamworth's major catastrophic fires occurred in 1894 when the Cohen & Levy Store, situated opposite today's Target, was totally destroyed and later rebuilt.
The first of Tamworth's major catastrophic fires occurred in 1894 when the Cohen & Levy Store, situated opposite today's Target, was totally destroyed and later rebuilt. The fire started early in the morning and was first noticed by the publican of the Royal Hotel opposite who gave the alarm. People broke the store windows in the early stages to rescue whatever goods they could, but the primitive fire-fighting resources were not able to cope.
Two years later, in 1896, a fire starting around 7pm in Martin's Bakery in Peel Street, soon spread to the adjacent Royal Standard Hotel (now the CH on Peel site) and further up Brisbane Street to the Olympic Hall (now CH Boutique Hotel site), with all buildings being destroyed. Water carriers brought 240 loads of water to the fire, after a 30 minute delay in the arrival of the first water cart. Spectators jeered the leading opponents of a proposed reticulated Tamworth water supply who were in attendance.
A third major fire in 1930 put paid to the Royal Standard Brewery, located in today's Spotlight area, hence Brewery Lane. The fire started in the basement of the four-storey malthouse around 2:30 am and within 4 hours most of the malthouse had been destroyed. The glow of the fire was visible from Attunga.
So when you hear the siren of today's modern fire engine heading to a fire, setting off a dogs' howling frenzy, think of days past when fire control was quite different.