Huntley & Palmers factory fire service helmet, £1150 at Bentley’s.

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Dating to the late 19th/early 20th century, it was estimated at £150-250 but sold to a phone bidder for £1150 in Cranbrook.

It was among 118 lots featuring fire helmets from all over the world that had been acquired by Jack Field, a former Kent firefighter. He collected over 40 years but is now downsizing.

Pre-sale, Bentley’s auctioneer Robin Fletcher told the BBC: “We’ve got helmets from all four corners of the world, from every continent and all of Europe, dating back to the late 1800s. The oldest one is from 1885 and the newest 2010.”

The example from Reading-based Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory fire brigade dates “from the days when there was no National Fire Service. Companies had their own fire services and this one is very, very sought after.”

In 1871 Alfred Palmer formalised arrangements and set up the factory fire brigade. It comprised over 100 men recruited from every department and 150 by 1900, with drill held every three months. The factory had an alarm system, hose reels, hydrants and booster pumps and small gear.

Field began collecting in 1973, the BBC added, starting with a brass helmet that had belonged to a colleague’s father-in-law from the Wadhurst (East Sussex) fire brigade.