Richard Newsham

After the Great Fire of London, there was a desperate need to control large-scale fires. Enter Richard Newsham, a London button maker, whose parish fire pump was the first truly effective fire engine.

fire

Little is known of Richard Newsham, but he was almost certainly born too late to have lived through the horrors of the Great Fire of London in 1666. However he would certainly have known how dangerous flames could be: he lived at a time when, without an effective fire brigade, fires would have quickly spread from one building to another, and even the smallest blaze would have been very difficult to extinguish.

In 1708, the British government passed the Parish Pump Act, a law that ordered every parish to keep a water pump for use in extinguishing fires. This was fine in theory. Unfortunately, the water pumps in use at that time were spectacularly ineffective.

No doubt this prompted Richard Newsham, reputedly a London button maker, to come up with his own design. His parish fire pump was the first truly effective fire engine that could race to a blaze and squirt 400 litres of water per minute at flames over 40 metres away.

His design was so successful that he started his own manufacturing company. And it wasn't just in Britain that his fire pumps were adopted - in 1731, New Yorkers were bowled over by his engines. Newsham had had the foresight to publicise his parish fire pump in broadsides - the tabloids of the day - published in America. Apparently, his adverts boasted that his engines were so popular in Britain that even King George II had ordered one to protect his palace.

When Newsham died in 1743, he passed his company onto his son, Lawrence. After Lawrence's death, his wife took over and joined forces with her cousin George Ragg. So durable were these machines that Newsham and Ragg pumps were still in use in the late 1930s.