Engines and Hoses and Pumpers, Oh, My!
From Waif to Gentleman's Wife is set during the resurgence of Luddite violence in the spring of 1817, when knitters in the stocking industry protested the introduction of the power looms that threatened their livelihood. In Ned’s story, a local agitator sets fire to the newly-completed stocking mill hero Ned has recently established on his property.
Having a fire occur was necessary to bind together several threads in the plot (as well as the hero and heroine, who go to help fight it.) But what measures could a forward-thinking individual and prudent investor like our hero have in place to fight a blaze? Having no idea, I set out to find out.
Though the devastation of the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed more than 12,000 buildings, highlighted the need for better fire-fighting equipment, it was Jan Van de Heyden of Amsterdam who developed the first effective water-pumping device in the 1670’s. Van de Heyden’s machine, the most prevalent design used in Europe through the early 19th century, consisted of a copper tub with a two-cylinder, single acting brass piston pump inside. A pair of end-mounted levers powered the machine. Water was dumped into the tub from buckets and discharged by means of leather hoses.
Most parishes in England used a design introduced by Richard Newsham in 1718. The first versions of this machine sprayed water dumped into a rear-mounted hopper out the top of the engine, though a copper spout mounted above a two cylinder single-acting piston pump. The pump was driven by up to sixteen firefighters manning two long lever handles, with two or three more operating treadles mounted at the center line.
The biggest drawback of the Newsham device was that water could be directed only upward toward the top or roof of the burning structure. After 1810, however, more reliable hose, constructed from lengths of canvas wrapped around a wire helix, tarred and then protected by a sewn leather cover, was developed. The hose attached to a suction fitting on the engine and allowed fire-fighters to apply water right to the source of the fire within the burning structure.
Both the Van de Heyden and the Newsham engines could be either mounted on wheels and pulled by a horse, or loaded into the back of a wagon, then driven to the fire and carried or wheeled close to the burning structure.
Also, by the time of Ned’s story, former British militiaman George Manby had developed the first version of the fire extinguisher. Interested in creating a device that would allow individual fire-fighters to carry water to precise locations that might not be accessible to hoses, Manby’s device had a four-gallon copper vessel that could hold three gallons of water and one gallon of compressed air, which forced the water out of the base of the cylinder upon the opening of a small valve. The device could be filled and kept on hand until needed. However, maintaining sufficient pressure over time to activate the device remained a problem until Francois Carlier invented a chemical means of producing pressure in 1866.
Curious to see some of this equipment in action? Check out Chapter 12 of FROM WAIF TO GENTLEMAN'S WIFE.