OLD DEVONPORT . UK
www.olddevonport.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 21, 2016
Webpage revised: June 13, 2018

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DEVONPORT VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE

The Borough of Devonport had a very easy solution to dealing with fires: leave it to the Royal Dockyard's Merryweather fire engine "Sutherland".  Besides, the Royal Citadel in Plymouth also has an engine and there was the one belonging to the West of England Fire and Life Assurance Company's Shand and Mason fire engine as well.  Plymouth, which had formed its first fire brigade in 1863, and East Stonehouse, whose brigade dated from 1875, could be relied upon to respond if called, couldn't they?.  And besides quite a few of the Royal Naval ships moored in the Hamoaze and Royal Dockyard also had their own fire teams and appliances.  Presumably the fact that they had to be loaded in to a boat, rowed ashore and off-loaded before being rushed to the scene of the fire was considered of little consequence when speed was essential.  For a Town that was so involved with gunpowder the Council was very complacent.

It was not until 1888 that the Borough formed its own volunteer fire brigade, with the former Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Mr John Francis Burns, as its Chief Officer.  At first the Brigade was equipped with two manual engines but these were replaced in August 1900 by a Merryweather Greenwich  Gem steam engine, which was duly named "Annie" by Mrs Annie Hornbrook, the wife of the Mayor of Devonport.  A Second Officer was appointed and there were twenty firemen.

The inhabitants of the Ancient Parish of Saint Budeaux had to manage on their own until 1901, a few years after the Borough of Devonport had absorbed a large chunk of the Parish, when they were supplied with some fire appliances by the Devonport brigade.  However, as the Saint Budeaux Ratepayers' Association complained at their first annual meeting on Thursday January 31st 1901: 'their hydrants were of two different threads and in case of fire the work of connecting them with the hoses would be largely dependent on the efficiency of the person using them.'  It is interesting that this problem of different threads was not understood until the Blitz of March 1941.

Devonport Corporation purchased a new motor fire engine and escape during 1914 at a cost of 1,150.  By then the Devonport Fire Brigade had their central station at the rear of the Town Hall in Ker Street, for which the telephone number was Devonport 276.  Mr Burns was now the Superintendent and lived at number 6 Argaum Villas, Stoke, telephone number Devonport 32.  His Deputy Superintendent was Mr E Dart, of 15 Haddington Road, Keyham.  His telephone number was Devonport 374.  There were also 'two firemen on day duty', Messrs O May and H Symons.  There were plenty of fire appliances stationed throughout the Borough.  There was an engine and hose-reel station at the rear of Albert Road, for which Mrs Baker, in Keppel Place, held the keys.  There was a hose-reel station at Devonport Workhouse in Melville Road, for which the caretaker of Ford School held the keys.  There was a Lock-up at Morice Town, for which the telephone number was Devonport 29.  Mr D Herd at 25 Barton Avenue held the keys of a Hose Reel Station at Alexandra Park, Keyham Barton.  Fire Alarms were provided by number 10 Johnston Terrace; by number 4 Stuart Road; by the National Provincial Bank in Fore Street; by Alfred Road and Cambridge Road; at the north end of Molesworth Road; by the Royal Albert Hospital in Marlborough Street; and at 15 Haddington Road, the Deputy Superintendent's private residence.  Saint Budeaux Railway Station and Saint Budeaux National School also had fire appliances stationed there.   

Following the amalgamation of the Three Towns in November 1914, both the Devonport and East Stonehouse volunteer fire brigades were disbanded in 1916 and control handed over to the Plymouth Borough Police and Fire Brigade, under Chief Constable J D Sowerby.  Devonport's Fire Station remained at the rear of the Town Hall in Ker Street but which of Plymouth's engines was stationed there is not known.

Plymouth's Police and Fire Brigade head quarters were moved to Greenbank on Thursday February 29th 1935, where five fire engine could be housed.  On August 18th 1941 all the country's fire brigades became part of the National Fire Service, under Mr George Drury, who on April 1st 1948 became the Chief Fire Officer of the newly formed City of Plymouth Fire Brigade.

A Devonport registered fire escape, DR 7555, was the oldest vehicle to be taken over by the new City Brigade.  A Dennis 50hp with a 35 feet escape ladder, it had cost 1,350 when new in 1930.  It was sold in 1951 to Mr C A Nobbs, of Plymouth.

The Plymouth Police remained in charge of the Fire Brigade until 1938, when the Auxiliary Fire Service was formed in compliance with the Fire Brigades Act 1938.  The AFS was replaced as from Monday August 18th 1941 by the National Fire Service.  It took over the running of all the country's fire services.  The local area was commanded by Mr George Drury.  On Thursday April 1st 1948 the new City of Plymouth Fire Brigade was formed, with Mr Drury continuing as its Chief Fire Officer. 

A new fire station was provided for the National Fire Service in Molesworth Road, Stoke, and this was retained after the War as a replacement for the one at the rear of the Town Hall.  It was replaced in 1964 by the Camel's Head Fire Station.  The City of Plymouth Fire Brigade and the City of Exeter Fire Brigade were amalgamated with the Devon Fire Brigade in 1973.  This became the Devon Fire and Rescue Service from January 1st 1987 and the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service from April 1st 2007.