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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): MCC/FB/GEN
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1948-1965
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 15.21 linear metres
Name of creator(s): MCC | Middlesex County Council x Middlesex County Council


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Middlesex Fire Brigade was established in 1948, under the terms of the Fire Services Act 1947. In the period 1948-1959 the Fire Service was incorporated with the Middlesex Ambulance Service which had been set up following the National Health Service Act 1946. In 1959 responsibility for the Ambulance Service began to be transferred within the County Council to the Health Department, a process which was completed by 1962.

In 1666 during the Great Fire of London the hand squirt was used to little effect and it was realised that better fire fighting equipment was essential, in particular with the prevalence of modern buildings. The use of apparatus such as pumps grew up together with volunteer Fire Brigades. These brigades were organised on a voluntary basis and supported by public subscription. During the early modern period the larger insurance companies set up their own private brigades to protect properties covered by their insurance.

In 1882 the London Fire Brigade Establishment was created by an amalgamation of ten of the larger insurance companies' brigades. Further companies joined the establishment and under the terms of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act 1865 it became the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and part of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Meanwhile local authorities, such as Middlesex, began setting up brigades of their own under the terms of the Lighting and Watching Act 1889. Twenty six local brigades were created in Middlesex (one for each of the lower tier authorities). The brigades were diverse in character; some comprised of professional fire fighters (for example at Ealing); some had semi-professionals and others had volunteers or a mixture of all three (for example Southall and Uxbridge). The local authorities found supporting these small brigades a heavy financial burden and were unable to keep pace with modern fire fighting technology. The 1930s in particular were important in promoting the ideal of modern fire stations with up to date fire fighting apparatus.

The Fire Brigades Act 1938 made the provision of adequate fire brigades and fire fighting by local authorities statutory. This legislation was followed swiftly by the formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service and then the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1939 there were 26 Fire Brigades in Middlesex with some 724 regular personnel. These brigades whilst retaining their separate identities became part of the London region under emergency wartime reorganisation. They provided invaluable assistance not only to London but also to the provinces. The scale and intensity of the air raids in 1940-1941 led to the belief that fire fighting could only be dealt with on a national basis. In 1941 the National Fire Service was formed; subsequently the 69 local authority fire services (including those of Middlesex) were amalgamated. This situation continued until the implementation of the Fire Services Act 1947 on 1 April 1948.

Ambulance Service
The Metropolitan Asylums Board set up a horse drawn ambulance service for the transportation of fever patients to hospitals. Responsibility for helping those injured in public places was that of the police. The police were aided by voluntary organisations such as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, which gave first aid instructions and provided a service at public processions and meetings. The work of such organisations increased in the twentieth century at the same time as voluntary and teaching organisations began setting up their own ambulance services. Impetus to the movement also came from the increasing use of motor vehicles in ambulance work.

Under the terms of the Local Government Act 1929 Middlesex County Council took over the functions of the defunct Boards of Guardians in the county and was now responsible for public hospitals and their ambulance services. The Public Health Act 1936 gave local authorities a permissive power to provide ambulances, but no full obligation.

During the Second World War a Civil Defence Ambulance Service was established in Middlesex. This was an auxiliary force of volunteers using commercial vehicles and cars. The Hospital Car Service was also started during the war from a union of the British Red Cross Service, the Women's Voluntary Services and the St. John's Ambulance Association. This provided transportation for out-patients to hospitals. The Civil Defence Ambulance Service was disbanded after the war leaving the following somewhat piecemeal situation:

1 The County Council and some lower tier authorities provided ambulances for accidents and emergencies
2 Voluntary and teaching hospitals provided a service for their own patients
3 Voluntary societies had some ambulances
4 The Hospital Car Service (see above)

County of Middlesex Fire and Ambulance Service 1948-1959
Under the terms of the Fire Services Act 1947 County Councils became full fire authorities with effect from 1 April 1948. In the same year under the terms of the National Health Service Act 1946 they became responsible for the provision of an ambulance service. Middlesex County Council decided to run these two services jointly as the Middlesex Fire and Ambulance Service. The reason for this was the lack of both a central organisation and any accommodation within the previous local authority ambulance services. It was only possible for the Council to provide an Ambulance Service by superimposing one on the Fire Brigade and making full use of fire service facilities. The first meeting of the Fire Brigade Committee was held on 7 June 1947. The County of Middlesex Fire Service was the second largest (after London) in the country and the largest joint fire and ambulance service in the country.

Middlesex Fire Brigade inherited 38 fire stations and a manpower deficiency of 12% from the National Fire Service in 1948. Many stations were old fashioned and needed modernisation. Vehicles and equipment were also outdated. Street fire alarms were unreliable and there was only a limited radio communication service. The ambulances were few in number and in need of repair. This situation necessitated a good deal of work, both in terms of recruiting personnel and improving buildings and equipment in the first few years of the service.

Middlesex was divided into 3 districts with district headquarters at Edmonton Harrow and Ealing. The service headquarters were based at Wembley.
- A Control: *Edmonton (1); *Southgate (2); Potters Bar (3); *Enfield (4); *Ponders End (5); *Coombes Croft (6); *Tottenham (7); Hornsey (8); *Fortis Green (9); *Finchley; *Wood Green
- B Control: *Harrow (30); Wealdstone (31); Harrow on the Hill (37) (closed 11/03/63); Kingsbury (33); *Mill Hill (34); *Hendon (35); *Willesden (36); Kilburn (37); Stonebridge; Wembley (39); *Greenford (40) (closed 11/03/63); *Uxbridge; *Ruislip (42); Northwood (43); Northolt (from 11/03/63); Park Royal
- C Control: *Ealing (60); Western Avenue (61); *Acton (62); *Chiswick (63); *Brentford (64); *Heston (65); *Twickenham (66); Sunbury (67); *Staines (68); *Feltham (69); *Yiewsley (70); *Hayes (71); *Southall (72)
Ambulances were based at stations marked with a *

In some cases the operations were the responsibility of the officer in charge. There were three ambulance only stations at Southall, Twickenham and Staines. The station at Staines was administered from the Staines Fire Station; the stations at Twickenham and Southall were in the charge of a Head Driver, who was responsible to the Divisional Office. There were also some ambulance stations at former hospitals in the charge of Head Drivers. Finally, there were infectious diseases ambulance stations run by Hospital Boards. The Voluntary Car Service continued to operate with the County Council contributing to costs. Each district headquarters had a control room to co-ordinate the movement of fire appliances (fire engines) and ambulances. County headquarters co-ordinated county movements.

The Ambulance Development Plan
The Ambulance Development Plan was submitted to the committees of the Fire Brigade and the Health Department in January 1950. In brief the plan laid down that accident and emergency ambulances should continue to be operated from fire stations but that sick removal ambulances should be taken from fire stations and operated from strategically placed depots (the county being divided into 10 catchment areas for this purpose). This would free accommodation in the fire stations for the Auxiliary Fire Service. This plan was approved by the Minister of Health. As the new depots could not all be built immediately as an interim measure the County Council reorganised the sick removal ambulances to temporary accommodation.

A reorganisation scheme was set up to deal with the problem of unsuitable and old fashioned fire stations. The 38 fire stations had been sited by district councils to suit their own pre-war local needs. Between 1948 and 1965 16 new stations were built and 12 stations modernised. The Brigade Headquarters at Wembley were specially adapted for this new role. A new vehicle repair depot for both fire appliances and ambulances was built at Ruislip to replace one inherited from the National Fire Service at Brentford.

Personnel and training
The Middlesex Fire Brigade began life with a personnel deficiency. This was rectified by 1952, but the problem was to occur again. Ideally, the number of operational personnel required in both the ambulance and fire services was 1,250 with an administrative staff of 50. From the beginning an emphasis was placed on the importance of thorough training. A training school for fire personnel was established at Finchley. Accommodation was available for 50 students and provision was made for recruits from Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. In addition lectures were given at individual stations and "package" lectures (scripts, visual aids, models, tapes) were sent around the country and overseas for other brigades to use. Advanced training was given to officers. By 1965 the Middlesex Fire Brigade was well to the fore in the field of technical education and training.

Operations and calls
During its lifetime the Middlesex Fire Brigade received approximately 200,000 calls. Notable incidents included:
Aircraft crash at Ruislip in July 1948
Aircraft crash at Mill Hill in October 1950
Aircraft crash at London Airport (Heathrow) in October 1950
Hayes Timber Yard in July 1952
Harrow and Wealdstone railway crash in October 1952
Brentford Soap Works in August 1959
Wealdstone Furniture Repository in January 1961
Ponders End Furniture Factory in February 1963
Southall Timber Yard in September 1963
Alperton Rubber Factory in January 1965

The Ambulance Service was very heavily used in the first few years. The public, aware this was a new and free service, made heavy (and sometimes unnecessary) use of it. Hospitals and doctors too overloaded the service.

Ambulances and equipment
A replacement programme for equipment was initiated soon after the County Council became a fire authority. The three types of appliance (pump, pump escape and turntable ladder) were gradually replaced with more up to date models so that by 1965 the entire stock had been overhauled. Nearly 50,000 feet of new hose was purchased with new escapes and ladders, breathing apparatus sand other items. A similar improvement and modernisation programme was carried out within the Ambulance Service. The Council purchased 166 new ambulances and 55 other vehicles before April 1959.

Radio was used to a limited extent in Middlesex before the County Council became a fire authority. In June 1950 the Council approved the installation for a radio network on a frequency exclusive to the Middlesex Fire Brigade. The system became operational in March 1951 and by 1965 there were two master stations and seventy four master sets in use. In 1948 about 40% of Middlesex was supplied with street fire alarms. Some of these were 50 years old and they were in a poor state of repair. By that date the telephone had taken over the role of alerting fire brigades so in 1950 they were removed.

As a fire authority the County Council was obliged under section 13 of the 1947 Act to ensure that adequate provision of water for use in fire fighting. A programme of standardisation of the county's 28,000 hydrants began in 1949 and was completed in the mid 1950s.

Fire Prevention
Another statutory duty the Council had to perform was to make provision for advising on fire prevention. Accordingly, the Fire Service set up a Fire Prevention Branch staffed by specialist officers who were able to advise local authorities, commercial and industrial firms and private individuals. The Branch also undertook inspection of the County Council's buildings. Legislation which affected the branch included the Factories Act 1961; the Licensing Act 1961; the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963.

Civil Defence
The auxiliary branch of the fire service was re-established in 1949 under Home Office directives under the terms of the Civil Defence Act 1948 which again made the County Council a civil defence authority. This branch was set up to organise an emergency fire service which would come into operation in the event of a war. The Auxiliary Fire Service (or Civil Defence Corps) was trained by members of the regular fire service. Enrolment was open to women who worked as radio operators, despatch riders and control room staff. The men performed regular periods of duty as a backup to the regular service. There were 5 divisions consisting of approximately 30,000 volunteers in the Corps.

Transfer of the Ambulance Service to the Middlesex County Council Health Department
In 1958 an Organisation and Method Report was submitted to the Fire Brigade Committee. This suggested that closer contacts be established between the Ambulance Service and the hospitals; that the training of the ambulance personnel should be primarily medical; that it would be financially more cost effective or the ambulance service to be run by the Health Service. From 1 April 1959 the Sick Removal Branch of the Ambulance Service was run by the Chief Medical Officer. In 1962 the rest of the service was transferred, although some fire stations continued to house accident ambulances.

Transfer of Middlesex Fire Brigade to the Greater London Council
On the abolition of the Middlesex County Council the brigade became part of the London Fire Brigade under the Greater London Council. The stations at Sunbury and Staines joined the Surrey Fire Brigade, the station at Potters Bar joined the Hertfordshire Brigade.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Middlesex County Council Fire Brigade Department relating to administration, 1948-1965, including files relating to policy including: procedures, establishment and organisation of the Ambulance Service, transfer of Ambulance Service to the Chief Medical Officer, record keeping, financial regulations, budget estimates, mutual assistance with the Fire Brigades of other Councils, Ambulance Service correspondence with the public including complaints, prosecutions against members of the public, attendance of personnel at inquests and photographs.

Files of routine orders; files relating to operations including: procedures for mobilising the Fire Service, co-ordination of arrangements and command, response to major incidents including photographs and press cuttings, fires of special interest, reports, inquests, policy on special services, instructions for extinction of fires involving special risk, radioactive materials, oil pipelines, London Airport (Heathrow), Northolt Aerodrome, motorways and the Olympic Games.

Files relating to appliances and equipment including: purchase of new vehicles, replacement of vehicles, licensing and insuring, maintenance, vehicle designs and development, water pumps, contracts, salvage tenders, emergency tenders, reports on accidents to vehicles, ambulance equipment, inflatable boats, training in smoke conditions, foam apparatus, hoses, extension ladders, lifting gear, protective clothing, petrol policy and tyres.

Files relating to communications including: telephone facilities, fire telephones, control room and headquarters, development of Middlesex Radio Scheme, radio training, call bell system, automatic fire alarms, damage to fire alarms, fire detection systems, and exercises. Files relating to hydrants including: statistics, marking of hydrants, water company police, emergency water supplies, hydrant schemes, and improvement work.

Files relating to the management and maintenance of Fire Service accommodation including new building programme, plans of fire stations, fire station organisation, repair depots and workshops, catering and feeding requirements, and log books.

Papers relating to press and publicity, including: policy on information given to the press, information given to technical magazines and general publications, publicity films, medals, honours and awards, ceremonies, demonstrations and displays, competitions, and inspector's visits.

Papers relating to the transfer of the Service to the Greater London Council (GLC), Hertfordshire Fire Brigade and Surrey Fire Brigade in 1965.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The archives have been arranged into the following series: MCC/FB/GEN/1 General Management; MCC/FB/GEN/2 Routine Orders; MCC/FB/GEN/3 Operations and Special Services; MCC/FB/GEN/4 Appliances and equipment; MCC/FB/GEN/5 Communications and Fire Alarms; MCC/FB/GEN/6 Hydrant schemes; MCC/FB/GEN/7 Accommodation, Building Projects and Station Log Books; MCC/FB/GEN/8 Press, Awards and Public Ceremonies; MCC/FB/GEN/9 Transfer of the Service to the Greater London Council; MCC/FB/PL/1 Plans.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the Corporation of London.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The departmental files were preserved prior to 1965 in the Fire Brigade's registry. Here every file was allocated a running number on arrival. Files were kept in numerical order although there were no indices to these numbers. Nearly every file the department produced found its way into the registry.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Acquired with the records of its parent authority, the Middlesex County Council, and with successor authorities.

Allied Materials

Related material:

For more records of the Fire Service see MCC/CL/FB and MCC/CL/L/FB. For London wide fire services see London Fire Engine Establishment (LFE) and London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA).

Publication note:

For further information on the history of the Middlesex County Council please see Middlesex by Sir Clifford Radcliffe (2 editions, 1939 and 1953), LMA Library reference 97.09 MID; and The County Council of the Administrative County of Middlesex: 76 years of local government, 1 April 1889 to 31 March 1965, by Middlesex County Council (1965), LMA library reference S97.09 MID.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
April to June 2009

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