In 1850 William Joshua Tilley, 66-year-old proprietor of Tilley and Co., finally retired from the business that had been developing fire engines since established in 1828 when his partnership with William Morton was dissolved. Prior to that, Tilley of Shoreditch had worked in partnership with James Hopwood who in 1774 had operated Hopwood and Phillips with the pioneering Samuel Phillips who had been designing and building fire engines since 1760.

A passion for fire engine manufacture and design ran rich through Tilley’s veins but it was not his three sons to whom he turned to maintain the business on his departure. Of his five daughters two were married to like-minded men of engineering and business acumen – James Shand and Samuel Mason.

Unlike Londoner Tilley, Shand was a 22-year-old Edinburgh man when Tilley appointed him as business manager in 1845. Born in Edinburgh one year before the legendary James Braidwood established the world’s first municipal fire brigade in the city, he would no doubt have grown up seeing something of, and perhaps being inspired by, the sight of the expertly organised and trained firemen thundering through the town on horse-drawn engines. As a young man Shand acquired a varied knowledge at the dawn of developing mechanical engineering as a pupil of James Slight, engineer to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.

Shand would have been a 10-year-old when Braidwood was tempted by the lure of London to relocate and again establish a first – the London Fire Engine Establishment (the forerunner of today’s London Fire Brigade). Given Tilley’s prominent place in the history of fire engine manufacture and Braidwood’s intimate involvement with technical developments throughout the period, there is every chance that the Edinburgh men met in their respective professional capacities. When Shand took the reins at Tilley’s he recruited his brother-in-law Samuel Mason of Newington to join him and together they established Shand Mason and Co., south of the River Thames at 75 Upper Ground, Blackfriars.

In 1829 John Braithwaite, a London based pioneer of steam locomotives, designed, and manufactured the Novelty – the world’s first steam-powered fire engine. Braidwood was quick to trial new technology, but his men proved resistant and the engine received little operational use before it was destroyed by an angry mob, including some of the firemen.

The 'Novelty'

Twelve years later and without any apparent connection New York firefighters were equally unimpressed with their first steam-powered engine – whilst it was not destroyed in frustration it became nothing but a dust laden relic.

But the nucleus of the idea was germinating.

Shand and Mason were initially committed to improving the manual fire engine but in 1852, at the behest of James Braidwood, they designed and fitted a steam powered pump to one of the fire-floats used by the London Fire Engine Establishment. Braidwood’s intention was clear – his current Thames based fire-float was a vast cumbersome design requiring 120-men to teeter on its open deck operating the manual pump. The experiment was so successful that Shand put his designing head into overdrive and created a steam fire-float not only capable of throwing firefighting jets of water far beyond that achieved by 120-men, but also powered the craft itself. For the progressive commander James Braidwood this was a major advancement and with his fellow Edinburghers endorsement James Shand designed and manufactured London’s first land-based steam fire-engine in 1858.

Steam was to prove an epiphany in the evolution of United Kingdom fire brigades and firefighting – but Shand and Mason did not lose focus in its dazzling performance. During an era when provision of a full-time professional fire brigade was restricted to the economies of bustling metropolitan cities, the pair appreciated that provision of steam powered engines would prove lucrative but with limits – the continued development and sale of cost-efficient manual fire engines to provincial fire services remained the backbone of the company’s turnover.

France, like Britain, was enjoying a heyday of design and technology and had staged national exhibitions for many years, culminating in the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 in Paris. The rapidly changing world of technology encouraged others to follow suit and in 1851 the Crystal Palace, driven by Prince Albert, hosted the globe’s first international event of its kind under the title the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Shand Mason and Co., took their place and here learned the benefits and knack of selling to a browsing audience of all nationalities.

What followed was the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1862 International Exhibition in London, a return to Paris in 1867 before Austria announced its intention to stage Weltausstellung 1873 Wien (Austrian International Exhibition) of 1873, more commonly referred as Vienna World’s Fair.

James Shand and Samuel Mason were determined to explore this new opening.

 

The Vienna fair, which opened on 1 May and closed on 31 October, was a vast arrangement. So vast was it that the Reports on the Vienna Universal Exposition published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, dealing with the exhibits from Great Britain and eleven of her (over 40) colonies, amounted to over 800 pages of text.

On Page 27 under List of Firms who Lent Objects for Use, is located a reference to Shand Mason and Co.

Patent equilibrium steam fire engine, capable of delivering 1,000 gallons per minute, throwing to a height of 200 feet through a jet of 1 7/8 inch diameter, fitted with patent inclined water tube boiler by which steam is raised to a pressure of 100lbs. to the square inch, in 6 ½ to 7 minutes from the time of lighting the fire…

So continued the 31-line glowing reference to the example of the company’s most up-to-date technology, before closing the section with what appears in comparison to be little more than an afterthought…

A manual fire-engine of the same construction as those in use by the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and also by municipal and volunteer fire brigades in Great Britain, and all parts of the world.

What this perfunctory reflection fails to account for is the inordinate effort James Shand and Samuel Mason undertook to ensure that their most basic of models was not only eye-catching but favoured by Austrian-Hungarian high society. The brightly painted red sides and frontal portions of the water case were adorned with a brilliantly stencilled illuminated copy of the Austria-Hungary Coat of Arms.

The display received approval and perhaps led to orders, but the engine itself was returned to Blackfriars in early November.

At 13:30 in the afternoon of Sunday 5 July 1874 the Reverend W.F. Fisher discovered fire affecting the thatched roof of his home at Fernhill Lodge, Wootton. The correspondent of the Isle of Wight Observer remarked in his report – The roof was soon in a blaze from end to end, and most of the contents of the upper rooms were destroyed, whilst the furniture of the lower rooms was being rapidly removed by the neighbours. When Superintendent J. Reynolds, of the fire brigade, came on the scene with the new fire engine, he found the place in ruins…

James Reynolds was the 49-year-old superintendent of the fledgling Newport Borough Fire Brigade - the engine was the very one displayed in Vienna the previous summer. How much was paid and how it was transported from Blackfriars to the Isle of Wight has been lost in the destruction of related documents, but repainted and bearing the words Borough of Newport on either side of the water case, it may have been too late to save Fernhill Lodge but it was to bear witness to some of the Island’s largest fires for an extraordinarily protracted period.

Its pumping handles were to be first swung in anger when fire ripped through the station of the Newport-Cowes line ten days before Christmas 1874 – but again it was too late to prevent destruction, according to the Observer – the structure… built of wood… was in ruins before the arrival of the fire engine. It was a less than distinguished first two shouts for the sparkling engine but Reynolds, with 16-years of firefighting experience behind him, was determined that the machine would prove its worth and drilled his volunteer firemen relentlessly – including charging through Newport’s dust laden streets in manual transportation of the weighty engine in readiness for those occasions when horses could not be obtained – which was not uncommon - on one horse-less occasion his men were compelled to manually haul the appliance up Hunnyhill before fighting a fire at Parkhurst, had they any energy left to do so. The engine’s third trip out was graced by the presence of sufficient equines. Without them they would have made no approach at all to a fire in a building at London Farm near Newtown, but still they were far too late to make any impact. But over the following years the engine proved its value and when Superintendent Reynolds announced his intention to retire in 1880, it was with great pride that he handed over his efficient men and their machine to his successor Charles Osborne.

Osborne was a 32-year-old local man with a pedigree in mechanical engineering, the perfect man to lead a modern fire brigade in the late-Victorian era. Within months of his arrival his association with the Society for Preservation of Life from Fire ensured they provided the borough with its first dedicated wheeled escape ladder to add to the brigade’s capability. When first revealed to Newport residents in a procession through the town the Observer described it as a terrible looking implement – one which in concert with the Shand Mason fire engine was to save much life and property in the following decades.

Under the new captain the brigade’s prowess at engine drills continued to shine. In 1884, ten years before the founding of the IWFBF, the Island’s first recorded fire brigade competition was held at Steephill Castle. Newport’s firemen and their Shand Mason produced trophy winning performances in four of the competition categories held that day. It was as well that the boroughs men and machinery was of such quality, for that decade produced a staggering number of fires in and around the Newport district. The engine never failed to operate efficiently and caused distress only for Fireman Fuller, who, in a moment of poorly judged horseplay during the Illuminated Cycling Procession of October 1891, managed to fall from the front of the engine and be crushed beneath its wheels. He survived but not without considerable injury.

In the following year on 28 May the Shand Mason engines handles were furiously pumped for the most protracted of periods during a fire, so devastating and controversial that letters and comments regarding the events of that night swamped the pages of the County Press when the matter resurfaced over thirty years later.

The fire that first ripped through the ground floor of the High Street store belonging to Mr Wall (across the road from the Guildhall) was far beyond the capacity of the boroughs nominal brigade and Shand Mason engine, despite the furious and protracted efforts of the masses of volunteers who took their turn to keep the pumping handles lowering and rising in harmony. Soldiers arrived from the garrison with the military engines and committed as feverishly to the task as the firemen but by the next morning the fire had carved such a swathe from the terraced structure that a sketcher submitted work to the Illustrated London News showing a side view of the Guildhall previously unviewable from behind Wall’s premises.

In the immediate aftermath much mockery was made of Newport’s firemen – some of it personal and unkind, calling into question the efficiency of men so corpulent to be of no use, whilst celebrating the alacrity of the men of the Kings Royal Rifles under the command of a Pioneer Sergeant.

One wonders if it was devilish reaction by the town’s authority that inspired the outcomes of the firemen’s pay review just four months later. Charles Osborne, a committed and honourable captain, was to be granted a pay rise of a percentage incomparable to that offered to his firemen.

Jacob Peach was a diligent townsman and businessman – popular on many fronts and for none more so than his skill as engineer in charge of the operation and maintenance of the Shand Mason. He, in concert with firemen Obediah Jackman and John H. Stubbs, backed by their firefighting colleagues but without referring to Captain Osborne, submitted a formal letter of protest to the Mayor and Corporation of the Borough of Newport. Citing the firemen’s raise of just five shillings in comparison to Osborne’s £3 3s increase, the dissenting trio played a bold, and what they considered a trump card – asking for a further five shillings and sixpence for the firemen or their mass resignation effective 23 February 1893.

The reaction in Newport’s chambers of power was anything but acquiescent.

While the firemen enjoyed Christmas in the expectation of a New Year pay rise to their satisfaction, the Corporation wheels went into overdrive to recruit, and train, a brigade of unpaid volunteer firemen. Public opinion was steered by a clever campaign, with the County Press pressured to deliver the Corporation’s message on 4 February that the firemen cannot be congratulated on the attitude they have assumed and that their resignation was to be accepted. As the volunteers began their training in preparation to take over, the Corporation decided to follow the policy used successfully at Sandown Fire Brigade, and allow the men to vote for those among them they wished to be their captain, deputy and engineer. What the Corporation didn’t consider was the position of Captain Charles Osborne. Stuck in the middle through no fault of his own, Osborne was left in the cold when the volunteers voted Percy Shepard to be their leader. Out of a belated sense of shame the Corporation advised Osborne that his services would not be required after 23 February and offered him a substantial pay-off – to his credit he advised them where to stick it!

The most awkward of situations developed on the evening of 23 February. As the outgoing paid firemen arrived at the Guildhall to surrender their equipment and effects to the volunteers, as fate would have it, a message was received of a fire in a wool shop at 63 Pyle Street. A struggle ensued over the Shand Mason between paid and volunteer firemen. When the arguing mass arrived at Pyle Street, still wrestling over lengths of hose and branches, both Captain’s Osborne and Shepard were in attendance – one having three decades of firefighting experience, the other on his first shout. Acknowledging the needs of the fire above all else, the opposing captains settled on the middle ground and a calming effect enabled the task to be undertaken successfully – but flared up again as the flames were suppressed when the outgoing men began to bustle equipment from the volunteers, packed the hose cart and returned it to the station – throwing the remains of their issued gear to the floor and departing for the last time.

The Shand Mason, battered by the many years of use and the recent battle of possession, was returned to the Guildhall by the volunteers – blooded by their first action.

On 4 April the engine was reported thoroughly overhauled and repainted. The volunteer brigade, not one of them having had previous experience other than the madness of the Pyle Street shout, struggled to become experts. Initially a retired officer from London was sub-contracted to carry out drills and by the end of the year the brigade were joined by Ernest Hayles, an experienced fireman from Brighton who established a business in the town with his wife and was appointed Voluntary Second Engineer. Hayles was to become a Newport household name in a time where celebrity status was dependent on printed publications. His committed, and at time reckless endeavours in the uniform of Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade were to earn him much admiration, and some scorn – twice surviving falls from the roofs of stricken properties during fires substantially added to his reputation.

Hayles cared for the Shand Mason far better than he cared for himself, and the machine was remarked upon at shows and competitions for its excellence in appearance and operation. So admired was Hayles work that the Corporation retained his services for £25 per year to act as caretaker of the fire station and equipment.

Hayles’s judiciously greased axles of the Shand Mason thundered through Cowes in the spring of 1894 and ended with the driver, Kemp Mearman, being hauled before the County Petty Sessions on a charge of furious driving! The event almost certainly represents the first occasion at which an Island fireman was called to account for his inappropriate speed – a matter worsened by the fact that there was no fire – the Newport driver, with a crew all-up gripping frantically to anything and everything on the engine, including Hayles, conjectured that their rip-roaring course from Newport to Cowes, through the towns central streets and back to the Guildhall, was a training exercise. So aggressive was their storm through Cowes that a woman was said to have fainted and carts of produce were upturned by startled barrow boys.

The Shand Mason in use during an IWFBF drill competition, believed to be 1906.

The Shand Mason remained the backbone of Newport’s volunteer firemen for the remainder of Victoria’s reign and into the new century. Its carer, Ernest Hayles, was outlived by its service. He was killed in a mysteriously underreported work-related accident in September 1906. Added to the mystery is his widows decree that the fire brigade should neither organise, nor attend, the veteran fireman’s funeral. In this instance the Shand Mason did not, therefore, adopt the role of conveying its carer to his final and unmarked resting place at an unconsecrated patch of the Fairlee cemetery.

As Hayles was quietly interred fire brigades across the Island were applying pressure on their local authorities to evolve from the manual fire engines and invest in steam. Eventually, one by one, all the established Island fire brigades were sporting steam fire engines – except Newport.

The Shand Mason remained the stalwart defender against the Borough’s blazes. The fact that its inefficiency compared to the steam versions was recognised is apparent in the report of the substantial conflagration involving the Jordan and Stanley premises at Nodehill in April 1908 – despite being many miles away Shanklin Fire Brigade were called to help and the fire became their Merryweather steam fire-engine’s first attendance at a real going job.

Despite lessons learned the brigade went through the First World War and beyond into the 1920’s, still sporting their Shand Mason manual fire engine. By then manual fire engines had a history going back, at least, 250 years, the steam fire engine, whilst a massive improvement, existed as a viable option for a fraction of that time before the internal combustion engine took precedence. Ventnor Fire Brigade sported the Island’s first such technological advance while Newport remained dependent on the Shand Mason!

Newport’s brigade entirely missed the age of steam and leap-frogged from manual to petrol in the mid-1920’s. Having trialled and publicly displayed a mighty Leyland machine, they opted in the end for the comparatively lightweight and thereby operationally limited performance values of a Ford Stanley model – something for which firemen of other Island towns, operating comparably monstrous machines such as Ryde’s Leyland Braidwood, oftentimes taunted Newport’s firemen at shows and fires.

Newport Fire Brigade's much ridiculed Ford Stanley fire engine.

The arrival of the Ford Stanley left the Shand Mason without purpose, at least for a few years.

When the Freshwater Rover Scouts formed West Wights first formal fire brigade in 1927 the Shand Mason found a new, and very grateful home. With few modifications made and heaped with equipped donated principally by Newport and Shanklin’s brigades, the west finally had its much needed firefighting force. Concern for it remained in the consciousness of some, including Mr H. Prosser Chanter who, in a letter to the County Press of 29 April 1929, wrote – I hope every care will be taken with Newport’s old fire engine in its travels…

The Shand Mason in service with the Freshwater Rover Scouts Fire Brigade.

The Shand Mason was to see a decade of continued operational service in the hands of the zealous and surprisingly efficient Rover Scouts. Even the Chief Officer at Newport, who attended one of their earliest and substantial fires, remarked favourably on the Scouts tenacity and tactics under the command of Scoutmaster Wilfred Jeffrey.

By the late 1930’s the wests firefighting capacity had developed into the Freshwater and Totland Joint Fire Brigade and mechanisation came in the form of an impressive John Kerr-Ford equipped with a thunderous Drysdale pump. Again, the Shand Mason was decommissioned from operational service – and this time, 65 years since she was proudly displayed in Vienna – it was for good.

For many of the wooden-sided manual appliances the end of fighting fires was the end of existence. They had little monetary value and so it seemed, at that time, little historic interest. The exception was that of Cowes, who retained in antiquity their crude 1770’s model, only for it to be destroyed during the blitz of May 1942 – leaving the Shand Mason as the sole surviving member of this once vaunted Island fraternity.

But what happened to it after its spell at Freshwater?

Mr A.E. King, who by 1948 was the Mayor of Newport, discovered the Shand Mason abandoned and neglected in a junk yard a few years later. As respected as he was, King was known by some as Mr Ting, due to an unfortunate speech impediment that prevented pronunciation of the letter K.

Mayor A.E. King

Evidently the Mayor had taken good care of the Shand Mason, bringing it up to the standard that James Shand and Samuel Mason achieved when despatching it to Vienna 75 years before King had it transported with him to Newport Fire Station on the day the Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade was launched – 2 April 1948.

Speaking at the ceremony at which the National Fire Service formally handed over its assets and personnel to the County authority, King, stood with the massed gathering in the wartime built five-bay appliance room, described how he was a little saddened that government policy had enforced the creation of county brigades and that there would be no return of the pre-war Newport Fire Brigade in which he taken an interest for many years. He then announced the plan for him to loan the Shand Mason to the County brigade for the purpose of exhibition at historical or humorous occasions.

The Shand Mason was used at the brigade’s discretion in carnivals, processions and shows as agreed with Mr King. As the chairman of the County Fire Brigade Committee, he was invited to present long service medals to firemen from across the Island at a ceremony at Newport Fire Station on 15 September 1955. Before making the presentations King announced that his first presentation was to relinquish ownership of the Shand Mason and award it to the fire brigade, safe in the knowledge that it would be cherished and used for worthy causes in the years to come. To animate the glory of the ancient art of manual pumping, King had arranged for nine ageing members of the old voluntary brigade to attend the ceremony under the direction of former Newport Chief Officer Sydney Scott and produce a number of drills rarely seen since the days of the pre-First World War IWFBF competitions. Clad in shining brass helmets, serge tunics and knee length leather boots, the veterans got to work in Newport’s drill yard to the astonishment of the younger men who had experience only of combustion engines.

The Shand Mason continued to appear at public events throughout the Island, noted for its displays on St Helens Green in August 1968 and throughout the late 1960’s on Sandown Esplanade as a feature of the fundraisers for the Fire Service National Benevolent Fund.

The Shand Mason outside Sandown Town Hall, 1967.

In May 1971, the County Press announced that Norman Ball of Bullen Road, Ryde, had acquired use of the Shand Mason from the fire brigade as one of 21 vehicles featured at an exhibition of transport held at the IW Indoor Bowling Club. The fire engine was displayed alongside a First World War staff car used by George V, cars used in The Avengers and others that Ball and his family had acquired over a four-year period touring the country for suitable exhibits. The article expressed Ball’s desire to create an IW Transport Museum on the site of the former Ryde Airport.

Advert from a 1972 copy of the County Press.

In May of 1973 Ball brought the Shand Mason for exhibition at the Ancient and Modern Machinery Rally held at the County Ground, where it was displayed alongside and somewhat dwarfed by the County fire brigades recently acquired hydraulic lift platform.

From 1973 the future of the engine remains elusive. What is known is that in 1988 it was recovered in a tired and unhappy state by former Freshwater fireman Colin Piper. Together with his son Martin they laboured at personal expense and elbow grease to return the engine to the glory of its beginnings of 115 years before.

In 1994 when the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service were planning the opening of the new Ryde Fire Station and Brigade Training Complex, Colin loaned the Shand Mason to the service to grace the entrance foyer to the training centre.

It remains there to this day, the first item of firefighting apparatus that the newest probationary firefighter passes when arriving at the training centre, red, sparkling and silent, in reverence of fires long extinguished and firemen long past.

Freshwater fireman Colin Piper, proudly stood alongside the Shand Mason he and his son lovingly restored during the opening of the new complex at Ryde, 10 May 1994.