Echoes of the Past column

The presentation of a �1,000 cheque on 3 August 1989.
The presentation of a �1,000 cheque on 3 August 1989.

Henry Jocelyn Barber was the youngest son of Joseph Barber and was born at 12 Church Lane, Brighouse on 9 October, 1846, into one of the town’s foremost legal families.

In his adult life, unlike many other members of his family, he was to make his name in another profession, as a fireman.

Henry Jocelyn Barber

Henry Jocelyn Barber

On completion of his education he did join the other family members in the legal profession as a solicitor.

In his early years as a solicitor he became well known in the Brighouse and Halifax areas.

During the mid-19th century fire fighting in Brighouse was virtually non-existent. For example, Thomas Bottomley, a local joiner, found this out very quickly when his workshop in ‘Ball Flash’ had set on fire and was completely burnt down. Ball Flash is now the section of Bradford Road between the junctions with Bethel Street and Commercial Street.

The joinery premises were then next to the Free Mason’s Arms.

Bradford Road, Brighouse

Bradford Road, Brighouse

The fire wasn’t started by Bottomley or any act of carelessness on his part but by his next door neighbour William Drake, who was a contractor and had lived in Ball Flash for many years. In June 1855 he came home unable to light a fire and discovered his chimney was in desperate need of sweeping.

But in those days spending money on mundane tasks like having your chimney swept was considered a waste.

He contemplated a number of different ways how to dislodge the soot ball and finally decided the quickest way was to fire his gun directly up the chimney. He only fired the one shot which cost him dearly, no one was killed or injured but the result was he set fire not only to his own house but his neighbour’s Thomas Bottomley’s as well.

With no organised fire brigade both houses were subsequently burnt to the ground.

By the time he had left the family legal practice he went on to become the chief fire officer for Brighouse, a position he held for the next 20 years. Fighting fires in frost and the constant soakings from the crude water pumping equipment used at that timealmost made him a cripple.

In 1873 he published a pamphlet on ‘Salvage Corps’ and another in 1883 on ‘Fire Inquests’. His knowledge in fighting fires became wide spread and was asked to give lectures on many occasions. Not just in the areas surrounding Brighouse but as far away as Sheffield.

Through his many years with the fire service he was directly involved in forming the West Yorkshire Fire Brigade’s Friendly Society. In 1875 he was chosen as the district superintendent for the Royal Insurance Society, a position he held for ten years.

In later years to honour him, a fire engine - the Henry Barber - was named after him.

Eventually his years of getting continually soaked finally caught up with him and in 1885 he had to retire from all his public duties.

Another of his interests was the St John’s Ambulance and he was heavily involved in the formation of a branch in Brighouse and it was largely through his efforts that the Brighouse branch took delivery of its first horse drawn ambulance.

Following his death his vast library of books were sold at auction on Wednesday, March 28, 1900 in London. The library was spilt into 320 lots which numbered several hundred volumes of both single and sets of books. Just what price this fine collection made at the auction my copy of the catalogue does not show.

Henry Jocelyn Barber died on the 3 October, 1899 at his home 12 Church Lane. In this photograph dated June 1890 we see him in his fire chief uniform and the second photograph shows the location of Ball Flash and the Free Mason’s Arms (on the left hand-side) in the town centre near to where William Drake’s and Thomas Bottomley’s fire took place.

A proper public service

The world of the fire service has changed in many ways since the days of the 19th century Brighouse fire fighter Henry Jocelyn Barber.

Whether he and his team for fire fighters took time out from their fire fighting duties to go and meet the public is something that has not been recorded.

Today, it is not only fighting fires that the service has to do - education and fire safety is a vital part of its role in the community.

In this photograph - dated 3 August, 1989 - is the presentation of a £1,000 cheque.