AN HISTORIAN who has written more than 20 books about the history of Wokingham has completed his latest work.

Jim Bell, from Woosehill, has penned the story of firefighting in Wokingham in the late 19th century, with the book called 'A Short History of Wokingham Volunteer Fire Brigade’.

Mr Bell, a member of the Wokingham Society, said: “The fire brigade was formed in September 1876 as the result of a meeting in Wokingham Town Hall.

“Until then, firefighting was the responsibility of the police.

“One big problem in England in the 19th century was arson, with the targets mainly farms, barns, and hayricks.

“To combat this a special police force was set up in 1830 to catch arsonists (then called incendiaries) and to fight fires.

“Over the years the special police did such a good job that, in 1876, it was decided to hand the responsibility over to a brigade that came to be known as the Wokingham Volunteer Fire Brigade.” Mr Bell said he was delighted to complete the book – his 26th about the town – and hoped it would prove to be an interesting read.

He said: “Early equipment comprised mainly of manual pumps and brooms to beat out the flames.

“The pumps were drawn by two horses and required thirty men to operate them. Quite often there wasn’t a nearby pond to draw water so they could only remove items from the flames and watch it burn out.” He added steam-driven pumps were brought in at the end of the 19th century and were also used for social events including making tea and boiling vegetables. At Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations the firemen took charge of roasting the ox and boiling the vegetables in the Market Place.

Mr Bell also analyses the history of the fire brigade horses – which were kept at The Molly Miller pub in Station Road – and the introduction of motorised engines in 1914.

He added the volunteer service became defunct in 1941 when the National Fire Service was created by the amalgamation of the wartime National Auxiliary Fire Service and the local authority fire brigades.

The booklet costs £3 and will be on sale in the Wokingham Town Hall, Wokingham Lib-rary in Demark Street and Emmbrook Post Office in Reading Road.