New book lifts lid on Bradford’s fire history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new book entitled The History of Bradford City Fire Brigade is being released this weekend by keen historian and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) employee Chris Smith.

The book promises to unveil the stories of some of the brigade’s great heroes during the period of 1800 to 1974 when WYFRS was formed.

It covers periods of war, the infamous Low Moor Munitions Factory disaster and the industrial boom which in turn led to mill fires becoming commonplace and fraught with danger for the responding firemen of the day.

The book tells the tale of some of the charismatic and brave leaders through the years, including Chief Fire Officer James Scott who joined as an auxiliary in 1876 rising through the ranks to become Chief in 1886 serving until 1926 (pictured below).

Not only did Scott heroically lead the fire brigade response to the Low Moor disaster in 1916, but he is also remembered as one of the driving forces behind Bradford gaining a reputation as one of the most renowned and professional brigades in the country.

In 1905 he gained the prestigious position of President of the British Professional Fire Chief’s Association. His leadership led to Bradford becoming one of the first brigades outside London to introduce the concept of a motorised fire engine in 1910.

 

Such was the scarcity of motorised transport that a driver had to be employed and he and the Chief drove the lumbering beast all the way from Surrey on solid tyres!

His many medals are currently on display at Bradford City Hall, which will be opening its doors this Saturday (September 9) for a Heritage Open Day.

Chris would like any profits from his book to be used for restoration and display of the Chief’s medals in honor of his outstanding service to both Bradford and the UK Fire Service.

However, Chris has found out that on the day of the Low Moor explosion Chief Fire Officer Scott was not the only hero of the day.

Scott and the driver were seriously injured by one of the first blasts at Low Moor factory, on August 21, 1916, having driven into the works on the “Hayhurst” the newest engine in the fleet.

It was Scott’s second in command Superintendent Robert Forbes who rescued him from the wreckage before returning to rescue several other unconscious firemen who would have lost their lives had it not been for Forbes’ bravery.

Forbes was rewarded by the King (one of the highest awards for bravery) by being presented the Albert Medal – an equivalent to the Victoria Cross for the non-military, being replaced later by the George medal.

However it’s thought that due to the effects of the chemicals he had difficulty recuperating and left the brigade and went to Australia where he was unfortunately lost to history, until now.

 

Chief Officer Scott (left) and Superintendent Forbes in their number one dress proudly displaying their medals. Scott with King’s Police Medal and Low Moor Medal, and Forbes with Albert Medal and Low Moor Medal. Both men are wearing their ornately decorated silver nickel fire helmets. Picture above courtesy of Telegraph and Argus.

Chris has spent nearly 40 years in the Fire Service himself serving operationally at Slaithwaite, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Elland, then at Training Centre, before moving to work in the Fire Protection department.

In 1999 Chris released a History of Huddersfield Fire Brigade which was 10 years in the making.

He said: “My latest book charts a period of real change in the fire brigade when many new ‘firsts’ were experienced, and innovative thinkers made a lasting impact.

“This was also a time of great challenge to the brigade, with many large fires occurring, especially in the huge industrial mill buildings with many hundreds of employees.

“In 1913 alone the brigade dealt with more than 30 major blazes – and in those early days industrial strife bubbled under the surface, particularly during the dark days of the ‘depression.’

“The book has been a real labour of love and I hope it helps ensure that the heroes of the hour will be honoured in history for years to come.”

Chris Smith’s daughter Hannah is a budding local artist who normally sketches portraits of dogs and horses. However she has risen to the challenge and has sketched a pencil drawing depicting Superintendent Forbes’ heroic efforts at Low Moor which is to be displayed at Fire Service Headquarters in Birkenshaw (see left and below). Chris said “I could not complete the history of Bradford’s firefighters’ achievements without doing something in Forbes’ memory.”

Recently a traditional firefighter’s helmet from the period when Scott and Forbes were officers has been donated to the Service by a Mr. Yarnold who lived at the old Nelson Street Fire Station in Bradford as a boy. He used to look at the silver helmet in its display case and was told about the days of old by the older hands at the station, including his father. The helmet has been cared for through generations by Mr. Yarnold and as it is an officer’s helmet, it is believed to have possibly belonged to Forbes or Scott.

Chris will be attended Bradford City Hall this Saturday (September 9) for the launch of his book, which will be initially available to buy for £20 via Chris.

Chris.smith@westyorksfire.gov.uk