Scope and Content


The history of the Oxford fire brigade dates back to 1654 when the corporation purchased a fire engine in London and by 1661 they owned 3 more. Three men were then paid £1.00 a year to maintain the engines and keep themselves ready to operate them at the direction of council officers.

In the early 19th century the university arranged a regular though part-time fire service and their uniformed firemen remained active until the 1880s. In 1842 after the post office and two other buildings in the High street were destroyed by fire, there was a call for an improved waterworks and a smaller better organised fire service. In 1845 the fire service was still fragmented with 15 engines in all,owned by a variety of bodies. In 1870 it was decided to set up a voluntary fire brigade and buy an engine by public subscription. In 1887 it was agreed that volunteers should control all fire fighting appliances.

The voluntary brigade built a headquarters and engine house in New Inn Hall Street in 1873-4. A new station in George Street was opened in 1896. Substations were opened in Summertown in 1881 and Grandpont in 1895. The brigade became a professional force in 1940 when it passed into the control of the corporation under the fire brigades act of 1938.

With the outbreak of world war two the fire brigade became part of the National fire service and the Volunteer Fire Brigade were entirely responsible for their training.In 1948 the fire fighting appliances and equipment were transferred from the brigade to the corporation. A new substation was opened at Slade Park in 1957. In 1971 the brigade headquarters moved from George Street to Rewley Road in which year there was a staff of 86 full time officers.

In the early days the OVFB was managed by a committee consisting of representatives of the local board and subscribers. It was supported chiefly by voluntary subscriptions and a charge was made to the owners of the property where fires occurred.From the beginning the brigade had no boundaries and served not only the university and city but the county and part of Berkshire.

The Records

The records were deposited at various stages between 1978 and 1991 and were then assigned the accession numbers 1530, 2681, 3371/2, 3481. They came to us via a variety of sources, several deposits were transferred from the local studies library and Oxford City Council.

The majority of the records are administrative in nature and include minute books, members lists, occurrence books, fire summary books, special service calls report books, fire report books, register of fires, drill attandances, account books, correspondence and range in date from 1870-1970s.

Up to 1941 the records are of the Oxford Volunteer Fire Brigade and in that year the brigade became part of the National Fire Service. This accounts for the absence of records for those years. In 1948 the fire brigade reverted to the control of the corporation and became the Oxford City Fire Brigade. I have not broken these records up but they have been catalogued as one continuous sequence of records.

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