First motor fire engine tested on Wanstead Flats

Monday 19 June 2017

In 1908/9 West Ham Fire Brigade made the momentous decision to move from horse power to the internal combustion engine. Wanstead Flats it turned out played a key role in testing the new appliance.

Fire engines used to look like this:

Forest Gate fire station
7 March 1908 (Newham Archives)
The Council’s Watch Committee placed an order for a new fire tender with Lloyd & Plaister of Wood Green. They were one of many small motor manufacturers then based in London in the early stages of motor production. London at that time was still a great manufacturing centre as well as the world’s largest port, and biggest financial/banking centre. There were many factories producing manufactured goods.

The new tender had the registration mark AN 898.

November 1910, advert for Allen-Liversidge
 brakes from FIRE magazine, showing AN 898
 Lloyd and Plaister escape carrier, the first
 motorised appliance for West Ham fire
brigade. In the early 1900's there were many
small motor manaufacturers in London and
Lloyd and Spicer of Wood Green, being one 

(photo: John Murray and David Spicer)

Commercial Motor magazine 29th July 1909 devoted a whole article to this new fire tender:


At the beginning of this year, the Watch Committee of the Borough of West Ham awarded a contract to Lloyd and Plaister, Ltd., of Wood Green, for a motor vehicle which in all respects should fulfil the usual fire brigade requirements, and which should be capable of transporting a full-sized escape, five men, and a quantity of hose, stand-pipes, and other equipment at a speed of 15 m.p.h. on the flat, and 5 m.p.h. up any hill in West Ham. We are not familiar with anything that can properly he called a hill in any part of West Ham, but it is a fact that the new machine will .safely and comfortably travel out the flat at 30 m.p.h., whilst it can do all that is necessary in the matter of hill climbing. On test, it has been stopped and started on a gradient of 1 in S. near Muswell Hill.
It continues:
Other characteristics of this new machine, which became evident &firing the test-run, were the comfortable springing of the chassis, the smoothness with which the " L. and P." clutch picked up its work, and the ease with which it was possible to steer a machine of such unusual dimensions ; at the full speed, a perfectly-straight, over poor roads on Wanstead Flats, was maintainable while the steering wheel was only held between one finger and a thumb. The exceptionally-wide track, the long wheelbase, the low centre of gravity of the chassis, the inclined stub axles, and the excellent design of the steering gear all make for results such as this. It is important to note that the application of the front brakes does not in any way interfere with the movement of the steering wheel. Anyone who has ridden on a horsed escape-cart, at full gallop, will have noticed, not, perhaps, without a tremor of anxiety, the manner in which the escape will, on occasion, swing from side to side ; not so, however, with a well-designed motor-escape equipment, for its progress is quite steady, and free from objectionable swaying, even while travelling over an open space like Wanstead Flats when a high wind is blowing. The braking and steering gear of a motor fire-engine must, of necessity, be entirely above suspicion, on account of the machine's considerable weight and its frequent high speed in congested thoroughfares. The gross weight of the West Ham motor is 3 tons, 6 cwt., 3 qrs., and of this the escape itself weighs 11 cwt. This escape-wagon is a thoroughly workmanlike job, and it has the appearance of having been designed and built throughout for fire-brigade requirements.
(the escape refers to the wheeled ladder it carries)

The machine was placed in service at the long disappeared sub fire station in Balaam Street, Plaistow and its photograph has appeared in a number of local history books and websites (see here).

Balaam Street sub fire
 station before World War 1
Lloyd & Plaister soon disappeared as a motor manufacturer though Southgate ordered a fire engine from them a couple of years after West Ham. Dennis and Leyland started to dominate the fire engine market. Dennis started small as a London based manufacturer of bicycles and lawn mowers!

The author local historian Peter Williams is working on a history of West Ham Fire Brigade.

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