London Fire Brigade

Family of most famous Ilford firefighter visits station

16 November 2015

The life and career of Ilford Fire Station’s most famous firefighter was celebrated as his family made a special visit on the eve of the Brigade's 150th anniversary.

Second Officer Alfred ‘Tom’ Tingay OBE, joined the Brigade as Ilford’s first professional firefighter at the end of the 19th Century. During his 32 year career he saw fire engines change from horse-drawn to petrol driven and became a local celebrity in his own right.

“Burly Form”

The local paper - Ilford Recorder – marked his retirement in 1930 and said:

“Tom’s burly form is well known throughout the town and he is notable for his extreme geniality. There are very few fires in Ilford that Tom Tingay has not attended.”  Referring to a big fire in a commercial premises in 1924, the newspaper wrote: “ Mr Tingay had a fight then such as suited his simple tastes.  As at other fires, he was in the thick of it.”

The article continued:

“Among the many accomplishments of Mr Tingay is the art of quick rising. He lives about 30 yards from the fire station in Ley Street. When the bell rang in his house he was in bed. He rose and dressed and started off down the garden path before the bell had finished ringing and that bell rings for 32 seconds. Other members of the Brigade have attempted to beat the record, but, though they are younger men, have so far failed at all attempts.” 

On his retirement, the then Chief Officer said:

“Tom Tingay carried out his duties to the letter and had played a straight game. His honesty and integrity, loyalty and devotion to duty was in the highest terms.”

“Looked after really well by the watch”

One of Tom’s brothers, William and a son, Robert were also firefighters, but the connection with the service faded over the years. However, a chance meeting between the partner of a serving firefighter and a Tingay family descendant led Ilford’s red watch to invite a group of Tingay relatives to tour the current station.

Tom’s direct descendants – his granddaughter Marjorie, aged 78 and his great great grandson, Ryan aged 8 were among the family group, including Ryan’s father, Neil and mother, Kerry. Margorie Jennings, who can remember her grandfather Tom looking after her as a young girl said:

“We had a lovely visit to the fire station and we were looked after really well by members of red watch, who were really interested in all our old photos. Ryan had the time of his life riding in a real fire engine and holding a fire hose.”

Split a door with one blow

The family brought along some heirlooms, such as Tom Tingay’s retirement present in 1930, an eight day clock, a splendid collection of archive photos, cartoons and newspaper articles and his OBE, which was awarded for his role fighting a fire in a munitions factory after a bombing raid during the Fire World War.

Perhaps due to his period as a blacksmith, Tom was renowned for his phenomenal physical strength. He could split a door in half with one blow of an axe or lift a fence post out of the ground that none of his colleagues could shift.