hartlepool history logo

Merryweather, Richard

Superintendent, Hartlepool Fire Brigade
No. 3 Church Walk, Hartlepool

Richard Merryweather was originally from Yorkshire. His father William was brother to Moses Merryweather, who at the age of 14 was apprenticed to a fire appliance manufacturer in London called, Hadley, Simpkin and Lott. Eventually the firm transferred to Mr Lott whose niece Mr Merryweather later married. Moses went on to inherit the firm and worked hard to make it one of the most respected and sought-after fire engine manufacturers in the World.

One man who gave much attention to the means of extinguishing fires during the early 1800s was the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. In 1820 one of the Duke’s country estates was completely destroyed by fire, the experience lead him to take an interest in the work of the Merryweather firm, and also to become great friends with the Merryweather family. The Duke had a curiosity for mechanics and was frequently seen ‘volunteering’ in the works at Long Acre – either in the fitting shop or the smithy. The Duke also had the best private Fire Brigade outside London at his residence, Stowe House in Buckinghamshire. In 1839, the palace was said to have eight fire engines, four of a smaller type situated on each floor of the building, and four larger engines stationed around the mansion. He built four elevated reservoirs within the palace that had suitable attachments for all engines and also had Merryweather make a powerful carriage engine. The Duke handpicked 24 men from his team of staff to form a Brigade. They were smartly outfitted and armed in the London Brigade fashion and were under the charge of an engineer from London.

It is thought that Richard Merryweather was that London engineer. It is known that Richard spent some time working for his uncle at Long Acre in his early twenties. He was trained to use and maintain fire fighting appliances and it seems, was trusted to publicly test them for potential clients.

In volume 38 of Mechanics Magazine and Journal of Science, Arts and Manufactures, it states that ‘upon the occasion of a recent incendiary fire at Tingewich, three miles from Buckingham, the efficient exertions of Mr. Richard Merryweather (Superintendent of the Stowe-fire engines) and his men were beyond praise’.

It was while Richard Merryweather was at Stowe that he met and married the Duke’s maid Elizabeth Mould, who was originally from Easton in Hampshire. Sometime after 1847 the couple moved to Hartlepool.  It is assumed that Richard left employment at Stowe House because that year the Duke was declared bankrupt. His debts totalled over a million pound and so he was forced to sell the contents of Stowe House – including his fire appliances. Richards father William had moved to Hartlepool some time earlier to start a ship-owning business and so he took his wife and three young children to start a new life.

Richard and Elizabeth Merryweather went on to have six children altogether, with one boy, Henry, dying in infancy. The family lived on the Headland, close to St Hilda’s, and played an active role in the community and church. Richard set up a business as an auctioneer selling homes and their contents’. As well as his duties as the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, from which he retired due to ill health in 1879, Richard also acted as as High Bailiff of the County Court and Councillor for the Borough. He was also one of the original 39 men made Freemen during the passing of the Freeman’s Land and Harbour Dues Act in 1851, and was also one of last surviving men from this group, dying in 1891 aged 77.

Related items :