Category Archives: Fire Service

1933 : Fire Brigades are not compulsory

From the Mitcham News & Mercury, 10th February, 1933.


Mr. Albert O. Wells, chief officer of Mitcham Fire Brigade, speaking at a meeting of Reigate firemen on Saturday, said the fire brigade law of this country needed altering.

At the moment, he said, it was not compulsory for a local authority to maintain a fire brigade, and the protection of life and property became the responsibility of a minority largely helped by a system of voluntary service.

There were piles upon piles of properties in this country unprotected from risk of fire in any way.

Mr. Wells also gave details of an experiment now going an in Surrey for a County Fire Board, organised in four divisions to account for every square inch of the County.

Mr. Wells hoped Surrey would go down in history as the pioneer in adopting a system that would eventually become general throughout the country.


1960 : Explosion showers acid over homes

From the Mitcham News & Mercury, 15th January, 1960, page 1.

Explosion hurls vat top through roof of factory

And two boys at play are covered

Acid showered over homes in the Batsworth Road, Mitcham, area on Friday after an explosion in a factory nearby.

The explosion hurled the top of a vat through the factory roof. A stream of acid followed and firemen were called to hose it from homes and the street.

The factory is W.J. Bush, synthetic chemists, Batsworth Road, scene of an explosion in 1933 whiched wrecked and damaged nearby homes, and killed a child. People in the neighbourhood have never forgotten it.


Friday’s explosion remains a mystery. The fac†ory would make no comment.

It happened in the evening as Mr Albert Bowdery, who lives nearby, went to buy some tobacco.

“I heard the bang and thought at first that a tower was going to fall, then I saw something rush through the roof.

“I hurried back indoors and called to my daughter-in-law: ‘Quick, the children.’ We ran with them into the road. It would not take much to make this old building collapse.”

Mr Bowdery’s daughter-in-law Violet, has two young children – John and Linda.

Mr Bowdery said: “The explosion reminded people of the 1933 incident. They are always a bit worried about the factory.

“We don’t know what goes on there.”

The shop of greengrocer Mrs L. Langridge was covered in a “sort of white wash.”

“We are still cleaning up. A pair of my overalls are ruined. We could not let the children play outside.”

A nearby butcher, Mr J. Stopher, said: “The sanitary people inspected my goods, and, to be on the safe side, I have handed over a quantity of lamb, although it was not contaminated as far as we can tell. The damage was done to the outside of my shop.”

An elderly painter said: “We worry about the factory because many of us remember the tragedy of 1933.”

Soon after the explosion Michael Fullick and his brother Norman went out to play. They became covered in the acid.


“When we found out we gave them baths immediately,” said mr F. Fullick, licensee of the Bath Tavern.

Firemen were given rubber gloves when they arrived at the factory. A works chemist gave them advice on how to deal with the spilt sulphuric acid.

Auxiliary Fire Service graves in London Road Cemetery

London Road Cemetery, Mitcham, CR4 3LA (Google map).

In the Commonwealth War Graves section, plot 14, of this cemetery there are three gravestones for Auxiliary Firemen who died at the Surrey Theatre, on 10th May 1941.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website doesn’t include the details of these graves in their list of the war graves at this cemetery, because, as commented below, they are not classed as full war graves. The three gravestones in plot 14 are shown below, the sequence being from left to right as viewed from the path, which leads from the entrance in Victoria Road.

E. G. Pepper, aged 32

E.F. Robinson, aged 35

C.A. Elliman, aged 37

A pdf plan of the the layout of this cemetery is available from Merton council’s website.

1930s Mitcham Fire Brigade

This photo was taken of the Mitcham Fire Brigade, in the 1930s in front of the Fire Station at Lower Green West. It was posted onto the Facebook Mitcham History Group, where the names were supplied, and permission has been given to reproduce it here.

On the escape left to right. Fm Roper, Fm Simmonds, Fm Griffin, Fm Birmingham, Fm Thompson, Fm Niven, Fm Vickers. Standing Left to Right. 2nd Officer Tilley, 3rd Officer Jones, Fm Hedger, Fm Pugh, Fm Coleman, Fm Smith, Sub Officer Goshawk, Sub O Shepherd, Chief Officer Lawson.

The fellow who posted this photo also said :

Alfred Tilley, 2nd Officer Mitcham Fire Brigade. Standing in front line 1st on left. … seem to recall he was the uncle of Terry Tilley.

1965 : Mr Tilley retires after 25 years with Mitcham Fire Brigade

Twenty-five years as a fireman ended on Friday for Mr Terry Tilley, Russell Road, Mitcham. Here (centre) with his wife he receives a clock from Station Officer P. Dann, and an illuminated address signed by all members of the station.
All his colleagues also subscribed towards the cost of the clock.
From the Mitcham News & Mercury, 12th February, 1965, page 1.

Enjoyed his 25 years of fire-fighting

The summer afternoon when a rubber dump started to smoulder in the Willow Lane was the start of the biggest fire in Mitcham since the war.

Mr Terry Tilley recalled the blaze this week as he sat in his Russell Road home and looked back on 25 years as a fireman.

“It was two or three years after the war,” he said, “and I remember it was very, very hot.

“Tons and tons of rubber went up and you could see the flames miles away. It was like a mushroom.”

Long into the night 40 engines and dozens of firemen fought the fire, one of a spate of rubber dumps which went up the London area.

Of his experiences during the war Mr Tilley most vividly recalls a bombing raid on London’s dockland.

Fire engines raced from all over London to fight the blazing oil and tar refineries at Silvertown.

“The raid began in the afternoon,” said Mr Tilley, “and about 8 o’clock the bombers came back and went on dropping until the early hours of next morning.

“It was a fantastic sight with the fire engines and A.R.P. units all over the place. We lost a few men, I think, when the bombers came back.”

“Mr Tilley, who is 55, joined the Mitcham Brigade in 1940. In 1946 he moved to Banstead for nine years before returning to Mitcham.

He didn’t join for any particular reason, but now he says: “I enjoyed the life, and I shall miss the men.”

For the future he intends to have a few weeks’ holiday and then get another job, though he is not quite sure what.

Source: Mitcham News & Mercury, 19th February, 1965

There are photos on Merton Memories of the rubber tyre dump fire on 2nd June 1947. For example:

Clip from Merton Memories photo 51069, copyright London Borough of Merton.

Alfred Tilley, also at the Mitcham Fire Station, was his uncle, according to a post on Facebook. He is pictured on a 1930s photo of the brigade. He was mentioned in newspapers as having rescued 15 cats over his career.

Second Officer Alfred Tilley, of the Mitcham Fire Brigade, has just rescued his fifteenth cat. He saved his first cat in 1920. In those days he went out on a bicycle and borrowed a ladder.
From the Daily Herald, 16th December, 1939.

1970 Families flee gas plant blasts

From the Daily Express, 24th September, 1970

EXPLOSIONS roared through a gas bottling plant last night – and the bangs could be heard over half of London.

From Middlesex to Farnborough, Kent, people were roused by the blasts. The glow from the flames could be seen in Putney.

THE BLASTS at the plant in Church Road, Mitcham, hurled pieces of molten cylinders high in the air.

No one was injured but 100 firemen who raced to the scene from all over South London faced the hazard of a broken gas supply main.


They quickly brought a fierce fire in the two-storey factory itself under control, however. Fifty families were evacuated from houses most closely affected. A police spokesman said more might have to be moved from a nearby council estate.

THE SOUND of the explosions were heard as far away as Epsom, Wandsworth, and Bromley.

Streets around the area were littered with chunks of gas canisters, several of which were hurled over 300 yds, and lay hissing in the streets while firemen doused them with foam.

Mr Brian Courtney, an ambulanceman in Caterham 10 miles away, said : “The sky was bright red lighting up everything for miles.”

AT 1 A.M. gas cylinders were still exploding. An adjoining factory was badly damaged and neighbouring shopfronts were blown in.

1947 Rubber Dump Fire


200 Firemen Fight Worst Blaze Since Blitzes

INTENSE heat in London — the temperature in the afternoon rising to 90 degrees — was thought responsible for the outbreak of one of the worst fires for many months. The great fire broke out in a Government rubber dump near Mitcham Common. Thousands of tons of rubber blazed and 200 firemen were faced with an all-night task. The scene was reminiscent of blazing Nazi oil dumps bombed by the R.A.F. in the war.

More than 30 fire engines were rushed from all parts of South London to cope with the blaze, the fire assuming alarming proportions.

The fire spread rapidly and quickly reached a factory. Heavy smoke clouds drifted across Mitcham Common toward Streatham, and surrounding property was threatened by the blaze.

Thousands tons of scrap rubber blazed while firemen were trying to get a hose working. They were handicapped by the distance the nearest available water supply — the River Wandle — and were trying to prevent the fire from reaching two builders’ yards. The dump is controlled the Board Trade.


Gangs of men worked to clear fire ” break” between the dump and surrounding houses. The N.F.S. later said the fire was the biggest this year and for quite some time previously.” One eyewitness said: “It is an amazing sight—like the pictures blazing Nazi oil dumps bombed by the R.A.F.”

There was a “general call out” to fire brigades. Over 200 firemen using “walkie-talkie” apparatus fought the fire and four hoselaying lorries ran hoses from the Wandle.

At the dump were 10,000 tons rubber, including 3,000 tons of tyres worth about £40,000 to £50,000.


About 120 employees of the adjoining factory of Bryans Aeroquipment, Ltd., formed a bucket chain, and the factory girls provided water, lemonade, and biscuits to firemen exhausted by the heat. One of the firemen, overcome by the heat and fumes, was removed to hospital.

Firemen were at work all night. Some of them said they expected the dump to smoulder for a week.

Smoke from the fire blacked out the sun in Central London, ten miles away. Some onlookers likened a mushroom-like column of smoke stretching from the heart of the fire to pictures of the atom bomb explosions.

Source: Western Morning News – Tuesday 03 June 1947 from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)

There are 9 photos on Merton Memories.