Ipswich Transport Museum
Preserving the transport heritage of Ipswich since 1965, and now supported by the Friends of the Ipswich Transport Museum. The Ipswich Transport Museum is a Registered Charity No. 276626 and an Accredited Museum, number RD890.
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The Ipswich Fire Service

The first "fire service" in Ipswich dates back over 400 years. In 1564 regulations were issued by the Great Court, or early council, under which every Burgess was required to provide a leather bucket, known as a "Bobbett" for the purpose of fighting fires in the mainly wooden buildings lining the narrow streets. Further efforts in 1568 saw the Town Treasurer being required to buy, for each parish, ladders and cromes, or long rakes, for pulling burning thatch off buildings. He was evidently not too diligent for in 1631 there were only two of each in the town.

By the time the nineteenth century arrived, insurance companies had become established, and they quickly realised that providing fire cover was cheaper than paying out on insurance claims. This was the era of fire marks, where a plaque affixed to a building was a sign that it was covered by insurance with a particular company. No plaque, no fire engine! In Ipswich the Suffolk Alliance Fire Office was predominant and as a consequence maintained two large and three small manual fire appliances, manned by a total of twenty- eight part time firemen. It is interesting to speculate if this is the reason for the part time or volunteer tradition in the fire service, which continues to this day. In 1875 the town council elected to form an Ipswich Fire Brigade with a full time Superintendent at an annual salary of 78.

Waterworks Street was perhaps an obvious choice for the quaintly termed Fire Engine Station, no lack of water here! The hand operated pumps were soon joined by a steam driven pump of 250 gallons capacity, presumably horse drawn, in 1884. This was joined by a second similar machine of 450 gallons capacity in 1899, both steamers lasting until the twenties.

In 1899 a move to Bond Street, just up the road from Waterworks Street was made, in to purpose built premises. One problem in those days was to gather in horses to move the appliances around. A notice in a directory published in the 1980s says, "Any alarm of fire in town or country should be taken to the above station (Waterworks Street), and, if possible, notice should be given to Mr. Bradly, at the Sea Horse Hotel, in Key Street, St. Clements, where the horses are kept." The Royal Horse Artillery, stationed in Ipswich Barracks, would also lend horses and men for a major fire. They also kept their own fire engine, which was also used, as in August 1911 when Greyfriars Works burned down.

A series of major fires in the early part of this century caused the brigade to purchase a 50 foot fire escape in 1912, built by Shand, Mason & Co. for 320. 1918 was a significant year as the first motor fire engine, a Ford Model T registered DX 1831, was purchased, followed by a motorised pump the following year, registered DX 2081. Horses were abandoned soon after and an additional motor pump was purchased in 1923. In the same year a system of electric calling fire alarms was inaugurated, extending to twelve places around the town. It is believed that one was situated at the top of Grove Lane at the start of Foxhall Road, painted bright red, with a large brass plunger to call the fire station.

By 1935 the fleet consisted of one self propelled pump with 50' escape, one self propelled pump, one trailer pump, one fire tender and a staff of 6 permanent and 24 auxiliaries. Various photographs of this period show that the early Model T's may have been superseded, as at least two well equipped vehicles are shown in a procession during 1935.

The Ipswich Fire Brigade was supplemented by various works fire brigades, of which the Orwell Works Fire Brigade of Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies was probably the largest and most organised.

In 1938 the Ipswich Fire Brigade bought a new Leyland Cub FK7 pump with a metal escape, registered PV 4974. It had the distinction of being the first fully enclosed limousine style vehicle in the fleet, and for that reason was not liked by crews at first. Within a short time the Second World War broke out, and local fire brigades such as Ipswich found themselves totally incapable of meeting the demands that were made of them. All fire brigades were brought under the control of the government through the National Fire Service. Out went the bright red liveries and in its place the drab overall grey, with white markings around mudguards to aid sighting in wartime "blackout" conditions. It was a fundamental change in organisation, and for Ipswich, the permanent loss of an individual identity. After the war a new Suffolk and Ipswich Fire Service was formed in which Ipswich had the leading role as the Headquarters, but of a much larger and more diverse service.

The wartime operations were vastly different to peacetime. In order to provide some security, a second fire station was established in Wherstead Road just by the railway bridge. In addition, various fire engines and trailer pumps were based in other premises to provide a quicker reaction to local fires or bombings. Priory Heath depot was one of these, and that fact may explain the large air raid shelter provided there. The number of people involved in the fire service rose to record numbers, with Civil Defence personnel involved in "Fire Watching" and "Air Raid Precautions".

Various make shift arrangements had to be made especially at the outbreak of war. Trailer pumps could be towed by cars or small vans, various small commercials could be converted to rescue tenders with ladders and buckets or stirrup pumps. Eventually purpose built machines were produced to standard designs, many of which lasted in the postwar brigades until the 1960s.

Post war saw the establishment of the present fire services based largely upon counties. An Auxilliary Fire Service was established to complement the full time brigades, working with the Civil Defence organisation. Both of these have disappeared, along with the distinctive green livery of the AFS.