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Sawbridgeworth Fire Brigade - The Fire Station
[Fire Station on the Map] [Birds Eye View ]
Page last updated: 13/01/2023
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Fire Station 1905

The Original Building - official opening 4th April 1906 - taken out of service March 17th 1981.  The bell tower is clearly visible.
This picture, probably taken in the 1920's, shows the Fire Station in Church Street as it was in 1905-6 when it was built and the external iron staircase to the East side that in the early 1940's was moved and rebuilt to the rear to enable a single storey side extension to be built for a second/third appliance. The notice board on the side was undoubtedly related to the Council Offices which the external staircase led to. The first floor rooms were integrated with the fire station after the Council Offices moved to new premises in The Forebury. The picture is taken from an angle which just shows the edge of one of the pair of cottages that were on the corner of Vantorts Road and Church Street making the road very narrow in width to the Church House. The only reason that the Ford Water Tender could be housed in the extension was the absence of these cottages, as with a Trailer Pump on tow it was almost impossible to turn out of the Station into Church Street. Turnouts were always over the rough unmade-up area of the cottages and past the King William IV, except when the two annual fairs closed off the Fair Green and Ducklings  Lane. Then the turnout was a two part affair - the Water Tender first into Church Street then the Trailer Pump manhandled and hitched.
When the Council vacated the first floor an internal open 'trap' was formed in the floor of the main appliance room, at the South East corner and a vertical ladder fixed to the wall to give direct access from and to the fire station itself. One of the reasons for the very basic ladder arrangement was to save space, almost as soon as the fire station was completed it was found to be restrictive in space because of the need to house a towing vehicle "tractor"(*) for the steam fire engine. One remnant of the Steamer Fire Engine remained visible to the end. The position of the one time ash pit for raking out the coal fire always remained visible in the very middle of the station floor, where the pit had been back filled and concreted over.
(*) The, so called, "tractor" was believed to be a Hudson Aeroplane open top type vehicle, adopted for its well revered pulling power. It was still there at the beginning of WWII and was used to tow a trailer pump, presumably the Coventry Climax pump eventually hitched and towed by the N.F.S Austin TV. This combination was still housed in the main fire station until the extension was built and the N.F.S Austin Towing Vehicle was supplied. It is not known what happened to the "tractor".

King William IV Public House Originally the horses used to pull the fire engine had been housed in stables at the rear of the side entrance to the King William IV Public House in Vantorts Road (Top Left). Presumably the fire engine  itself (Manual and Steamer) was also housed there. It is not known whether the horses were still in use when the new fire station came into use. The integration of the first floor rooms proper was not fully established until the late 1940's or even early 1950's. At this time a wooden staircase was fitted and the 'trap' and ladder removed.
The picture (Bottom Left) was found displayed in the George IV public house in Knight Street in 2016. The date is unknown but this could be prior to 1906 when the Church Street Fire Station was officially opened and is endorsed as the brigade turning out with the horses and from presumably its then 'home' at the King William IV Public House.

Fire Station as extended in 1940

Enlargement For War. By the time of this picture the main doors had been extended to open to the full arch. Also note the large stone against the remaining cottage to prevent vehicles, especially fire engines, hitting the wall! (see Ford Water Tender above)
The addition bay to the East side was built very early in the war, one can only presume at the behest of the National Fire Service and I can in fact just recall it being built. As well as the front doors shown in the picture, corresponding plain doors were also at the rear, leading out to the back yard with the Hose Tower, topped by the Siren in the war and afterwards. This addition was only built to a height suitable to house the type of war time appliances of the time. The height was later to preclude the brigade of a more modern upgrading of appliance - in the early days of Hertfordshire Fire Brigade they  'struggled' to fit an appliance with a Wheeled Escape into either bay without success! This could have prolonged the life of the 1935 Leyland appliance but Bishop's Stortford's (black) Leyland was eventually converted and fitted with the Wheeled Escape Ladder to cover the fire cover area. This addition was augmented by other alterations. The original one ground floor room at the rear of the main building was split to create a Control Room plus two sets of ablutions, male and female because of course women were now to be accommodated. Upstairs on the first floor the main room at the front became a games / training room and at the back, Northwest end, a kitchen was installed. The other room at the back into which the iron staircase led became the bunk room. I can remember this being full of bunk beds to sleep or rest those on duty overnight during the war.

The Bell  and Bell Tower. The bell itself has been preserved at the new fire station in Station Road - far left..
The Bell Tower was in use right up to 1947-48 and indeed on a few occasions after that when something went wrong with the siren! The bell itself had a very distinguishable tone and was said to have been especially selected to avoid confusion with any
of the eight bells of Great St. Mary's Church close by. It was rung by a bell pull on the ground floor in the South West corner of the main fire station and the manner in which the bell was rung to call the firemen was something of a special frequency. Like all things mechanical they can go wrong and I can recall two occasions - one when the bell rope broke and another when the bell suddenly became very stiff in operation requiring the Leyland Ladder to the roof to grease the bearings. The other three photos above record the removal of the bell after the brigade were installed in the, again purpose built, new fire station in Station Road in March 1981. The middle photo shows much had changed already with the added Sub Station built in 1940 - a window had replaced the doors of the Sub Station.

The Back Yard Area.
The West side of the Control Room back door lead immediately outside where to the left was a boiler house with coke boiler and the original single toilet. The latter was always left accessible (unlocked) so that the local Council Workers had toilet facilities. The boiler was like most boilers of its day - if burning conditions were not just right it had often gone out and usually still full of fuel! There were many times when the place was freezing cold and no hot water - it took ages to raise the temperature through the 2" circulation pipes and just three radiators in the whole place, the Melton material heavy uniforms taking ages to dry or air!
The hose tower, used to dry wet canvas hose after use or cleaning, was erected sometime in the late 1920's but the only written record found is that of it being repainted in 1938 by the firemen, subject to the Urban Council supplying the paint. The platform on the top on which the siren was eventually mounted had a previous special purpose. This platform was about 30' from the ground and made a very suitable facility to practice rescue using the 35' extension ladder supplied with the Leyland Cub Fire Appliance purchased in 1935. There was another rather precarious platform under the main one so that there was somewhere to stand to feed the hoses over the hose drying / hanging rails. The other way of ascending the tower was using a vertical steel ladder fixed permanently to the tower. The tower stood on a purposely constructed base of weather resistant 'blue' Staffordshire bricks which drained to a centre drain to release water from draining hoses.

Other Buildings.
In theory there was always a back entrance to the fire station yard but which was really the access to what was the Sawbridgeworth Urban District Council yard. The gate to this yard lead onto the rather narrow unmade driveway at the South side of the Fawbert & Barnard School and then onto Knight Street. At about the time of the building of the extension to the fire station a building was also erected at this yard gateway entrance. This was for, at least initially, to house a special vehicle used for testing gas masks. This was built during my first year at school and I watched the progress from the school playground. At about the same time I had my first experience of being subjected to a tear gas test of my gas mask. There was never a defined boundary in the yard, albeit it was usually accepted that the fire station yard ended at the North end of the concrete area fronting the hose tower.
Looking North from the fire station, other single storey buildings were down the left hand side and possibly still remain. These were originally hastily erected at the start of the second world war for the Air Raid Warden Post (ARP). The building nearest the fire station had a separate entrance and was partly shared by the fire brigade supposedly for extra storage but was put to excellent use as a toy workshop early in the war. Fireman on night duty spent their free time making wooden toys (mainly in plywood) for local evacuated children - toys of course were hard to come by. Several of the fireman were employed at Walter Lawrence Joinery so one can only assume the source of the wood.

The 4 Minute Warning!

The Black TelephoneIn the 'dark days' of the late 1950's and the threat of nuclear war the middle building of the ARP premises contained a Black Telephone, similar to that left but with no dial. The fire station Control Room had an identical one - these were for "the four minute warning" of attack. These telephones if lifted had a very distinct repeating beep note at about two second intervals to show that they were 'alive'. I think these were still in place when I left the brigade in 1962! Worrying times! 
You can hear the beep by clicking the telephone with your mouse!  (Let the file download to your 'player' then play it again to get the correct timing! - File size 377kb)

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The New Fire Station (put into service 17th March 1981) that was built in Station Road to replace the original in Church Street which is now a Decorating Store. The Station Road site was previously the Sawbridgeworth Urban District Council Road Repairs depot and earlier was fronted by the Blacksmith's premises of W. Hutley & Son, later E. (Ted) Hutley. Picture left taken around 1998. . This photo taken in the spring 2016 shows the public access defibrillator installed outside of the station for public use (accessed by dialling 999 for ambulance and if the ambulance service believe that getting this defibrillator to the casualty would be quicker than they can get an ambulance or first responder there, they tell the caller to collect it and provide the access code for the key pad). Other changes since the earlier photo
indicate the windows have been upgraded to UPVC. Also the front and side doors have been upgraded from wood to aluminium style doors. A UPVC window frame installed in tower is to aid more realistic entry's into buildings. The Drill yard re-tarmac provides a safer surface and new LED flood lights illuminate the drill yard.
1988 View  
Two shots of the new fire station in Station Road that shows the full width of the bays available - photo taken in around 1988-1990. Two appliances housed at the time are Dennis E808 BMJ and HCB Angus MAA655T.

The trailer pictured was parked temporarily for a few days and belonged to one of brigade members - the paper notice to that effect is fastened to the canvas cover.

Photo taken and provided (June 2021) by Andy Ballisat.

THE MOVE FROM OLD to NEW in March 1981 Articles from the Herts & Essex Observer Newspaper (With acknowledgement to Joy Marshall for the copies)
Past and Present as seen in 1981 - PDF Download The 'New Home' Move - PDF Download
(Both pdf's have been captured in A3 size - Printed Out they will reveal better detail! )

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