Charles Groves, who served as a fireman of the Osborne House Fire Brigade, passed away on Christmas Day 1913.

 

Charles was born in Whippingham, circa 1834. The 1841 Census evidences that his father William was a thatcher, at other times he was also the district postmaster. The next Census of 1851 shows that by now Charles too was working as a thatcher along with his father and elder brother George. Notably their address was two doors from the family of Isaac Lowe; in 1860 Charles married Isaac's eldest daughter Kate. The Census of the following year shows the recently married couple living at an address known as the Shamblers in Whippingham (a title derived from the far older title of the grange of East Shamlord). By now Charles had changed his occupation to that of blacksmith. Of interest, particularly given his trade, the title of Little Shamblers is also the correct address for the Osborne House stable block. As it is known that Charles was an employee of the estate staff for many years, it seems likely that his home was associated with his employment at the Royal forge. It was known that in addition he served as a member of Queen Victoria's private fire brigade, charged with fire protection of the Osborne estate. 

Charles remained at the Osborne estate until at least 1881 by which time he and Kate had four daughters, Alice Jane (18), H. Elizabeth (13), Matilda M. (10) and Mary Ann (8). His period of service at Osborne coincided with the several visits made by Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, head of the London Fire Engine Establishment (later the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and then London Fire Brigade). Shaw was a personal friend of Prince Bertie and was requested to attend the estate and advise on fire safety matters. On his instructions the house was equipped with its own dedicated fire station which housed firefighting appliances plus a fixed pump, gravity fed from the estate's reservoir, that could deliver water to Osborne's sixteen private hydrants at a pressure up to 145 pounds. 

 

Osborne House Fire Brigade's fire station, photographed in 2017.

Charles remained at Osborne until suffering the loss of an eye when struck by a shard of molten metal during the manufacture of a horse shoe. However this didn't prevent him from plying his trade and the 1891 Census locates him and Kate living at 20 Page Street, Westminster. 

Today a modest studio flat with a Page Street address would attract a half-million price tag. In the 1890's it is noted that the district was somewhat divided. Several plush terraces existed but at its extremities were a number of slums that were cleared during that decade. It is difficult to ascertain the location of number 20. In addition to working as a smith Charles was organ blower at Westminster Abbey for 24 years. This role was quite literally to blow air into the organ for it to work. Whilst few details have been found concerning the organ at Westminster Abbey of the period (which was replaced in 1937), a similar arrangement at Winchester required two men to play it and seventy as blowers! 

By the time of the 1911 Census the couple, now 77 and 76, had left London and were residing at 29 Park Road, Gosport. Charles was listed as a retired blacksmith and had been suffering heart trouble for some time.

Soon after he and Kate returned to the Isle of Wight, taking up residence in Alfred Street, East Cowes. 

On Christmas Day 1913 he awoke and went downstairs to light the fire. A short while later Kate found him lying still by the fireplace. Dr Hoffmeister attended the house but was only able to confirm that he'd passed away. 

 

Rest in peace Fireman Groves.

 

Charles on the left, presumably with grandchildren, and his wife Kate (nee Lowe) on the right.