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A peek into the past

Have you filled in your census? Last weekend - Sunday 21 March - was UK census day; the survey that's held every 10 years and provides a snapshot of the people and households in England and Wales.

The first UK census was held in 1801 and, with the exception of World War II, has continued every decade since then. As the records up to 1911 have been publicly released, these census returns provide a treasure trove of information for history researchers - and that includes offering a fascinating glimpse into the past life of the building that is now our museum.

You might not think that the census - which records information based on where people live - is much use in researching the history of a busy working police, fire and ambulance station. But as well as being a workplace it was also a home to those who lived as well as worked within its walls.

When the station opened in 1900 it included accommodation for up to 21 single men and an adjoining three-storey house – called the Inspector’s or Superintendent’s house – for a senior member of the service and his family.

The census shows that in 1901 this house was home to Police Inspector Frederick Andrew, his wife Sarah and their five children. Inspector Andrew came from a police family; two brothers were officers and his eldest son, also Frederick, would later serve on the force.

Andrew joined the police in 1882 and rose quickly through the ranks. He was made a full inspector in June 1900, just a month before West Bar opened. His family might well have been the first inhabitants of the Inspector’s house.

Inspector Andrew was clearly held in high esteem by his colleagues and the city as a whole. When he died suddenly in 1911, aged 48, he was widely mourned. A newspaper obituary remarked, “Even the thieves that he so cleverly out-manoeuvred regarded him with a sort of affection”. One colleague said, “We could not have had a better chief. There was never a more popular officer.”

Detective Superintendent Andrew, as he had become, was given a grand funeral in Sheffield, attended by the city’s great and good. Among them was the Second Officer of Sheffield Fire Brigade, Frederick Hadwick, who by then was living in the house at West Bar station that had once been the late detective’s home.

Hadwick was the officer in charge of West Bar and the 1911 census records him living there with his second wife, Mary, and son Arthur. We know he had been widowed some time after 1901 and had remarried in around 1905. When the family moved into West Bar and when they left is unknown, but records show that in 1916 Hadwick was promoted to Superintendent of the brigade which may have led to a change of address.

Using the census to follow the stories of the rank and file ‘police firemen’ who lived at West Bar is more difficult. Returns from 1901 and 1911 show firefighters born across seven counties, and as far afield as Ireland, serving in Sheffield. As all those living at the station, aside from the senior officer, were single men many of them may not have stayed long at West Bar but moved nearby if and when they married or even changed profession.

What can be glimpsed through the census, however, is the impact World War I had on West Bar as the flow of fit, active men into the forces saw brigade numbers fall. One of those that signed up to 'do their bit' was Henry Fotherby, a native of Lincolnshire and recorded in the 1911 census as a fireman living as West Bar. A member of the Machine Gun Corps, he died on 10 October 1918, aged 33, after contracting malaria on active service and is buried in the Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery in Syria.

He was not the only former resident of West Bar station to lose his life in the conflict. Two sons of Inspector Frederick Andrew, Joseph and John, were killed. Joseph, the elder of the two, was a Lance Corporal who died on the infamous first day of the Somme in July 1916, serving with the 12th battalion of the York and Lancaster regiment - the Sheffield City Battalion. He was 21 years old. Gunner John Andrew, of the Royal Field Artillery, was killed on 21 March 1918 aged just 20. Tragically, Sarah Andrew was to lose another of the children who had once called West Bar home; her daughter Sarah passed away in 1933 aged just 41.

For a male-dominated profession it’s unusual to get a peek into the role women played in the fire service, but the census provides just that. West Bar employed a matron to manage day-to-day housekeeping duties and in 1901 that role was being performed by 31-year-old widow Edith Gosling, who lived at the station with her two young children.

Edith’s husband Fred was a former police constable and soldier who had been killed during the Boer War. Local newspaper reports of the time covered the news of Fred's death at the Modder River in South Africa, and also recorded that the Sheffield force provided financial assistance to his family. Perhaps employing Edith was a way of providing a home and an income for the young widow and her children.

By 1911 50 year old Elizabeth McGlade had taken on the job of matron, living with her son, Ernest, a serving firefighter, and her milliner daughter May. During this period it was common for the matron to be a family member of one of the brigade and it seems Elizabeth was following this pattern.

Although the census only provides the briefest snapshot of life during the many years that West Bar was a working station - just one day in decade of comings and goings - it’s a great source of information to discover more about the people who once called it home. And the 1921 census is not too far away from being released; who knows what else we'll discover then!

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