Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

By the time the Newbury Volunteer Fire Brigade received their first call-out in May 1879, Mr Brice Wilson had become their first captain. He led the brigade for nearly ten years until just before his death in 1887.

According to extracts from the Newbury Weekly News, in February 1884 at a dinner "brilliantly illuminated by electric light" held for the NVFB in the council chamber, Captain Wilson was presented with a solid silver helmet, epaulettes and an illuminated address.

The address, on behalf of past and present members of the NVFB, begged Captain Wilson's acceptance of the helmet and epaulettes "as a token of esteem and to mark our appreciation of your untiring energy for the welfare of the Brigade".

It is highly probable that the same helmet presented to Captain Wilson in 1884 is the one that was offered in Dreweatt Neate's silver and jewellery sale in Donnington Priory on November 3.

This extraordinary 10in (25cm) high 'Merryweather' pattern helmet with its comb chased with fire-breathing dragons and applied letters NVFB was hallmarked for Philip Smith Firmin, London, 1883. Together with a pair of epaulettes, it was offered for sale in the original oval black painted tin case with an applied brass plaque that reads, Firmin & Sons, Accoutrement Makers, 153 Strand & 13 Conduit St, London. An early photograph of an unidentified man wearing one of the helmets came with it.

How many were made is unknown. Members of the NVFD were held in very high regard locally and were often seen proudly wearing their brass or white metal ceremonial helmets at civic functions with the Mayor. In a postcard titled Proclaiming George V at Newbury on his June 22, 1911 coronation, there appear to be at least ten men outside the town hall wearing such helmets. Still, the helmets are remarkably rare and hardly ever appear at auction.

Viewed extensively at the saleroom and previously at the local Newbury Show, the helmet attracted some museum interest and a lot of local Newbury interest. It sold to a dealer bidding on behalf of a private client at £5200 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium).