Paid in beer and wearing the uniform on a Sunday – the life of a Norwich Union fireman in 1820

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

When fire insurance first came about, there was no state service in place – so insurers ran their own fire brigades.

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The Norwich Union Fire Brigade would compete with rival brigades to reach a blaze first and then the business insuring that property would pay the company accordingly.

Part of a fireman's wage came in beer and members of the public who helped in the water bucket chain would also earn a pint at the local. On one occasion after receiving the bill from a rival firm – and seeing the volume of beer they had been charged for – Norwich Union wrote back asking: 'Did you use beer to put it out?'

But it was wasn't all playing the hero and drinking beer – fire officers had strict guidelines to obey. Among the rules in 1820 were that any fireman challenging another to a fight would be fined 2s 6d (and an extra 5s if he struck him), while those attending fires drunks were fined 5s. Firemen caught swearing were fined 3d for each oath.

Among the other rules were:

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Thomas Barnes with the ornate firebuckets.Byline: Sonya

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Thomas Barnes with the ornate firebuckets.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan


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– The fireman who first raises the alarm for a fire shall receive 1s above his normal pay.

– Any fireman wearing his uniform while not on duty or on a Sunday shall be fined 1s for his first offence and 2s 6d for the second.

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