What would you do if you discovered fire? Dial 999 and wait for the fire brigade to come and save the day? Things haven’t always been like that, and these fire buckets help to tell the story of how firefighting has changed over the course of history.
In the Middle Ages, Britain did not have a formal fire service. Some parishes would have groups of volunteers to tackle fires – but armed with little more than buckets of water, they weren’t very effective when faced with wooden buildings. So if your house caught fire, it would probably have burned to the ground.
It wasn’t until The Great Fire of London in 1666 that firefighting became more formalised, with private insurance companies providing fire brigades. Buildings that paid for insurance would be marked with the company logo and provided with leather fire buckets to show that you had paid for firefighting services should they be needed. The handshake logo on the 19th century buckets at the beginning of this blog belonged to the ‘Mutual Assurance Company.’
Leather fire buckets would be filled with sand or water to act as the first line of defence before your insurance company arrived to extinguish the fire. Other insurance companies could extinguish the fire if they wanted to, but would later charge a fee for their services. If your building wasn’t marked as insured, it would still have burned to the ground. As time passed, some private brigades would put out fires at uninsured buildings if there was a risk that it could spread to insured buildings. If you couldn’t afford private insurance you would have to rely on local parish volunteers to save your property.
In 1938 The Fire Brigades Act mandated that local authorities would provide a free fire service funded by the taxpayer. This finally removed the responsibility from private insurance companies to make sure that your property was protected from fire!