Fire plug

 

The first time I encountered the term ‘fire plug’ was when I was researching the life of my great grandfather Franz Ginsberg, who died in 1936. As an 18 year old, he went from his home in the German Empire to the South African town of King Williams Town in 1880.  By 1885, he had established a factory for making matches. Such factories are full of raw materials that are prone to catching fire. As his business grew, so did his need for a reliable water supply for dealing with fires. 

Water in the Eastern Cape was expensive in the late 19th century. Franz had to apply to the town council for permission to increase the supply of water to his factory. He also needed permission to install more fire plugs. In my published biography of my great grandfather, I wrote:

“Almost a decade later, in 1898, Franz and his brother-in-law Mr Siegfried Salomon (who married Franz’s sister Ida and was a Town Councillor for a while) both applied to the Town Council to have ‘fireplugs’  placed on their premises. This was allowed on condition that the applicants paid the expense of placing them there; and that they would be liable to other charges including a fine of £25 if they used the water from these for any purpose other than the extinction of fire.”

Recently, I visited Windsor Castle, where I saw several signs such as is shown in the illustration to this blog article. They indicate the locations of fire plugs in the castle. Had I not seen the term ‘fire plug’ before while writing about my ancestor, I might not have noticed these small old-fashioned signs.

So, what, you might be wondering, is or was a fire plug? The modern term for them is ‘fire hydrant’. The fire plugs, which were precursors of fire hydrants were simply holes made in the water mains pipe, which were blocked with a plug. The plug could be removed when water was required to extinguish fires.

I suspect that you are by now asking yourself if Franz ever had to make use of the plugs he had requested. Well, he did occasionally:

In February 1893, the Cape Mercury newspaper published a long article about Franz’s match factory. It begins with a spark of humour:

In December last an unusual illumination made a “King” industry more widely known than before. A fire broke out in, and consumed the drying shed at Messrs. Ginsberg & Co.’s Lucifer Match Factory, which is situated in Victoria Street. The loss was not great, but the advertisement was extensive – and cheap – for it was gratuitous.’”

 

If you want to know more about my ancestor who went to South Africa in search of prosperity and later became a senator in that country, please read:

Soap to Senate: A German Jew at the dawn of apartheid

by Adam Yamey.

It is available from: lulu.com, Amazon, bookdepository.com  and Kindle

 

 

 

Huberta the hippo

 

We visited South Africa in 2003. Wherever we parked, young men offered to ‘look after’ our hired car for a small fee. It was NOT a good idea to turn down their offers!

My great-grandfather, Franz Ginsberg, began industrial enterprises in King Williams Town in the late 19th century.

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Once part of my great-grandfather’s factory in King Williams Town

We drove the short distance to the Amathole Museum (formerly called the ‘Kaffrarian’) in King Williams Town. Our car-minder was David, a friendly young man, who appeared to live in a derelict car parked near the museum…

We returned to the museum on the next day. We received a friendly greeting from David, our car minder from the day before.  He offered to wash our car whilst we were away. As it needed this, we agreed. We met the curator again. She had prepared a vast number of photocopies for me. I returned the photograph album, we chatted briefly, and bid farewell.

We had a quick look around the large museum. One exhibit in the Industry Section was a poster exhorting people not to buy imported matches but instead to buy locally made matches, that is matches made by Ginsberg & Co (my great-grandfather’s company). Near this is a picture of another large enterprise, King Tanning.

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My great-grandfather’s home in King williams Town

The museum has an enormous collection of stuffed animals.  The curator said that this collection was better than the Kruger National Park, and that the animals were easier to see, as they don’t move around! The best known of these animals is Huberta, the Hippo. This creature, in the 1920s, wandered many 100’s of miles south from its tropical habitat in the north of the country and passed through King Williams Town. Near Port Elizabeth, an ignorant farmer ended her life by shooting. The body of Huberta was sent to London for taxidermy before returning to South Africa to its present home.

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David, the car-minder, and his friends

After about an hour we left the museum. David and some of his friends had just started to clean our car. We watched them perform this procedure painfully slowly. Eventually, it was sort of done. To some extent it was a bit cleaner that before! We said good-bye and David asked to visit him again. He asked us to bring him a shirt and a pair of shoes on our next visit to King Williams Town.