-  Updated on Friday 19th November 2021 05:07pm

Although long since disbanded, the Beckford Fire Brigade has played an important part in the history of Beckford. The Fire Brigade was most probably instigated as a consequence of 'The Great Fire of Beckford' in 1863, as a local report of the time would indicate ....

"May 23rd, 1863 - Beckford. Destructive Fire. One of the most fearful and destructive fires that has occurred in this neigbourhood broke out in this village on Tuesday last. The fire was discovered about four o'clock in the afternoon issuing from the back of a large shed adjoining the Tewkesbury and Evesham Railway, in the occupation of Mr. Badham. An alarm was immediately raised, and messengers were despatched to to Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Evesham for the town engines. The Tewkesbury engine, with Sergeant Herbert, was the first to arrive, and was soon put into play; but owing to the great distance at which they had to obtain water, the force was not so great as it could have been. The wind was dreadfully high, and all efforts to extinguish the flames at the barn were in vain, and very shortly the fire had extended itself to the rick yard. A frightful conflagration here took place, there being one rick of hay, one of straw, one of peas, and one of beans, all burning at the same time, and every effort was required on the part of the engines to prevent the adjoining houses and buildings catching. Burning thatch, etc. was blown about in all directions, and the first and greatest sufferer therefrom was Mr Hemming (whose premises adjoined the rick yard). Some of the burning debris was conveyed to his house, and his premises were almost instantaneously in a blaze. The engines at once commenced playing upon them but the wind and fire proved the strongest elements, and nothing but a chimney stack remains as a mark. The whole of the furniture was totally destroyed, but we are pleased to hear that the property and furniture were insured. The flames were then carried to the house where Mr Badham's bailiff resides, but we are pleased to say that they were checked in time to save the greater part of the building. The fire then extended across the road to the house of Mr Smith grocer, and also the police station, where considerable damage was done, the stable and outhouses of Mr Smith being entirely destroyed. To return to Mr Badham's barn; the destruction was very great, there being a quantity of grain and some valuable implements, many of which were consumed. In a large pig-stye adjoining the farm house were ten swine, and the flames having reached it, before the animals could be removed they were all in the middle of a furious fire, the squeaking of them being fearful to hear and the scene which followed the falling in of this building was almost incredible, and we should hesitate in giving it publicity, were it not that we have it on the authority of eye witnesses whose statements we can fully depend upon.

Looking on the scene were a number of navvies, employed on the Evesham and Malvern Railway, and as soon as it was possible to approach the pig-stye, several of these men made rush and seizing the pigs, which were of course all killed, in fact, nearly cooked, and commenced butchering them, and with the greatest nonchalance eating the meat before the eyes of Mr Badham, and taking possession of huge pieces of the flesh; in one case we are assured that one of these fellows finding the meat not sufficiently cooked to his taste, held it on a fork over the burning embers. The scene generally in the village almost 'beggared all description'. The flames were flying in all directions, and there was a perfect panic, every householder expecting his premises to be the next to suffer, and the poor cottagers were moving or making arrangements to move their little all to a place of safety. The flames forced themselves from Mr Smith's premises to the stabling adjoining those of Mr Robert Timbrill's, but fortunately their further progress was stopped, otherwise his house must have succumbed to the fiery element. In anticipation of such an occurrence the whole of the furniture and effects were removed from the house. Superintendent Coleman and sergeants Herbert and Dutton rendered great service in keeping order and directing the movements. The fire continued to rage in different parts up to seven o'clock on Wednesday morning. Mr Badhams stock is, we understand, fully insured; but the buildings which belong to Dr Timbrill are not. The origin of the fire is at present a mystery - it being suggested that it was caused by a spark from the engine working on the line. We have heard several complaints as to the manner in which the Tewkesbury engine was worked on this occasion, most of the men instead of being at their proper work, 'being here, there, and everywhere'. Sergeant Herbert was always at his post and did his work most efficiently; but it is an utter impossibility that the chief can be expected to satisfactorily work an engine without he has the proper class of men to back him. That the present brigade is totally inefficient; there can be no doubt, and we hope that at the next meeting of the Council a reformation will take place."

One of the earliest recorded memories of the Fire Brigade is captured in this old photo from around 1865, which shows the 12-man crew on their horse drawn pumping engine. This photo is probably one of the most interesting that has appeared in the historical photo gallery.  It was hardly to be expected that the names of all appearing in the photograph could be obtained, but we have been able to ascertain the following; Standing on front, R. Timbrill (captain); seated, first from left, Nathan Burge; second from left, Joseph Clarke (driver); George Jones (at one time post boy on the London Mail coach between London and Worcester). Standing, second from left, James Burge; fourth from left, Herbert Saunders; fifth from left, James Smith (founder of Smith’s Stores, Beckford).  Some clues to the identification of those un-named may be found in the following report by James Smith written at the time:

On February 8th, 1870 at 2 o’clock a.m. The Mill, Overbury, then occupied by Mr. Pynchin, was burnt down The Beckford engine was employed. Eleven men, names as under, were present (other three members were unable). Mr. George Jones, Chas.Foort, sen, Chas. Foort, jun. Herbert Saunders, Chas. Ancill, Nathan Burge, Jas. Burge, Em. White, W. Wall”

Those who were ‘unable’ as the report states were R. Timbrill Esq., Captain James Smith (ill with rheumatism), Joseph Clarke (did not hear the bell).

Yo Yates, who has been researching the parish minutes has painstakingly extracted some interesting entries relating to the Beckford Fire Brigade. Click on the minute book for the entry from 27th June 1910 (below).

21st July 1909

Present Capt H A Case, Chairman, Mr. E. E. Bennett

A cheque was signed for £2 being the annual subscription to the Tewkesbury Fire Brigade.

Beckford Fire Brigade

A report was read from Mr Hawker stating that 8 practices had taken place with the fire appliances. Beckford Hall would tried at the next practice - two more lengths of hose being required to reach a rick yard and some cottages near Lower Farm Grafton - and at the present time there are three men short.

The clerk was asked to write Mr Hawker that permission had been granted to try Beckford Hall and that the Council would be pleased to hear that the brigade had been made up. Also the hose to be kept rolled up so as to be ready for immediate use.

20th January 1910

The clerk was asked to order 3 lengths of the cheaper kind of Canvas Fire-hose at £2.17.6 per 50 Feet length. 27th June 1910

The question of a yearly subscription to the Tewkesbury Fire Brigade was discussed but eventually adjourned to the next meeting of the Council.  In the meantime the clerk was asked to write the Cheltenham and Evesham Fire brigades to find out under what conditions they could attend a fire in this parish if called upon, also to write Mr Stephens of Winchcombe to learn if one of our volunteer Fire Brigade met with an accident at a fire or a practice would this council be liable.

20th July 1910

Fire Brigade

Mr A Hawker, Captain of the Fire Brigade attended this meeting and gave a report of their last year’s work.  The chairman proposed that if should be placed on record how very highly this council approve of the splendid work achieved by the fire Brigade in quenching the fire at the Old House, great credit being due to Mr Hawker, the Firemen and many other willing helpers for stopping what might have been a much more serious fire. Seconded by Mrs Eltham (?) and carried. 

Fire at Beckford Hall

The Old House before the fire The Old House during the fire The Old House as it is today
Before the fire Immediately after the fire As it is today

Fire Hose

The Chairman kindly offered to give an addition of length of hose.


This Council sanctioned the purchase of a syringe for use at fires also that a hoist be erected for use when the hose requires drying.

Fire Bell

Mr. W. Smith of the Cross kindly offered to provide a new Bell for use at Fires on Fire Brigade practices.  It being mentioned that there was a Bell in the Church Tower lying idle, it was decided that Messrs. W. Smith, E. E. Bennett and A. Clarke would form a Committee to inspect same and see if suitable for the purpose before accepting Mr Smiths offer.

19th October 1910

The chairman proposed that the subscription to the Tewkesbury Fire Brigade be discontinued.

17th October 1917

It was proposed that the clerk should write Mr Hawker to test Fire Hose and appliances at his earliest opportunity.

16th January 1924

The reviving of the village Fire-Brigade was considered, and to encourage practices it was decided to allow 2/6 per man for a wet practice and 1/- per man for a dry practice.  The brigade to consist of 8 members the majority to live within sound of the Fire Bell..  Mr. P J. Smith kindly undertook to do what he could to re-start the Brigade and report to the clerk at an early date.

16th April 1924

The clerk reported that the Fire Brigade Caption had got 8 men interested, who would form a Fire Brigade and a practice would take place before long.

24th March 1926

Fire Brigade Report

Mr Burgess report of Fire Brigade Dry Practice read as follows.  Fire Bell rang at 6.15 pm.  1st Man arrived 6.18, Left Fire station 6.25 a double set of hose all out from Hydrant to Village Hall by 6.30, but much difficulty was caused by the Hydrant cover being broken.
The clerk was asked to write Mr A Hawker to see that all Fire Hydrant covers are in good order and easy to raise.

19th January 1927

Fire at Beckford Hall

A lengthy report of a Fire, which took place on Oct 21st at Beckford Hall, was received from Mr Burgess, Captain of the Fire Brigade, showing much good work was done and the Fire extinguished before the arrival of the Gloucestershire Brigade.  25/- had been received by Mr Burgess through Mr Cobb to divide between the men of the local Brigade; this report being shown to four members of this council a letter was framed by the Chairman and signed by all stating they consider the sum of 25/- a very inadequate recompense for the work done, had it not been for the prompt response the members of our Brigade a considerable portion of the Hall might easily have been destroyed, a copy of Mr Burgess’s report was also sent with this letter to the Sec of the Atlas Fire office at Bristol, but no acknowledgement has been received so it was decided at the meeting the clerk should write them again, stating the Council were surprised not receiving a reply their letter as they are anxious to know their decision.

Extracts taken from the original parish council meeting minutes.
Postcards and old photos from Phil Smith. 
Colour photos and research by Yo Yates.