by Will Buckley

Volunteer Fire Brigade in action on Lemon Street, 1923 © Royal Institution of Cornwall

Throughout the 19th century, Truro was regularly visited by fire and flood. Initially, the equivalent of our current emergency services was just neighbours and locals with buckets. Following pressure from the community and insurance companies, the good burghers of Truro were driven into action.

By 1854, the bucket brigade was enhanced by the arrival of the Volunteer Fire Brigade. Back then the volunteer fire brigade was based in a Fire Station, integral to the Town Hall, on the right-hand side of the entrance on Boscawen Street. Later in 1902, the station was moved to the rear of Old Town Hall/market on Back Quay.

   City Hall is visible in the foreground on the left running along Back Quay before the river was infilled from 1923 to 1926.

More than buckets

In 1868 a major fire on the south side of Lemon street broke out, the Volunteer Fire Brigade leapt into action with their three fire engines which were hand-driven fire pumps using the water from the town’s rivers to fight the fires.

An example of a similarly-sized volunteer brigade from c. 1900, part of Basingstoke’s brigade via Basingstoke Gazette.

One report from the time – told how the two smaller engines didn’t have the power to wash windows let alone put out a fire, also that the big engine was no better than a ‘sixpenny squirt’ and the volunteer brigade was a ‘farce’.


Fire at City Hall

Surveying the damage post-fire, 2014. © Royal Institution Cornwall.

In 1869 Captain Hoskin (who served for 50 years until retiring in 1920) took over and built a force of 30 volunteers who were praised throughout Truro. The biggest challenge to face the fire brigade originated at City Hall itself. In 1914 Truro Town Hall (the north side of the current Hall for Cornwall building) was ablaze to such an extent that the timber supporting the Clock Tower was destroyed and the clock collapsed. No one was injured, although significant damage was done to paintings and the rooms below.

Visible to the right of the photo is the damage to the roof of City Hall.

By 1944 the local fire brigade in Truro was taken over by the County Fire Brigade and a new fire station was constructed in St Georges Road Truro.