Three Good Questions

The East Kent Fire Brigades (1879)

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Three Good Questions

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about historical research, which will feature news articles, adverts, and other sources mostly from Britain in the 19th century.

Just for fun, imagine you stumbled across the article reproduced below during your research. What could you learn from it? How many research rabbit holes would it lead you down? In what new directions might it take your writing?

If you interrogate the image and words closely, what Three Good Questions would you want answers to first? You can send me your suggestions via the form at the bottom of the page.

I’ll collate the questions, and begin to answer some of them, in a follow-up post. Subscribers to the ThreesWrite Newsletter will receive that before it’s published on the website.

Here are my first Three Good Questions:

  1. Does the top-right inset show a semaphore signal tower? (If so, what was its purpose? Was it just built for the demonstration or as a permanent feature in Westgate-on-Sea and other towns?)
  2. To what extent did Edmund Davis’s resort become a commercial success?
  3. Were Edmund Davis and Captain Henry Davis related?


Illustrated London News (27th September 1879)

The East Kent Fire Brigades (Illustrated London News 27th September 1879)


A competitive exhibition of skill among the fire brigades of different towns in the Isle of Thanet and East Kent was held on the 15th inst., at Broadstairs, for the second time, in the pleasure-grounds of Mr. Edmund F. Davis, at St. Peter’s Cottage. That gentleman, who is owner of the manor and estate of Westgate-on-Sea, adjacent to Margate, and of the Granville estate at St. Lawrence-on-Sea, Ramsgate, had invited a large company of visitors and spectators upon this occasion. The recent great improvements and embellishments of the place, which is likely to become a fashionable resort and residence for people who like the sea air, were also inspected and admired. The fire-engines which attended were eight in number, all fully manned; two from Margate, which did not compete, and one from Ramsgate, one from Broadstairs, and one respectively from Deal, Sandwich, Ashford, and Westgate-on-Sea; the Ashford one, a steamer by Merryweather. They marched in procession, under command of Mr. Henry E. Davis, captain of the Westgate, Broadstairs, and St. Peter’s fire brigades, through Margate and on to Broadstairs, accompanied by the Margate band of music. The Mayor and Town Councillors of Margate present. Having arrived, the trials of skill and quickness were begun. They were “dry drills,” no water being used with the engines. The programme included four drills, the first with six men, the second with four, the the third with two, and the last single-handed. The engines in each drill were put in complete working order — that is to say, the required number of lengths of hose were got ready, the dam set up, fore-carriage locked, pole and sway-bars unshipped, branch screwed on, and levers turned over. Great accuracy was shown by all the men in their work, scarcely a hitch occurring in the whole course of the proceedings. Besides Captain Davis, his fellow honorary secretary of the Kent Fire Brigade Association, Mr. Sidney Wilmot, captain of the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade, and Mr. John Knaggs, from Westgate-on-Sea, overlooked the competition, and assisted in organising the performances. The four drills were got through by the Deal brigade in six minutes and five seconds; the Broadstairs team occupied five seconds longer. At the close of the competition, about sunset, the three prizes (which were provided by Mr. Edmund Davis) were presented in the following order of merit:— 1, Deal; 2, Broadstairs; 3, Sandwich. During the day, which appeared to have been kept as a holiday, the band of the 2nd Kent Artillery Volunteers from Faversham, and the band from Margate, added considerably to the enjoyment of the visitors. In the evening Mr. and Mrs. Davis entertained a party of friends to dinner.

Source: Illustrated London News (27th September 1879)



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