The Rothbury Fire Engine

From the Rothbury Parish Magazine, September 1896

The original fire engine

The original fire engine, with David Dippie Dixon looking on

Amongst the many antiques and curios shown in the loan section of the Exhibition last week, none attracted more attention than our centenarian Fire Engine. The following notes relating to this venerable relic of the last century may, perhaps, be of interest to some of our readers.

It was probably the disastrous fires that occurred so frequently in the village of Rothbuy in those days when the houses were mostly covered with thatch, that induced the generous donor in 1788 to present this fire engine to the village and parish of Rothbury.

During the night of December 11th 1738 a dreadful and alarming fire broke out in the shop of Richard Pyle, a blacksmith, which consumed the shop together with his, dwelling-house and all the furniture, also the cow-houses and stables, his wife narrowly escaping with her life. The fire communicated to and destroyed the house of John Selby, with the greatest part of his furniture, and above thirty tons of wool, and a great quantity of leather; also the house of James Hood, Barber, with part of the furniture, the house of George Potts, a butcher, with part of the furniture, and his shop and stable were destroyed; as were also the house of Robert Douglas with all his furniture, stables, workshops, and a great quantity of oats and other corn, with a quantity of wool to the value of nearly £40, besides, leather and other goods.

All the houses were the property of Robert Douglas, who, by this catastrophe, was reduced to beggary. The fire was occasioned by Richard Pyle carelessly laying straw in his shop, which took fire from the sparks as he was working at the anvil. Again, on the 10th of October 1781, about 12 o'clock at night, a fire broke out in a brew house in the market-place at Rothbury which burnt till three o'clock in the morning, and destroyed sixteen houses, mostly thatched.

The original document containing the bequest of the fire engine, consisting of a piece of parchment measuring 6 inches by 6%, is found pasted into the parish Vestry Book 1785, signed by the donor and a witness. This interesting memorandum reads thus :

Mense Augusti Anno Domini, 1788,
Georgius Farquhar Armiger,
Enginam igneam, Villa et Parochiæ
Rothbury in Comu Northd donavit.
Sub Conservatione et Potestate
Rectoris et Ecclesiæ-Custodium
Pro tempore ejusdem Parochiæ
in Perpetuum,


[translation] August, 1788, George Farquhar, Esq., presented to the town and parish
of Rothbury, in the county of Northumberland, a fire engine,
under the care and control ot the Rector and Churchwardens
for the time being, of the same parish for ever.

Witness, THOS, ADAMS


The fire engine today

Shortly after this gift took place, a vestry meeting was held on Sunday, August 10th, 1788, when it was "agreed also to allow John Storey, of Rothbury, one guinea for the care of the fire engine per annum - Signed, E. A. HAY DRUMMOND, Rector."

For many years the fire engine stood under the shelter of the old Church Porch in charge of John Watson, sexton, the father of John Watson, our present sexton. The members of the newly formed Urban Council are now its custodians, who have already provided some new hose besides other needful repairs, and it stands ready for use in the shop of George Grey, Builder, who keeps it in good order.

We have seen the old engine at work at several fires, both in the village and in various parts of the parish. On these occasions, when there was a plentiful supply of water, it did excellent service in preventing the flames from spreading, eventually subduing the fire. If worked under proper management, and if we might make the suggestion, served by a few young men in the village who would be willing to form them selves into a small fire brigade and have occasional practice, our veteran fire engine may yet, for years to come, render good service in the Parish.