Lewes hit by great fire

Rouser 2012
Rouser 2012

THIS startling photograph, taken by Benjamin Reeves on October 4, 1904, shows what became known as ‘the great fire of Lewes’.

It was actually a major fire at Dusart’s, an all-purpose hot and cold water baths service and general health spa in the High Street.

The Lewes Fire Establishment was formed in 1842, comprising two directors and 20 firefighters and in the following year a new manual fire engine was bought by public subscription.

The next year the Cliffe Volunteer Fire Brigade was established with a new engine and a fire station in Cliffe Square.

So Lewes had two separate fire brigades - a situation which existed until 1881 when, under the Charter of Incorporation of the Borough, the two Brigades were merged.

In 1889, a motion to consider a paid fire service was defeated by the borough council.

The council was the subject of scathing criticism by both press and the public after the Dusart’s fire, when only the intervention of modern appliances from the Brighton Volunteer and Police Fire Brigades saved the day.

As a consequence, a new fire station was built in North Street and a new steam fire engine bought. The Borough Surveyor was asked to take on the duties of Chief Fire Officer and a Fire Brigade Committee was formed.

By 1930, this committee had become concerned with more than firefighting because the Brigade was testing fire extinguishers in cinemas and other public places as well as giving fire safety advice and assuming a wider operational role.

The Fire Brigades Act 1938 required local authorities to set up their own brigades and the fire authorities were the Borough and District Councils. locally the fire authorities were the Borough Councils of Bexhill, Hove, Lewes and Seaford; the Urban District Councils of Burgess Hill, Cuckfield, East Grinstead, Newhaven and Portslade on

Sea: and the Rural District Councils of Battle, Chailey, Cuckfield, Hailsham and Uckfield. In addition, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings had their own Brigades.

The picture was kindly sent in by parish pumper Pauline Cherry of Rodmell.