• Well I never! Find out about some of the more unusual treasures in the Wedgwood Museum’s collections.

Fascinating Objects

  • by the Wedgwood Museum team

The Etruria Fire engine


Josiah I ordered a ‘one-third’ size fire engine, plus fitments, from Samuel Phillips, engine maker of New Surrey Street, Blackfriars, London in October 1783. In an invoice dated 9th October it is revealed that the ‘one-third size’ fire engine cost forty pounds. In addition there was:

one seven foot additional Suction Pipe - two pounds and ten shillings;
two 40 foot lengths of  Foming [sic] Pipe - seven pounds and ten shillings;
20 leather Buckets and painting JW - six pounds and ten shillings.

For painting the name Josiah Wedgwood on the engine itself a charge of two shillings was made – and the packing case and ‘cartage and wharfage’ of the fire engine from Blackfriars via the Thames, and the inland canal navigation system totalled two pounds, six shillings and three pence.

In all for the Etruria factory to have its very own fire engine a grand total of  fifty-eight pounds, eighteen shillings and three pence!

The fire engine was transported via sea and river to Gainsborough in  Lincolnshire, from where it was conveyed by the Trent & Mersey Canal to the factory. A further document in the Wedgwood archive dated 12th October 1833 reveals that replacement leather hose engine pipes were to be – ‘…forwarded by Pickfords in a few days’; and a note of the 19th October requested that the pipes – ‘…be kept in dry air but not warm – the maker says he will warrant them for 40 years.’ 

The fire engine was ‘manned ‘ by factory workers, and a photograph dating to August-September 1898 shows and names the crew while posing with the engine, which was still in use at the time. Each year the fire engine had to be tested by the Board of Trade’ to ensure that – ‘…it will shoot a good jet [of water] over the highest building on the works.’ 

Other documents comprise a small handwritten notebook which details some of the members of staff who manned the engine from 1848 to 1879. It also lists some of the firemen’s duties and responsibilities – and an entry for 1834 indicates that at the time ‘The uniform shall consist of Flannel Frock with red collar – and Flannel Trousers.’  Towards the back of the notebook details of various ‘fines’ are listed – where fire crewmembers had ‘transgressed’ outside the factory – particularly at the annual Stoke Wakes!


The Etruria fire engine is a truly fascinating object. Ordered by Josiah Wedgwood I it was an essential piece of machinery in a factory with such a great fire risk. Documentary evidence tells us that the engine’s crew was drawn from the workforce – and that the vehicle was kept in good working order, especially as it would be annually checked by the factory inspector. The Engine is on permanent display in The Wedgwood Museum.