|A Merry fire-fighter
An 1883 Merryweather fire appliance is one of those items which sometimes come almost miraculously into the Museums collection. This particular horsedrawn vehicle lay neglected for decades before being disentombed from its dark hiding place in 1996.Today, it is the oldest fire appliance in the Museums collection.
|Manual fire engines were used from the early eighteenth century onwards. On this type of appliance, teams of men worked the handles at each side to provide a powerful and continuous jet of water. As technology improved and the increasing scale of operations necessitated bigger machines, so more impressive manual pumps were built. But from the 1860s onwards, steamers increasingly took over at the upper end of the scale.
Merryweather & Sons of Greenwich, which could trace its origins back to 1692, was celebrated throughout the fire-fighting world until its demise in the 1980s. The Museum's Merryweather manual engine was bought in 1883 by the Marquis of Drogheda for his demesne, Moore Abbey, Monasterevan, in County Kildare.
Incorporating a 6-inch engine, it was designed to be worked by 30 men and could produce 100 gallons every minute at one stroke per second. Weighing one ton and a half laden, it was normally pulled by two horses but the long shaft or pole could be replaced by a shorter one enabling two men to manoeuvre it in confined spaces. The side handles were folded when travelling.
Used when required to quench fires around the locality, this appliance remained in its original home during the tenancy of the famous tenor, John Count McCormack from 1925 to 1937.
Meanwhile, in 1934, the renowned family engineering firm of Samuel E. Holmes Ltd. took over the former Cassidy's Distillery, which had operated in Monasterevan from 1784 to 1921. John Holmes, whose father, as Clerk of Works to the Marquis, had the appliance in his charge from 1868 to 1911, bought the Merryweather in 1948 and stored it in the old distillery.
Coincidentally, Cassidy's Distillery, at one time among the largest in Ireland, was the type of industrial enterprise that might also have had an appliance of this type.
In earlier times, before professional Fire Brigades became universal, the services of local factory or estate fire fighters were frequently made available to the community at large.
In July 1996, through the good offices of Ms. Eleanor Holmes, the Merryweather came into the Transport Museum collection. It was in generally good condition and found to be in working order. An almost identical engine, Welbeck, is preserved at the Science Museum in London, while another, Wotton, has been restored by firemen at Dorking Fire Station in Surrey.
This is the Transport Museum's oldest fire appliance, next in line being our 1889 Merryweather steam pump.