Godalming Museum, ref:B980.474


This helmet was worn by Mr Sidney L Taylor, Captain of the Godalming Fire Brigade from 1897 - 1905.

Protective steel or brass helmets were commonly worn by firemen from the 1860s until the 1930s when increasing danger of electrocution from electrical wires in fire-damaged buildings forced a change to the use of non-conductive materials such as cork . Helmets made from leather, with the distinctive broad neckplate at the back and raised crest, had been introduced in the 1820s and continued to be popular into the early 1900s.

During the time when Captain Taylor would have worn this helmet, the Godalming Fire Brigade was given new premises in Queen Street by the Borough Corporation. The fire crews at the time (1904) were all part-time volunteers (though paid a retainer of 1 shilling a week by the Corporation). Fire trucks were pulled either by men or by horses. The new station, according to an article of the time, was, " A Well Designed Station for a Country Town". In addition to providing £600 for the new, purpose-built station, the Borough equipped the Godalming Brigade with a new Shad Mason Steam Fire Pump (at a cost of £285). The station in Queen Street continued to be used for a further fifty years, before a new one was built in Bridge Street.

Ex- fireman, Raymond Martin has offered a glimpse of the life of a volunteer firefighter,

"...The Godalming Red Dennis fire engine, brass bell clanging, dashing down Queen
Street, manned by volunteers...Each fireman had an alarm bell to his home, but whilst at work the fire hooter was set off from the gas works...When the hooter sounded the town would go deadly quiet. We would make our way, if possible, to the archway at the Kings Arms, hoping this turnout would be in record time. Firemen would come from all directions, on foot, by cycle, hoping to catch the first engine. A fire summons was in those days personal to the town. We were part of it."

The Museum has many photos (taken in a variety of situations and times) of the town's fire brigade and of fires in the area. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, industrial premises, such as tanneries, could be particularly at risk of fire - as could thatched houses and old, timber-framed buildings.


'The New Fire Station at Godalming' - Extract from Fire and Water. Sept. 1904
Re-printed in Vigiles. Fire Brigades of Surrey Preservation Trust. October 1987, P.21.

Martin, Raymond, 'Fire Station and Gasworks, Queen Street and the Wharf'
In, Memories of Farncombe and Godalming (Godalming: The Godalming Trust, 1981)

Wright, Brian, Firemen's Uniform (Princes Risborough:Shire Publications, 1991), Shire Album, 273. 

Return to Town and Society or the Collections index