John Bristow's Fire Engines

AN00440125_001_l.jpgBritish Museum

On March 25, 1748, there was a fire in Cornhill, at the center of the City of London. The London Magazine records the events in its Monthly Chronologer section:

“About One this Morning, a Fire broke out at Mr. Eldridge’s a Perriwig-Maker in Exchange-Alley, Cornhill, which prov’d one of the most terrible, before it was extinguished, that has happen’d since the Fire of London in 1666. The Flames in a few Minutes spread themselves 3 different Ways, and before Noon consumed, … very

nearly 100 Houses, about 20 of which fronted Cornhill, … notwithstanding all possible Means were used to stop them, there being upwards of 50 Engines, …”

Within days, William Henry Toms (active 1724-1765) engraved and published a print of the tragedy. Twelve years later, the copper plate was reprinted to decorate the top of a broadside advertising the services of the fire engine manufacturer John Bristow (active 1769-1795).

We recently acquired a copy of the print from the top of the broadside. The back of the sheet has been used as a manuscript bill, dated October 12 1787, relating to work carried out by Bristow on the fire engine belonging to the combined city parishes of St. Michael, Queenhithe and Holy Trinity. Possibly, Bristow kept a series of these prints to use for bills and receipts.


A Perspective View of Part of the Ruins of the Late Dreadful Fire which Happened in Cornhill, on March 25, 1748. Engraving ca. 1770; manuscript text 1787. Graphic Arts GAX 2012- in process


To see one of Bristow’s fire engines, visit the Bicester Local History Society: