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Bolton -  known as the "largest town" in England - was one of the fire brigades amalgamated into the Greater Manchester Fire Service in April 1974.

The earfliest fire engine in Bolton was acquired around 1793 and two years later was being kept in a building known as Barrett's Barn.   By 1812, there were four engines in the town, one of which was operated by the Royal Exchange Insurance Company and three owned by the Trustees under Superintendent Sam Holt.  Each had a named crew who were governed by a strict set of rules.

In June 1838 a major fire devastated Messrs. Ormrod and Hardcastle's mill in the town. The Bolton engines, reinforced by several private works fire engines, proved to be ineffecient and the building was destroyed. The Bolton Improvement Act 1847 placed the fire brigade under the control of the Chief Constable.

Around this time, the town's fire engines had names such as "Jesse" and "Bumble" with a number of private mill engines also available.  Following dissatisfaction with the fire brigade, it was placed under the control of the Watch Committee from 1853.

1868 saw Bolton's first steam fire engine, a Shand Mason model named "Albert." A public demonstration of its prowess was held in the Market Square in December. The fire station  was relocated to Coronation Street in the same decade.

In 1880 a second Shand Mason steamer was acquired. Superintendent Robert Phillips was in charge of the brigade from 1877 until his death in 1898.

In 1899 an impressive new fire station was opened on Marsden Road with accommodation for nine whole-time men, two steamers, a manual pump, wheeled escape and ladder truck and four horses. This station would remain in use until 1971. From 1900 the brigade took over ambulance duties..

The first motor fire engine - a Leyland - was delivered in 1913, with a further Leyland being acquired two years later.

The First World War witnessed an airship raid in September 1916, resulting in serious damage in Kirk Street and the loss of 13 lives. Later in the war, Bolton Fire Brigade attended the disastrous White Lund munitions factory explosion near Morecambe, led by Superintendent Fred Brocklehurst..

By 1929 the Brigade was operating 3 motor pumps, a turntable ladder and a portable punp; there were 25 whole-time men and 20 auxiliaries.

Herbert Blackledge (formerly Chief of Bury Fire Brigade) took over as Chief Officer in 1934.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, a number of temporary fire stations were opened in schools, mills and other premises to house the Auxiliary Fire Service. Although there was no particular instance of enemy action on the town, Bolton's firefighters were sent to assist at air raids in many parts. In May 1941, two Bolton Auxiliary Firemen - Joseph Isherwood and Edwin Aspinall - lost their lives in the Liverpool Blitz. Acting Sub Officer Paul Catterall of the Bolton Brigade was to receive a BEM for his gallantry at the same incident.

Soon afterwards, in August 1941, all "regulars" and "auxiliaries" were merged into the new National Fire Service in 1941. Bolton was made the Headquarters for the No.28 Fire Force Area, coverring the town and parts of Lancashire, with Mr.Blackledge appointed Fire Force Commander. Fire Force Headquarters was set up at Burnthwaite in Lostock.

After the war, the Bolton Fire Brigade was reconstituted under the Fire Services Act 1947, effective the following April. A fleet of modern motor appliances was acquired at the earliest opportunity, the Brigade continuing to operate from Marsden Road under Chief Officer Reginald Bentley.

1961 saw a significant and tragic fire at the Top Storey Club in the town centre, resulting in some 19 deaths, The club was located above a factory building in Crown Street alongside the River Croal, and the means of escape were completely inadequate. This incident had a direct impact on the provisions of the Licensing Act 1964 which would bring improvements in safety at licensed premises. 

By the 1960s, it was realised that a single fire station was insufficient to cover Britain's largest town, with a population of around 200,000. The Brigade also covered neighbouring Turton and surroundings and, in 1967, a sub fire station was opened on the Crompton Way ring road, near to Tonge Moor and Astley Bridge,

A tragic incident occurred in April 1968 when Leading Fireman Jack Liptrot lost his life whilst attempting a heroic rescue of children from a mineshaft at the former Brackley Colliery site in Middle Hulton.

In the same year, Chief Officer Bentley retired and was succeeded by the Brigade's last Chief, Gilbert Hodgkinson. 

The long-awaited replacement of the Marsden Road headquarters came with the opening, in 1971, of a major new fire station on nearby Moor Lane. This would serve as the Brigade's Headquarters until it was taken over by the new Greater Manchester (County) Fire Service in April 1974.

The town has witnessed many major fires over the years, perhaps the most memorable in recent times being that which occurred in November 1981 and destroyed a large section of the Town Hall.



Bolton Auxilary Fire Service Crew with Towing Vehicle
Marsden Road fire station
Coronation Street fire station
1951 AEC Merryweather pump escape appliance

Mission Statement

”To explore, preserve and make accessible the history of fire, fire engineering and the fire and rescue services in the Greater Manchester region and, through our collections and resources, to further the education and promotion of fire safety in the community.”

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