1721 to 1941





Newsham Engine kept at the Mason Lodge.


Central Fire Brigade Station, King Street, ABERDEEN.




Alexander England (Overseer of Water Engines)

to 1896

Firemaster Anderson

1896 to

Firemaster William Inkster


Firemaster F. G. Bell

to 1930

Firemaster Pollock


Firemaster Bell





Two Water Engines




Newsham Engine




Steam Powered Pump




3 Horse Drawn Steamers




Merryweather Hose Reel

















<PHOTO> The new 60 h.p. Dennis motor combination of the City Fire Brigade. The weight of the firemen on the 60ft. detachable escape gives an indication of the strength of the apparatus. .("Journal" photo.)



Since the recent appointment of Mr F. G. Bell as Firemaster of Aberdeen, a process of regeneration of the City Fire Brigade service has begun, and if the spirit animating the Watching, Lighting, and Fires Committee of the Town Council is maintained, the Brigade will yet become one of the most efficient units of its kind in Britain.
The growth of the fire brigade service in any town or city to a large extent keeps pace with with the increase in population, but until now it cannot quite be said that as Aberdeen extended its boundaries or became more densely populated it was fully appreciated that the necessity for adequate fire precautions assumed a relatively greater degree of importance. Indeed, the achievements of the Brigade in recent years cannot be placed to the credit of the equipment it possessed, but have to be regarded as largely, due to the skill and resource of the personnel. For some years past the appliances for the protection of the city were altogether out of keeping with the fire fighting plants of other places of similar size, and it was with some trepidation that experts during that time regarded the possibility of the Brigade being called on to combat one of those extensive fires which at periods threaten or cause havoc in every commercial centre.

Out in 29 Seconds

Under the regime now adopted at the Central Fire Station in King Street, however, progress is manifest. It is not possible, of course, to substitute the as-nigh-perfect-as-possible system at once, but in a few months the Brigade has certainly acquired higher efficiency. Methods are being reviewed, economies of time being effected and acceleration heightened. This week an "Aberdeen Daily Journal" representative visited the Fire Station and asked the permission of the Firemaster to test the speed with which his command would respond to an alarm. The men had no knowledge whatever of the intended trial, and were scattered about the buildings, some in the workshops, others in their quarters, and groups at play in the recreation room. In 29 seconds after the first sound of the bell the machines were in the streets, with every fireman, wearing full uniform and gear, at his post aboard. A genuine night summons this week found the Brigade out of the station in 88 seconds-a remarkable performance when it is remembered that the majority of the men when the fire alarm was given were asleep in their houses in St. Clair Street, 60 or 70 yards away.
With the bettering of the methods of turning out has gone intense education in the newest details of fire drill and rescue work, and, above all, a great improvement in the equipment. The firemen declare that they now go out into the streets of the city with a sense of pride they did not experience before-their manner of comment on the splendid new 60 h.p. Dennis motor turbine purchased by the Corporation. The combination carries a 60 feet detachable fire escape, and is capable of travelling at 35 miles per hour, and climbing on top gear any gradient in or around Aberdeen. The fire escape, which is handled by three men, can be removed in a matter of seconds and wheeled at once to wherever required. A pump- at the back lifts water from a depth of 27 feet, and allows it to be delivered through the 1200 feet of hose carried at a rate of 500 gallons per minute. With a 1 1/8 inch nozzle, the water can be sent 160 feet high, and with smaller nozzles, four good streams are obtainable at once from the pump.

Quick Action Apparatus

Not the least important of the fitments is a first aid equipment-a container holding 30 gallons of water feeding through a long length of rubber tubing, which can be brought into use two seconds after the combination arrives at the scene of a fire, an appliance particularly suitable for dealing with promptly with outbreaks in tenement houses. While the firemen are at work with this auxiliary outfit, the turbine is connected to the street hydrants, and if it is not necessary to bring the more powerful hose into play, the supply from the reservoir on the turbine can be maintained simply by opening a valve, which allows the tank to be kept full from the main. The combination is replete with emergency equipment-telescopic extension ladders, axes, saws, ropes, life-lines, rescue sheets, chemical extinguishers, smoke helmets, self contained oxygen breathing apparatus, resuscitating apparatus, etc.
The former principal unit of the Brigade plant, the Halley motor turbine bought ten years ago, has, since the acquisition of the new combination, been thoroughly overhauled and modernised as regards equipment, and although not capable of the pumping and delivery capacity of itss up-to-date companion, has now been put into such condition as to warrant it fit for several years of strenuous service.
The "black spot" of the Fire station is the Merryweather hose-reel, a twenty year old outfit, and very obviously one of the first experiments of the motor vehicle builder. The machine is quite obsolete, frequently breaks down, is cumbersome and difficult to drive (witness the frequent accidents in which it has been involved), and altogether is not the type of instrument that would ordinarily be expected to be found in service in a progressive city. Now that makers’ prices are on the downward track, the Town Council may be expected soon to provide the Brigade with a modern tender.
An innovation introduced by the Firemaster is the provision of masks and self contained oxygen breathing apparatus for the firemen. The apparatus supplies the user with a factitious but perfectly respirable air entirely independent of any communication with the outer atmosphere for at least two hours at a time. It has no air pipe or other connection with the base of operations, so that for recovery, rescue, and flame fighting work in smoke filled rooms, cellars, and passageways, its scope of usefulness is practically unlimited, the firemen being safe in the most poisonous gases, and able to walk any distance and to explore the most intricate places with every freedom of action. The principle of the apparatus is that the fireman breathes the same air over and over again, the carbonic acid being absorbed from it after each expiration, and at the same time the requisite amount of oxygen is restored to it, thus rendering it pure and fit to be inhaled again.
<PHOTO> Fireman at rescue drill. Carrying an insensible man down the new fire escape from a roof.("Journal" photo.)

Fire Alarms

Apart from having the appliances brought fully up-to-date, the ambition of those responsible for the Fire Brigade service of Aberdeen is to have a complete system of municipal street fire alarms introduced to the city, and it is quite possible that before long the Town Council committee in charge will take action towards having installed a modern system so designed that, while always in condition to give the correct signals when operated, the alarms will also automatically give a signal as soon as they cease to be in working order.
In combating fire, vigilance is the price of safety, and doubtless, when Aberdeen comes to adopt these alarms it will take note of the experience of other centres, and provide such an installation as will entitle it to the post of honour as sentry to the fire department. In an age when fire brigades reckon time by seconds, no municipality can be considered progressive which has not provided its citizens with a signalling system for calling the department when necessary. It is obvious that a fire may be more readily checked in its incipiency than after it has made  headway; therefore, no matter how efficient the Aberdeen Fire Brigade may be, it will fail in the achievement of its purpose if not supplemented by facilities for obtaining knowledge of the exact location of fires without loss of time. It has been estimated that one half of the damage caused by night time outbreaks in the city is done while a search is being made for an available telephone, and it would be an economy to the ratepayers as a whole, therefore, if the Corporation asked them to be responsible for the provision of a facility which will strengthen the organisation of the Fire Brigade which has rendered them such splendid service in the past.
(Aberdeen Daily Journal, 6/10/1922.)



<PHOTO> The new 60 feet Detachable Fire Escape of the Aberdeen City Fire Brigade.
(Escape fully extended with thirteen men on it)
<PHOTO> Crews of the New Fire Engines of the Aberdeen Brigade-Drawn up for Inspection.
(The Aberdeen Daily Journal, October 7, 1922).


<PHOTO> This Aberdeen Fire Brigade engine-a Halley motor pump and ladder-has been fitted with Dunlop pneumatic tyres in place of the old solid tyres. The engine is of 60 h.p. with a 500 gallon capacity pump and first aid outfit.
The engine, which was built in 1923, being otherwise mechanically sound, Firemaster Bell decided to bring the machine right up-to-date. This has been done by fitting new hubs, wheels and giant pneumatic Dunlop tyres size 36x7. The engine was tested on Saturday afternoon with Firemaster Bell and Mr G. Bennett Roger, the local Dunlop manager, as passengers.
The speed and cornering were found to be considerably improved and road grip and non-skidding properties were in evidence which did not exist when the plain solid tyres were in use. Moreover, the vibration had practically gone.
The new equipment should provide a much more comfortable ride for the firemen and will considerably reduce the wear and tear on the chassis generally. The complete conversion of wheels, hubs, and tyres was carried out by the staff at the Dunlop Depot in Leadside Road, Aberdeen.
(the photo is of RS5222).
(The Aberdeen Press and Journal, October 21, 1931).


How Aberdeen bought its first Fire Engine

Citizens Got the Insurance Company to Lend a Helping Hand

By Louise B. Taylor.

Few citizens of Aberdeen today have any conception of the revolution which has been carried out in our generation in the city’s appliances for fighting fire. Fewer still realise how ill-equipped the town was in this respect in the days when the danger of serious conflagration was much greater than it is now.
In July, 1762, Alexander England, blacksmith and newly elected overseer of the town’s water-engines, gave in his account of the town’s fire apparatus. It consisted of "two Water-Engines, thirty one leather Buckets, three wooden Poles, two iron Hooks, four Hatchets, four Hammars, two Crow-Irons, two small Ropes, and four heddars."
England hinted at the inadequacy of the apparatus, but the Magistrates felt no cause for alarm.

Narrow Escape.

Within a month their complacency was shattered, for the town narrowly escaped heavy damages from fire. It is evident from the tone of a Council meeting held early in September that the townsfolk would not have held them guiltless had their property suffered badly from the fire. Accordingly it was agreed that a new and up-to-date fire engine must be purchased.
Fire Engines, however, were costly, and the Magistrates, being as canny a set as any in the land, were unwilling to undertake the whole expense of procuring a new one. Some argued that, since the fire insurance company would suffer as much as, if not more than, the town were a disastrous fire to occur, it would be to its advantage to help buy a new one.
The good burgesses were so pleased with this idea that they decided to send the Provost and Baillie Burnett, a wealthy merchant and ship owner, to London to request the insurance company’s aid to procure a new engine.

An Expedition.

They set out towards the end of September bearing with them a letter to the directors of the Sun Fire Assurance Company. This letter announced that "the Proprietors of Houses and of Merchandize in Aberdeen are willing to contribute towards purchasing one of the best Fire Engines" if the company would lend its aid.
They did not hesitate to press the point that it was in the company’s interests to do so, for its loss "would indeed be heavy since all are insured by the Sun Fire Office, and no one by any other Office whatsoever."
The company’s agents appear to have been impressed by the Aberdeen burgesses’ arguments and consented ……….. rest of column missing from photocopy…………..

their agents, and the petition gave rise to heated argument.
It was an unheard of thing, some asserted, to contribute to the purchase of a parochial fire engine, and it was a precedent they should hesitate to establish. The parishes of London furnished their own fire engines; why should not this little northern burgh do likewise?
Others again reminded them that the precedent had already been established, for twice grants of 15 had been made. Accordingly, after much talk and discussion the directors were persuaded to make a grant of 25-provided 65-75 were laid out altogether.

Provost Pleased.

The Provost was pleased with his work, and perhaps not a little surprised at his success, "for", as he wrote to the Council "the parishes here do indeed furnish their own engines."
In many a Scottish town, on the other hand, it was not unusual for each company that had a considerable number of clients to keep its own fire engine there. When fire broke out, all the engines were rushed to the rescue, but only the one of the company whose client was involved was put into action-the others stood by idle, unmoved by unavailing efforts of a rival agency.
The Provost wasted no time. He and Baillie Burnett, accompanied by one of the Company’s clerks, set out immediately to buy a new fire engine. They tried several firms, and at length, "at Messrs Newsham and Ragg, Engine Makers to His Majesty and all Publick Offices," found a model sufficiently up-to-date to please them.

Words Failed.

Words, indeed, failed the Provost when he tried to write in praise of the engine they had bought, so he contented himself with sending the Baillies the company’s "full descriptive pamphlet."
Actually, the new engine was not radically different from the old ones in the town’s possession; nor, for that matter, from the one described by Hero of Alexandria in 150B.C., for the fire engine was one of the earliest examples of the application of mechanical science to useful purposes.
Richard Newshams’ engines were famous in Europe and America (one had been purchased for New York ……….. rest of column missing from photocopy…………..

<PHOTO> One of the very latest additions to Aberdeen’s fire fighting equipment. (RS5222)

he had devised a system of pumping, which both filled the tank and emptied it, thereby dispensing with the laborious task of carrying water bucketful by bucketful.
There were other improvements listed as "ten conveniences peculiar to Newsham’s Engines." Among these we read that the engine might stand upon uneven ground without rocking; that the wheels never needed to be bolted, and that they were particularly large to minimise the danger of the cistern overturning. The narrowness of the engine (the largest was only a yard wide) commended itself to narrow streeted towns, since carts might pass freely up and down removing goods that were in danger.


The other convinces were connected with mechanical detail, and so perfect did they make the engine that the makers found they could "confidently assert that these machines seldom go out of order if they are built up in accordance with the simple directions enclosed with each."
And for this "marvellous engine," the Provost wrote, he had paid only 70, with an additional 3 for hose and buckets, lest, by chance, anything should interfere with the suction.
The Provost and Bailllie then returned home to await the arrival of this new toy.
The next problem was where to house it. A regular Fire Station such as there is nowadays was of course undreamt of-an easily accessible back yard or close, with a shed to store buckets and ladders, were all they desired.


Accordingly the Council appealed to the Masons "for liberty of access to carry out and in the fire engine by the back passage or entry to the Mason Lodge." The appeal was granted , and after a triumphal demonstration of the amazing efficiency of the new machine-it could direct a jet of water upon an object 60 feet high from a distance of 50 yards-the new fire engine was led……….. rest of column missing from photocopy…………..

(Aberdeen Press and Journal, 14/6/1933.)



It is over two hundred and fifty years ago since the City Fathers of Aberdeen realised the necessity of taking some precaution against fire. It was in the year 1721 when it was decided to appoint a watchman to patrol the town at night to give the alarm if a fire should break out. It must be appreciated that Aberdeen in those days was considerably smaller than it is now. It was also about that period that Aberdeen possessed its first fire engine. Regrettably there is no record as to the type or construction of the appliance or where it was kept.
It was not until the year 1776 that records indicate that the first real fire station in Aberdeen was at a building called the Water House in Broad Street and the appliance or fire engine was kept on the ground floor of the building. There is no record as to whether or not the fire engine then was the same one of 1721.
Between 1776 and 1855 there were many destructive fires and the townspeople were greatly alarmed at this serious state of affairs. In 1855 the Council decided to put the fire brigade on a permanent and efficient basis and they agreed to an annual sum of 100 be set aside for this purposes. Up to this time insurance companies suscribed to keep up the fire brigade of Aberdeen.
The type of fire engine in 1855 was a manual pump. That is a hand operated pump. This required twenty-four men, twelve on each side of the engine, to operate the pump handles. Volunteers from the spectators were always available to do this strenuous task. It is reckoned that ten to fifteen minutes pumping was enough to practically exhaust most human beings.
As time went on improvements were made on that type of appliance but it was not until 1885 that Aberdeen provided itself with a mechanical appliance. This fire engine took the form of a horse drawn steam pumping appliance and this was kept in the fire station which by this time had moved to Frederick Street. This appliance did noble work up to the year l893 when a more up to date fire engine was installed. This appliance was called the 'Princess Mary!. This also was a steam appliance but of a much improved design.
The fire station at Frederick Street was looked upon as the acme of perfection until the spring of 1896 when a serious disaster occurred. Although the fire brigade was called a permanent brigade the firemaster and the personnel at that time carried out various other occupations. For instance the firemaster was also the Lighting Inspector and the remainder were slaters. On receipt of a fire call this meant that a messenger had to be sent all over town to look for the firemaster, who in turn had to hunt up his assistants. Valuable time was thus wasted and it is not surprising that a serious disaster eventually happened. This fire took place in Marischal Street where the brigade arrived approximately one hour after the alarm was given and were too late to save some of the occupants and the building, which was destroyed. As a result of the disaster and the resultant outcry the Town Council established the fire brigade on a basis somewhat similar to the present arrangement where the fire calls were received at the fire station where the personnel were available and they turned out very quickly after the call was received.
One has to bear in mind that at this period the fire engines were horse drawn and a call meant that the horses had to be harnessed to the appliance. This procedure took very few minutes, indeed the horses being so well trained that when the fire bell sounded they knew exactly what was required of them and they positioned themselves as soon as the stable door was opened.
Some fires, of course, were some distance from the fire station which meant the horses had to gallop this distance pulling this heavy fire engine and possibily a fire escape ladder and it was not unknown for a horse to collapse and on occasion die after reaching the fire.
In 1897 plans where put in hand for the building of a new fire station in King Street. This was to be known as the Central Fire Station and in 1899 this very impressive granite building was officially opened by Rotarian, Sir Alexander Lyon, the Convener of the Lighting, Watching and Fires Committee at that time.
The staff consisted of a Firemaster, Deputy Firemaster, eleven permanent and ten auxiliary firemen. The appliances at this time were two horse drawn steam pumps, one horse drawn escape ladder and six horses.
About this time a number of sub-fire stations were opened in various parts of the City in the following places: - Torry, Woodside, Mile-End. In each of these stations was kept a hose cart and ladders, with a fireman in constant attendance. The stations fulfilled a valuable service in as much that an appliance of a sort complete with an experienced fireman was on the scene of a fire in those further reaches of the City much sooner than the fire engine from King Street which also turned out to the fire. One must bear in mind that the city was not nearly as extensive as it is now. Nevertheless transport was not as speedy as it is now and it was necessary to provide this service. With the advent of motor fire appliances which were faster the brigade arrived more or less at the same time as the fireman from the sub station and eventually the sub stations were closed down. What with the traffic situation now, fire stations in Torry and Woodside may eventually be required again.
In the year 1905 Aberdeen Fire Brigade, as it was known, made another significant step with regard to modernisation. The Fire Committee bought a motor hose-reel appliance from Messrs. Merryweather, Greenwich, a firm of fire engineers. This appliance was reputed to be the first motor fire engine in Scotland. Very useful work was carried out by this machine and in March 1912 another motor appliance was added to the brigade fleet. This appliance was a 75 H.P. "Halley" which carried a five hundred gallon capacity turbine pump.
The purchase of this machine was virtually the beginning of the end of horses in the brigade. Four horses were dispensed with leaving only two to pull the horse drawn escape ladder or steamers where necessary. The "Halley" fire engine attended most of the fires in the City which varied from 160 - 210 calls per year.

1906         Merryweather Hose Reel Tender

Between 1921 and 1937 during the period that Firemaster F.G.Bell, M.I.Fire E., was in charge the following appliances and equipment was added:-


1 Halley Motor Pump 500 gpm



1 Morris Commercial Utility Tender.



1 30 H.P. 'Leyland Cub', Self Propelled Pump complete with hose reel and 30 ft. extension ladder.



1 65 H.P. Dennis Pump Escape.



1 65 H.P. "Halley" Self propelled Pump complete with hose reel and 30 ft Ajax extension ladder.



1 65 H.P. Leyland Metz 85 ft. Turntable Ladder.



1 Inspection Car.



1 Trailer Pump.



1 'Aberdeen' Deep Lift Pump. Morris LIM Emergency Tender



1 Bedford LIM



The strength of the Brigade had been increased as follows:-






Deputy Firemaster


Station Attendant/Clerk


Station Officer


Auxiliary Firemen


Motor Mechanic


The duty system in operation during this period allowed each man one day off in every four of seventeen hours and twenty four hours respectively. Otherwise the personnel were on duty. The working day being made up from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Station. From 4 p.m. they were allowed to go to their homes which were nearby the fire station and in which alarm bells were installed. In the event of a fire the man receiving the call at the fire station rang the general alarm bell in the station which was coupled to the firemens houses ringing them simultaneously. It was reckoned that during the time the personnel were actually on the station the average time for a turn-out to a call was 30 - 40 seconds. During the stand-down period when the personnel were at home sleeping the time take was 80 - 90 seconds. In the event of a serious fire the personnel who were off duty could be called for duty.
There were also, throughout various parts of the city, police box call points which could also be used to summon the fire brigade if it was required. The requirement in making an emergency call, from a telephone kiosk was merely to ask the operator for the "Fire Brigade".
With the advent of the automatic telephone exchanges it was necessary to bring in the present 999 facility.
In 1938 an auxiliary service was instituted and this was known as the Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.). This service was also later incorporated in the National Fire Service.
During the 1939/45 war the Aberdeen City Fire Brigade was nationalised as were all fire brigades in Britain in August 1941 and was from then on part of the National Fire Service (N.F.S.). This situation remained until 1948 when the N.F.S. was disbanded and the brigades returned to the local authorities. At least in England and Wales this was the case. In Scotland, Fire Areas were established numbering eleven altogether. These were areas which consisted of cities, burghs and counties grouped to form one area i.e. North-Eastern Fire Area consisted of the City and County of Aberdeen and the counties of Moray and Nairn, Banff and Kincardine. The area involved was in the region of 3,600 square miles and was protected by the new North-Eastern Fire Brigade which had its Headquarters in Aberdeen.
Fire stations were established in strategic parts of the area and each was responsible for a particular section. Apart from the whole-time stations in Aberdeen at the Central Fire Station at King Street and a temporary new station at Anderson Drive, the remaining personnel were on a retained basis. That is to say the men worked at their normal employment but were available in the event of a fire call. They were summoned to the fire station by the sounding of a siren (ex air raid warning sirens) during the day and call bells during the night. These sirens could be operated by the General Post Office telephone staff on receipt of a call or by the local police.
As telephone communications improved so the procedure for calling out the retained personnel had to be altered. In the North-Eastern Fire Area it was decided to centralise the calls on to the Control Room at Brigade Headquarters. This enabled all fire calls to be routed direct to the Control in Aberdeen and the sirens operated from Area Control.

Fire stations were established in the following places: -


2 Wholetime


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Retained


1 Volunteer


1 Retained


1 Retained


In 1968 a new administrative headquarters and operational fire station manned by whole-time personnel was opened at North Anderson Drive. The fire station in King Street was still maintained operational because of its strategic position in relation to the fire risk in that part of the City.


l835 to 1878 Firemaster W. B. Bolton
1878 to 1896 Firemaster Anderson
1896 to 1921 Firemaster Inkster
1921 to 1941 Firemaster F. Bell
1941 to 1948 National Fire Service
1948 to 1953 Firemaster J. Ross
1953 to 1968 Firemaster W. Woods
1968 to Firemaster J. Donnachie.

Typed from an article of unknown origin.




Aberdeen City Fire Brigade


Fire Appliance


Fire Appliance kept at water house in Broad Street

1776 to 1835

Insurance companys subscribe to Fire Appliances


Permanent base annual sum 100.

From notes by Jimmy Slater the rest already in above document.




If you know of any mistakes in this or have any additional information please let me know.



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