IN THE days before the turn of the 20th century, fire brigades were run by insurance companies who took on the role of protecting their members which were recognised by metal plaques installed on the houses.

This, of course, meant that anyone without the plaque was not protected in their hour of need.

By the turn of the 20th century in Basingstoke, the fire brigade had become state-run, but the facilities were still less than adequate.

Prior to the invention of the steam pump, the manually-pumped fire tender was cumbersome and hard to manage and transport. Ten to twelve men were required each side to work the pump at five-minute intervals after which another team had to take over.

When the steam pump was introduced it drastically reduced the manpower required.

The fire station in Basingstoke was in the basement of the Corn Exchange at the top of Wote Street, now the Haymarket.

This is where the fire tender was kept but the area did not allow for the stabling of the horses so they had to be brought in from other areas of the town, mainly at The Barge Inn which was situated at the bottom of Wote Street.

If these were not available the search had to be undertaken to find other horses and bring them to the Corn Exchange which obviously took precious minutes.

Almost comically, when the alarm was raised a bell sounded at the Corn Exchange, Percy Hopkins, the local confectioner, would produce his bugle and, day or night, walk the streets of Basingstoke alerting firemen who were not in range who then hastened to the Corn Exchange to prepare the pump for transport.

If the fire happened in the countryside, a lot of time could elapse before the brigade arrived as the alarm had to be raised by telegram. This entailed a horse ride to the nearest Post Office, the telegram being sent to Basingstoke and another horse ride to the Corn Exchange.

The fire tender, once prepared, meant the firemen then had to gallop to the fire.

This exhausted the horses and it was reported at the time that, on sight of the fire, the horses were stopped for a few minutes to allow them to get their breath back.

This would enable them to gallop in at full speed to make a grand entrance and eventually fight the fire - after a possible delay of up to an hour.

This was highlighted in a later comment at the fire of a large house in Cliddesden Road, on finding there were two small fires still burning when they arrived, one fireman commented to his mate ‘Fred, we have come too quick.’

Modern innovation has meant that fire fighting is now an advanced technology but it should be acknowledged that all modern innovations start with small steps - and maybe hand-pumped fire tenders.