Early records prove that a fire brigade was operational in Oldham in 1807. The fire station located at Mumps Brook was built by public subscription, and had a compliment of 6 firemen and a manual pump. The firemen also performed duty as lamplighters and were paid a beer allowance and 6 old pence per hour when on duty at a fire.

In 1849, the year of incorporation of Oldham County Borough a new fire station was opened in Clegg Street Oldham, and two manually operated pumps were stationed there. The Brigade was placed under the control of the Borough's Police Commissioner.

In 1849 a reorganisation took place with Superintendent Mills taking charge of the Brigade through a committee of the Borough Council. The lamplighters, artisans and labourers were all enrolled as firemen.

In 1864 it is recorded that the Brigade's mechanical strength consisted of four manually operated appliances, two at Clegg Street and two at Townfield. Also in 1864 the Brigade was again placed under the control of the police. In addition to the Police Fire Brigade there also existed a fire station in Union Street under the charge of Mr Joseph Hall, the founder of an Oldham fire-engineering firm J J Hall Limited. This Brigade attended for the West of England Insurance Company. The last major fire this Brigade attended was the Broadway Lane Mill, Chamber Road, Oldham, which burned down in 35 minutes.

During these early periods firefighting was both crude and ineffective with heavy cumbersome hand operated equipment, pulled by horses usually borrowed from the Borough's Cleansing Department to attend fires. The firemen too were rarely where required and a large bell was sited outside the station, which called them in to attend the fire by whatever means they could obtain. In 1875 after a number of disastrous fires mill owners in Oldham put pressure on the Corporation to take more effective measures in organising its Fire Brigade. They did this by purchasing their first steam fire engine at a cost of £560. This appliance could pump 350 gallons per minute and was used in anger at a large fire at Park Mill Hollinwood on the day of delivery to the Brigade. In 1876 two more of the appliances were purchased for service in Oldham. In 1877 ten permanent firemen were appointed for fire duties only and stationed at Clegg Street under the command of Sgt Adamson. During 1878 agreements were reached with the Corporation, insurance companies and outlying townships to pay for attendances by Oldham Police Fire Brigade. Lees however maintained its own fire brigade until 1884.

The development of the Brigade proceeded apace and in 1886 a new fire station was built in Ascroft Street, the Clegg Street station was then closed in August, having been in use for over 40 years. The Ascroft Street station remained the Headquarters station of Oldham Fire Brigade and station C33 in the new Greater Manchester Fire Service until it was replaced with a new station in 1979 and then demolished in the late 1980s.


In 1894 the old telegraph system was scrapped and telephones introduced at Central, Werneth and Townfield fire stations. 1896 street fire alarms were installed in various parts of the town, the first being at Mumps Bridge; these street alarms saw service in the town until 1946 when the GPO telephone network superseded them. Improved stations and appliances was the order of the day and in 1897 a new fire station at the junction of Manchester Street and Frederick Street was built, with the building of these new stations ambulance work was introduced as an additional responsibility for the fire brigade. By 1899 the strength of the Brigade was 47 under the command of the Chief Constable. Their appliances consisted of 5 steam pumpers, 6 horse drawn appliances, 3 hose carts, 3 escape ladders and 5000 yards of hose. Townfields’ new fire station was opened on September 28th 1903.


The next great advance was in 1908 with the purchase by Oldham Fire Brigade of a motor driven fire appliance which carried a 60 foot escape ladder and could pump 600 gallons a minute. This was followed up with more motor appliances in 1910, 1915 and 1918.   The age of motor appliances had now arrived to stay and regular additions and replacements were made to the fleet.   The last horse drawn appliance was dispensed with in 1922. In 1928 a hose reel tender was purchased and equipped with a 40-gallon water tank and 120 foot rubber hose reel, which was responsible for dealing with 80% of fires.   With the increase in technology the next major development was the Turntable Ladder and in 1936 Oldham took delivery of its first 100 foot Leyland - Metz Turntable Ladder.  This appliance was capable of being used for both firefighting and rescue of people from high-rise buildings.

In the main, personnel who enrolled as firemen were tradesmen who were capable of maintaining the vehicles and fire station property. This kept the running costs of the Brigade to a minimum. In 1916 the first of the underground fire tanks were installed and improved water mains with fire hydrants continued to be laid in the Borough.

In 1938 the Brigade, with Chief Constable A K Mayall OBE, consisted of 32 permanent police firemen and 21 policemen as auxiliary firemen. Later in this year an Act of Parliament was passed which had far reaching effects on fire brigades throughout the country. With the threat of war it was decided that fire brigades must be strengthened and organised in such a way they could be ready to assist each other efficiently and quickly. In Oldham the police auxiliary firemen were replaced by volunteers known as the Auxiliary Fire Service [AFS]. Between March 1938 and September 1939 some 800 AFS volunteers were trained at Central fire station, these men were drawn in from areas in Oldham and surrounding districts of Chadderton, Royton, Lees, Crompton and Failsworth. War was declared against Germany in September 1939 and sixteen additional AFS stations with 120 emergency fire pumps and                towing vehicles became available in Oldham and for assistance to surrounding brigades.

For nearly 12 months the enemy was quiet and the AFS attended only normal calls with the regular fire brigade. But in August 1940 enemy bombs dropped on Belgium Mill, Royton and air raids continued until August 1941 keeping the AFS and men of the regular brigade busy. The AFS also attended major fires, caused by air raids in surrounding districts of Manchester, Liverpool, Coventry, Leeds, Birmingham and Sheffield. Whilst on a fire in Stretford five AFS firemen from Oldham were killed during an air raid.


In 1941 a further Act of Parliament was introduced welding the country's regular firemen with the AFS, the new organisation being called the National Fire Service. Oldham Fire Brigade lost its identity as such and became 'H' Division of Number 27 Fire Force Area. Control of the fire brigade passed from the police to the Home Office and Divisional Officer Bellamy was appointed officer in charge of the Oldham area  NFS.

Preparations for the air raids continued, but never came, only on a small scale. At Christmas in 1944 the Oldham NFS probably rendered its greatest assistance to the town when a flying bomb landed on Abbeyhills killing and injuring many people. At the end of the war the NFS was slowly disbanded and the fire brigade passed back to local authority controls. On 1 April 1948 Oldham County Borough once again had its own Fire Brigade under the charge of its first Chief Fire Officer – Burt Bellamy.

The many improvements to the Brigade continued over the years and conditions of service were much improved. For example firemen only worked a 60 hour week, two watch system! The number of men and appliances attending incidents was greater, better training, equipment and machines gave Oldham ratepayers a better quality service. Acquisitions during the war years included appliances new to Oldham such as Emergency Tenders, Salvage Tenders, and various other rescue equipment. This gave Oldham a compliment in 1950 of 2 turntable ladders, 2 pump escapes, 3 major pumps, 1 water tender, 1 emergency tender, 2 salvage tenders and 2 motor cycles with 89 officers and men.

Oldham Fire Brigade continued to progress and with the fast moving technology and speed of appliances it was decided to close the Townfield Fire Station in late 1948, leaving Central and Werneth to cover the Borough and surrounding areas. Much assistance was given to the Lancashire County and City of Manchester Brigades and some memorable and tragic fires attended in these areas, to name a few Ram Mill in the 1960s and Texas Mill in 1971.

Alas, on 1 April 1974 Oldham County Borough and its fire brigade were to cease and become amalgamated into the County of Greater Manchester. Oldham fire stations became part of 'C' Division. Central being C33 and Werneth C34. The Chief Fire Officer of the day Mr Harold Garlick retired but many other officers and men continued in the new GMC Fire Service.

In October 1979 the new fire station at Lees Rd was handed over and became operational. It housed two Water Ladders and a Hydraulic Platform, with a complement of sixty four firefighters, two Assistant Divisional Officers and three Fire Prevention Officers.

The Old Central and Werneth fire stations are now gone with replacements at Lees Road, nearly opposite Townfields old fire station and Hollins Fire Station on Hollins Road replacing Werneth fire station.

In February 2000 the five divisions of the brigade were revised into three Area Commands with Oldham, Hollins and Chadderton stations becoming part of East Area Command.

In 2004 there were 2 WRLs and a HPV with a compliment of 64 on a 4 watch system responding to approximately 5000 calls per year.

Just over thirty years after the amalgamation of Oldham County Borough, on 16 May 2005, these Area Commands were split up to reflect local boroughs. Oldham Borough now consists of Oldham, Hollins and Chadderton fire stations.

As of 1st January 2006 there are 60 personnel working a 5 watch, 42 hr week system.


1807  First fire engine house built by public subscription at Mumps Brook. Complement of 6 men and a manual pump. The  firemen also acted as lamplighters & were paid 6d per hour.

1819  June. Lees township forms its own subscription fire brigade. A fire engine was purchased for £71 8s 1d. James Knott was appointed Engineer. The Engine House was later built at Elliot St/ Mellor St.

1849  Police Fire Brigade formed under Supt. Jackson.

1849  Fire station opened at Bottom o' th' Moor (later known as Townfield). Two manual fire pumps were stationed there.

1849 New Engine house built at Clegg St.

1850  Oct. Watch Committee rejects an application that firemen should have their clothing provided by the Local Authority.

1851 Oct. The Watch Committee buys 3 dozen fire helmets at a cost of £25.

1853 1st April. The Watch Committee increase the salary of the firemen from 30s to £2 10s a year.

1854 A second fire station was opened at Clegg St. The Brigade had 4 manual engines and called upon the West of England Insurance Co. fire brigade at Union St if needed.

1856 Supt. Moses Mills was appointed and the Brigade reorganised.
Lees Fire Brigade purchase 14 fireman's helmets.

1857 Frock coats issued as uniform to Oldham firemen.

1858 A fire at the premises of James Fielding, a non-subscriber to Lees Fire Brigade, cost him £30 for the use of 2 engines, firemen and 253 pumpers at 1s each (plus 52 quarts of beer!)

1860 On June 14th, 3rd Class Constable Gartside was found guilty of misconduct at a fire at Bell St. He "played his hose upon 3rd Class Constable Dunkerley".

1864 Further reorganisation took place & the Municipal Fire Brigade was formed.

1864 A further fire station was opened at John St, Werneth. Horses could be obtained from the Council when needed.

1864 William Holt placed in charge of the Townfield contingent.

1875 Oldham obtained its first steam fire engine. It cost £560 & could pump 350gpm. Before it was officially handed over it proved its worth at a fire at Park Mill, Hollinwood. (And it didn't rely on beer to keep pumping!!)

1876 The Watch Committee reorganised the Brigade. Two more Merryweather steamers were purchased.

1877 Ten firemen placed on the permanent staff at Clegg St station.

1884 Lees Subscription Fire Brigade is disbanded & fire cover is provided by Oldham Fire Brigade.

1886 Clegg St station closes.

1887 Ascroft St station opens to replace Clegg St.

1894 Telephones replace telegraph system between Central, Townfield & Werneth stations.

1898 A new station at Frederick St/ Manchester St replaces John St Werneth.

1898 June. Alderman Bolton presents the town with a horse ambulance. Driving it was the responsibility of any one of the 47 firemen.

1903  New station built at Townfield.

1908  First motorised appliance delivered to Oldham.

Other appliances delivered in 1910.

1914  First motorised fire pump delivered & is capable  of 600 gpm & carried a 60ft escape.

1922  Last horse used to pull fire engines & ambulances was dispensed with.

1923  A prison van was purchased which was often driven by the firemen.

1932  The Brigade complement consisted of 53 Police/ firemen, 5 motor pumps, 1 steam engine, 1 transport wagon, 6 ambulances, 3 cars, 1 prison van & 6 motorcycles.

1935  A Leyland/ Metz 100ft all steel, power operated, Turntable ladder was purchased. Reg No., BU8888. it was to remain in service until 1964.

1938  Auxiliary Firemen start to be trained up with the threat of war. By September 1939 over 800 had been trained.

1939  Sept. War is declared & 16 additional AFS stations & 120 pumps & towing vehicles are made available.

1939  22 Sept. Wilf Teall is the last man to join Oldham as a Police/ fireman.

1940     Feb. The Chief Constables report states that there are 363 whole time & 495 part time officers & men

Aug. Enemy bombs are dropped on Belgium Mill, Royton.

December. Five AFS men from Oldham are killed in an air raid at Stretford.

1941  Following an Act of Parliament the National Fire Service is formed. Oldham Fire Brigade becomes part of 'H' Division, Number 27 Fire Force Area. Divisional Officer Burt Bellamy was appointed OiC of the Oldham area.

1944  Christmas Eve. A flying bomb lands on Abbeyhills & 30 people are killed & many injured.

1946  By March 31st all street fire alarms have been removed.

1947  Fire Sevices Act published.

1948 Townfield Fire Station closes.

     On 1st April, Burt Bellamy is appointed Oldhams first Chief Fire Officer.

The Brigade's complement was 89 Officers & men, 2 TLs, 2 Pump Escapes, 3 large capacity pumps, 2 small capacity pumps,1 Water tender, 1 Emergency Tender, 2 Salvage tenders & 2 motorcycles.

1954  Albert Pickering takes over as Chief Fire Officer when Burt Bellamy retires.

1972  Total calls were 2905.

      Fm DS Broadbent was commended by the Queen for rescuing a boy from a dust tower at Greenbank Mill, Greengate St.

1973  Total calls were 3074.

      CFO Bellamy awarded QFSM in Birthday Honours List.

1974  On  1st April, following local government re-organisation, Oldham County Borough is amalgamated into the newly formed Greater Manchester County Fire Service. Oldham, Chadderton & Werneth stations become part of C Division with callsigns C33, C34 & C35 respectively.

1974  24 July. Ascroft St Control Room closes after 35 years.

1979  Ascroft St station closes & a new station at Lees Rd opens.

1981  Werneth station closes & a new station opens at Hollins Rd.

1997  Rope access equipment issued to pumps.

1998  Environmental protection equipment issued to pumps.

2000  The Brigade changes its structure from 5 Divisions to 3 Area Commands. Oldham becomes part of East Command.Callsign E33.

2002 13 November. Firefighters begin a national strike in a dispute over pay. Just two Green Goddesses provide cover for Oldham.

2003  28 January. The national Firefighters strike reaches it's 11th week. Firefighters walk out for another 48 hr stoppage.

2003  12 June. The Fire Brigades Union conference accepts a deal to increase firefighters pay to £25000 by July 2004. Integrated Risk Management Plans will be introduced in all Brigades. Fire Service Discipline Regs are to be replaced by ACAS Code of Practice.

2004  A new Fire & Rescue Services Act is brought in by  Parliament.

      May. A pilot course begins for FIREFLY initiative at Oldham. Aimed to provide intensive work experience for young people with backgrounds in anti-social behaviour.

      Nov. New Dimension equipment issued from the Government to the Brigade.

 2005  10 Feb. Green Goddesses that were used in two national firefighters strikes start to be auctioned off.

      16 May. GMC Fire & Rescue Service changes its structure from 3 Area Commands to 11 Borough Commands. Oldham Borough now consists of Oldham, Chadderton & Hollins stations.

      August. A thermal Image camera is issued to pumps. A new "Drive To Arrive" policy is introduced that risk assesses each call & determines whether to turn out on 'blues & twos'.

     December. Beds are removed from stations as part of the 'Modernisation Agenda'.

2006  Jan The ‘Rostering For Duty’ project is introduced which reduces the establishment of the four watches from 16 to 12 in order to create a fifth watch – Amber.

 'Flexible Operational Resource Deployment' as part of the IRMP means that Oldhams’ 2nd pump is stood down on a Tuesday night. Chaddertons 2nd pump is stood down on Wednesday & Friday nights.

2008   In an extension to the "Flexible Operational Resource Deployment" the second pump at Oldham is stood down on a Sunday as well.



Thanks to Steve Swallow for allowing the use of this article that was originally produced for the reunion of  Oldham Fire Brigade in 1993. It has been updated slightly since originally published.

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