NotesThe first manually operated fire engine was built in 1650 by Hautch of Nuremberg, Germany, but it was not a success. A few years later in Amsterdam an improved engine was devised which had an air vessel and a combined pair of bucket and plunger pumps. A continuous stream of water was produced, with the air vessel used to prevent shock and loss of power to the pump. The water was delivered through a branch and nozzle fitted to the delivery side of the pump. There was no suction outlet, so the engine had a cistern or reservoir into which water was filled by a bucket brigade, which consisted of lines of citizens passing buckets between the town pump and the engine.
The development of the leather delivery hose made the engine more effective by enabling the fire to be attacked at close quarters. Later, the introduction of the wired suction hose obviated the use of the bucket brigade.
Around 1724 Richard Newsham of London made the first manual engine in England. It incorporated improvements which made it popular throughout the 18th century. As the 19th century progressed, the inadequacies of the old manual pumps became increasingly apparent. In the larger sizes, requiring perhaps as many as 40 men to work them, they were heavy and clumsy, and even the biggest could not make much impression on a very large fire.
The first steam fire engine was invented by John Braithwaite, partner in the London engineering firm of Brathwaite and Ericsson. This engine was built in 1829-30 and included a boiler and two direct-acting steam pumps mounted on wheels and drawn by horses. The firebox was water-jacketed and was provided with a forced draught by a mechanical bellows, while the exhaust gas issued from a funnel behind the driver's seat. The engine threw 150 gallons (682 litres) of water per minute to a height of 90 feet (27.4 m). The steamers were not popular due to their lack of power, and it was not until after the middle of the nineteenth century that the steam fire engine gained acceptance in Britain. The first British fire appliance maker to manufacture a successful steam fire engine was Shand Mason & Co in 1858. Development occurred rapidly, and engines were devised that could pump at 200 strokes per minute, quicker than the fastest manual engine.
The era of the horse-drawn steam fire engine lasted about 40 years, and during that period there were no serious challengers to its supremacy. The horse-drawn steamers changed little in overall design, though detailed engineering refinements were made from time to time. Inventiveness and ingenuity were exercised in developing compact lightweight equipment and boilers that could steam quickly. The engines were kept with fires banked down or ready for quick ignition and could quickly be brought to life so that a good head of steam was available by the time the engine arrived at the fire.
The first self-propelled steam pumper was built by P.R. Hope of New York in 1840. It bore a close resemblance to the early railway locomotives of the period. While pumping was in progress, its driving wheels were jacked clear of the ground to act as flywheels. In Britain, experiments were also carried out with self-propelled steam vehicles; however, there was little point in this as in 1865 the Locomotive Act restricted the speed of road locomotives to 4 miles per hour in populated areas and insisted that a person precede the locomotive on foot carrying a red flag. Horse-drawn vehicles were exempt from these limits, so self-propelled steamers were not introduced until the Act was repealed in 1896. Petrol-engined appliances soon followed, and the self-propelled steam pumps stood no chance given that they had to be maintained permanently "in steam".
The museum's steam fire engine pump was made by English company Merryweather & Sons. This firm can be traced back to the 18th century, when a Samuel Hadley took over a fire engine works in London's Long Acre in 1769. Samuel's son, Nathaniel, joined the firm in 1790, and two years later an engineer named Charles Simpkin joined the partnership. Simpkin patented several improvements to the manual engine design that were to become standard practice, including valves made of metal rather than leather, the provision of a steerable fore-carriage and road springs, so that engines could be towed to the fire by horses, rather than being dragged by perspiring firemen.
Henry Lott, son of Squire Lott of Twyforde Abbey, Berkshire, who joined the company in 1791, married Simpkin's widow. He became a partner in the firm and later took control of Hadley, Simpkin and Lott. In 1807, a 14-year-old apprentice, Moses Merryweather, a Yorkshireman apparently related to Captain James Cook, was taken on by the company. Moses married Henry Lott's niece in 1836 and took over the company after Henry Lott died.
Moses lived to the age of 79, though his son, Richard, headed Merryweather & Sons from 1859. On Richard's death in 1877, the company was taken over by his younger brother, James Compton Merryweather, probably the most flamboyant fire engine enthusiast of the entire family. During the period J C Merryweather was at the head of the company, the name of Merryweather was predominant in the manufacture of fire-fighting equipment. James was an engineer by training and this, together with the fact that he promoted his products with remarkable fervour, no doubt helped the development of the company. He wrote inexhaustibly to get the name of Merryweather into print and travelled the world learning about fire-fighting methods and requirements in other countries and building up a thriving export business. His activities earned him the well-merited nickname of "The Fire King" and he was still working in the factory a week before his death in 1917 at the age of 77. His workmen mourned him as a just and good employer who would often wander through his factory, addressing them all by their first names and genuinely interested in their welfare. There was no son to succeed him, and his place was taken by John Henry Osborn, who had been the overseas representative of the company.
Merryweather's first steamer was built in 1861 and was called the "Deluge". This fire engine had a massive 30 horsepower single cylinder engine with a bore of 9 inches (22.9 cm) and a stroke of 15 inches (38.1 cm). It drove an outsize twin-cylinder pump which had bores of 16.5 inches and strokes of 15 inches (38.1 cm). "Deluge" won the large-engine class in a trial of steam fire engines held in London's Hyde Park in conjunction with the 1862 International Exhibition.
A second Merryweather steamer emerged from a newly acquired factory in Lambeth in 1862 and was christened "Torrent". A more powerful engine, the "Sutherland", was introduced in 1863. It had twin steam cylinders and was capable of projecting a steady jet of water 160-170 feet high (48.8 m- 51.8 m)) through a 1.5 inch (38 mm) nozzle.
For many years Merryweather built steamers and pump engines with horizontal cylinders placed in front of the boilers. In 1885 the twin cylinder "Greenwich" model was produced (named after the new factory that the firm had opened in 1876). The "Greenwich" Patent Double Cylinder High Speed Steam Fire Engine could deliver 750 gallons (3,410 litres) of water per minute. Even more popular was the "Greenwich Gem", introduced in 1896 at the London Fire Tournament, which was built in sizes from 200 gallons (909.2 litres) to 500 gallons (2,273 litres) per minute. Also in 1896, the company introduced its "Hatfield" reciprocating pump, which had three cylinders mounted 120 degrees apart inside a hexagonal casing.
Merryweather's first self-propelled steamer was completed in 1899, and the last horse-drawn steamer was produced in 1902. The self-propelled fire engine market was dominated by Merryweather's "Fire King" which had a coke or oil-fired boiler and carried 100 gallons (455 litres) of water, sufficient for about half-an-hour's running, plus fuel for four hours' operation. These engines were exported all over the world until about 1922. By 1905 Merryweather were producing motorised fire pumps, and the steam days were over.
Shand Mason, Merryweather's main rival in steam fire engine production in England, did not attempt to compete with the Merryweather firm in the production of self-propelled engines and stuck rigidly to the steam engine. It slid into an inevitable decline, and Merryweather took it over in 1922.