101 uses of a fire engine

Very few fires are recorded in Radley College’s history. Nevertheless, the fire brigade and the fire engine were busy:

1883: Giving boys useful skills: ‘We already have a great many Societies, Clubs etc. … I believe that there are a certain number of persons who know how to pump the water through the hose, but very few know how to put out a fire quickly, which is far from being a useless accomplishment.’ 1883. The riposte: ‘In practice fellows would do nothing except drench one another with the hoses.’

1908. Fire-fighting. On November 17th the College Fire-Brigade took its historic engine (inscribed with the date 1857) to
the assistance of the Abingdon Brigade at Park End Farm, where a barn full of straw caught fire unpleasantly close to the Barmby’s house

1913. Protection from women. Suggestions: That a fire brigade be instituted, in case of the suffragettes

1913. To stock the Museum. Suggestions: That College fire engine be placed in the museum as a relic

1913. Entertainment and fashion. Suggestions: That College fire brigade give an exhibition at the end of term. That members of the Fire Brigade have brass buttons on their pyjamas

1914. Protection against the enemy. Suggestions: That the fire brigade start again, in case a Zeppelin bomb is dropped

1915. Source of holidays. Suggestions: That there be a half-holiday on the Diamond Jubliee Day of College Fire-Engine

1916. Inspiration for poetry. Once more acclaimed in verse:

Up the stairway they dashed,
Metal with metal clashed,
Buckets of water splashed,
The Radley fire brigade.

When can their valour fade?
Never a man dismayed,
Ready for Zeppelin raid,
The Radley fire brigade

1919. Making ice smooth for skating. ‘The ice [on College Pond] was somewhat rough but good in places, which were flooded by the energies of some with the help of our antiquated fire-engine.’

1920. Cause of arguments. ‘On Monday, November 29th, a fire broke out in the Science Buildings… The fire-engine was brought up from the gym, but as difference of opinion prevailed how to put it together, resolutely declined to work, and fire-buckets had to be employed.’

1921. Solution for sports’ problems. ‘A great effort was made early this term to flood Big Side, in order to make it soft enough to play on. This was done by means of a sixteen-hand fire-engine, hired from the Abingdon Fire Brigade.’ Radley fire brigade was called on to do the same thing in 1928.

1926. Transport. A new motor fire pump was acquired. The old Sewellian engine was stripped down and the chassis used for conveying meals to the pavilion. (In WW2 the same engine was used to convey meals from the kitchens to School [now the Library] then being used as a Dining Hall by Eastbourne College.)

1942. Helping the war effort. ‘Plans are being made now for harvest, and possibly forestry camps… and in April there will be parties of boys at Radley to help with fire watching, to man the fire engine, and to cultivate vegetables.’

1954. Creating an ice rink. ‘Nearly a week after the Big Freeze…the bright idea was conceived of making an ice rink. Two of the banks near the Nets were used, and squads of helpers constructed the other two sides out of snow. The arena thus formed was flooded by the Fire Brigade.’

1956. Repelling intruders. ‘Nervous dons were disconcerted one Sunday last term by the arrival of a mysterious Oriental clasping a sinister black box. College security was tightened and the Fire Brigade was alerted…. An innocuous representative of ‘Radio Japan’, anxious to record “an afternoon at Radley.”’

1967. First on the scene when a fire alarm sounds. ‘The qualifications for entry to this College brigade are very simple. First you must have a sense of humour that functions under all conditions, especially during a night practice in January, and secondly you must have a desire to get wet four Sundays a term.’

Fire brigade 1965

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