A fire brigade was established in the tiny village of Islip after a blaze destroyed 12 cottages.

The homeless families were taken in by neighbours or found sanctuary in the old Tithe barn.

Villagers were so alarmed at the slow response in tackling the fire in August 1866 that they decided to form their own brigade.

Retired fire officer John Lowe, who is writing a history of the Oxford fire service, was surprised during his research to find the existence of a brigade in such a small community.

Our story about it (Memory Lane, July 31) brought a good response from readers, including Shirley Martin, the former village archivist.

She has written a book telling the story of Islip fire brigade, from which the following extracts have been taken.

Oxford Mail: Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported the 1866 blaze under the headlines, ‘Serious Fire at Islip’, ‘Twelve Houses Burnt Down’.

It told how at about 2.30pm, “the fire had been caused by some burning coals being thrown on to some faggots lying under the eaves of the thatched roof of the cottage occupied by Mrs Simmons.

“There was a gale blowing and despite the best efforts of villagers in tearing down the thatch of the adjoining cottages and using buckets to attack the fire, it quickly spread.

“Only the tenement occupied by Mr Simms was to be saved by keeping the roof thoroughly drenched with water.”

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A messenger was sent to Oxford for assistance and Oxford University’s manual fire engine arrived.

There was a further delay in getting water from the River Ray. The fire wasn’t put out until the following day.

In addition to the destruction of the 12 cottages whose roofs, floors, doors and windows were burned, two other houses, farm buildings, a coach house and stable were also damaged.

In a letter to the newspaper the following week, Islip Rector Francis French wrote: “Our recent disaster has made me very desirous of establishing a small, handy, rural fire engine for the use, if need be, of this parish and adjacent villages.

“An engine from a distance generally arrives too late to be of much service, while a small one on the spot, or near, and occasionally manned appears to me the real thing wanted in our county villages.”

An appeal helped not only the homeless villagers but provided funds for a manual fire engine which served the village for 70 years.

The brigade attended numerous fires in Islip and surrounding villages until its demise in 1936 when the parish council stated that “as the fire brigade has become so uninteresting to the parish of Islip and the engine more or less obsolete, the ratepayers be no longer held responsible for its upkeep”.

This was not the end of fire fighting in Islip – an ‘action station’ was set up there in the Second World War.

It was stood down in 1945 when Leading Fireman Henman and Firemen Humphries, Shirley, Stopp and Launchbury were serving.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

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