Gallery: Carl traces proud story of a town’s fire heroes
- Credit: James Bass
A 129-year tradition will come to an end later this year when Southwold’s fire service moves out of the town to its new base in Reydon. The keys to the new building in Fountain Way have officially been handed over and the move will take place over the coming months. But the proud history of the town’s old fire station will not be forgotten.
Crew commander Carl Bedford-Cuffe has been researching the fire service in Southwold, having originally become interested in it after being asked to contribute to a time capsule at the Sailors’ Reading Room.
He now hopes to produce a book based on what he has discovered.
The first fire station opened in Southwold in 1884 on the ground floor of the town hall in Market Square.
There was a set of double doors for the engine and town council business continued to be conducted in the second-floor chamber.
The fire appliance was drawn by two horses, which were stabled at the rear of the building. The fire hose was powered by a hand-operated pump.
The crew wore leather boots, woollen tunics and trousers and brass helmets – although the uniform was heavy and provided little protection from a fire.
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The helmets were phased out following the introduction of electricity when firemen were at risk of electrocution through the brass.
In 1914, the horse-drawn fire appliance was upgraded and fitted with a steam boiler pump. The fire would be lit on the boiler as soon as an emergency call came in to allow time for the steam to build up enough pressure to maintain a fire-fighting jet.
Adnams gave the town its first motorised fire engine in 1935 when the brewer donated an old petrol-driven lorry. It was converted and fitted with a steam pump by Belcher’s Garage and kept in Trinity Street on premises that later became Baggott’s the butchers.
The town has always had a retained service apart from during the Second World War, when German bombs meant that it was essential to have full-time fire cover.
To cope with the increased demand, Southwold fire service was issued with a van, a motorbike and a trailer carrying the town’s first engine-powered pump and hose.
The firemen, who were stationed at St Barnabas House in Godyll Road, were kept busy attending bombed-out houses, including an incident in Marlborough Road where the end of a terrace was completely destroyed.
Southwold fire service was called back to that same site in 1985, when builders discovered an unexploded bomb while taking down a wall to build an extension.
The bomb was removed and exploded at a sand pit in Reydon where the Adnams distribution depot now stands.
German bombs also caused several fishing boat fires long after the war had ended. The boats would trawl up phosphorous in their nets, which would ignite when it came out of the water and made contact with the air.
Southwold’s first purpose-built fire engine arrived in the 1950s. By this time, the fire station was on the site of the old gas works, where Crick Court sheltered accommodation has since been built.
Southwold fire service moved to its current home in Station Road in 1965, the building being equipped with a training yard and tower.
Mr Bedford-Cuffe said he was sad to be leaving Southwold but the new station offered better and more modern facilities and it was more convenient for the nine retained fire-fighters, who all lived in Reydon.
He said: “I think it is sad. My dad joined in 1974 and I spent all my life down here when I was a kid.”
“But I am also looking forward to it.”
“The old one does need a lot of work. It really has seen its day. The new station is purpose-built and has better facilities. It has got a new training tower like we have never had before.”