The fire station next to the Methodist Church in Thornbury High Street was built in the winter of 1930/31.
On 31st October 1930 Charles Henry Parsons sold to the Thornbury Rural District Council part of a garden ground for the purpose of building a new Fire Station adjoining the High Street. The land sold included the Maclaine Memorial Fountain and the Council assumed responsibility for maintaining the monument.
Above we have a photograph taken showing the fire station about 1946. You will note that at this time the Maclaine Fountain was still between the doors of the fire station.
Later (as can be seen in the small coloured photograph below) the doors were widened, presumably because the new engines were bigger. The fountain was then moved to the top of Castle Street, where it remains today.
Almost two months before the land for the fire station was formally purchased, it had already been announced in the Gazette of 6th September 1930 that a tender of £626 had been accepted for the erection of the new station on this site. Fire Brigade officers were also appointed at this time. They were Chief Officer Mr Arthur Hewlett Wilkins, Second Officer Mr Samuel Phipps, Engineer Mr Edward John Clutterbuck and Senior Fireman Mr John Radford. Many of the firemen at the new station had already been fire officers for quite some time. John Radford for example was listed as early as 1916 as a fire officer.
The official opening of the new station was reported in the Gazette of March 5th 1931. It was described as “a new era in fire fighting in the Thornbury Rural Council’s area.” The thumbnail image on the left probably shows the fire station opening day – certainly there is bunting on the fire station and ribbon on the fire engine. Please click on the photograph for a larger image. The gentleman towards the centre of the photograph who is standing on the fire engine is the Chief Officer Arthur Hewlett Wilkins. He is wearing braid on his shoulders and a very noticeable big silver belt buckle.
It is interesting to see this photograph of the fire appliance. We have been sent some reminisces of childhood in Thornbury from a lady who moved here as a young child in 1937. She has a vivid memory of the fire station in the High Street and of the engine being pulled by a white horse kept in the field behind the fire station. She remembered that the horse had to be caught before it could be harnessed to go to the fire. The fire appliance here is definitely not horse drawn and so we love to hear from anyone with an explanation. Was there more than one appliance?
This was to be Thornbury’s first purpose built fire station. Previously the fire engine had been kept at the old malt house in St Mary Street and about 1902 it was in the Market Hall for a short period.
The fire brigade then in Thornbury, as it is now, was a retained fire brigade and the fire fighters were all volunteers who had full time employment elsewhere. Some of these were firemen for a very long time. One of those that we have written about was Frank Holpin who was a fireman for 21 years and only retired through ill health.
We have some information about how often the fire brigade was used in Thornbury as it was reported in 1937 that between 1930 and 1937 the fire engine had attended 100 fires.
The Gazette of July 10th 1937 tells us how Thornbury’s part time firemen were alerted to an emergency. Mr Arthur Charles Pitcher who made the comments in the article was the postmaster at this time. His business was at 28 High Street at Pye Corner and he had the telephone switchboard on his premises. This meant that he was able to say how quickly the men responded:
“every fireman’s house was connected with the telephone and a bell was rung when the fire alarm was given. During the day the siren at Thornbury Saw Mills, which could be heard for miles, also gave the warning. As soon as a driver and three men arrived at the station the engine went off to the fire and others followed by the Brigade car when they arrived. From the time he rang the Brigade until the engine passed his house was never more than seven minutes.”
We assume from Mr Pitcher’s description that although the firemen’s houses were connected to the telephone switchboard it was not actually a telephone that was installed in their houses but a line connected to a bell.
It is not clear whether Mr Pitcher was giving an unduly favourable description of the efficiency of the fire brigade as a newspaper report of September 1st 1945 suggests that all was not perfect in this system. At that time only five or six firemen were on the bell calling system. The fire force Commander requested that the installation of the call bell system should be quickly extended to at least 20 other men as often through no fault of the other men only two or three men were responding to the call.
It is interesting that Mr Pitcher refers to the fact that the fire alarm was the one at the Saw Mill. The Western Daily Press of 28th August 1937 explains that the recent fire at the Saw Mills had destroyed the fire alarm. The newspaper was able to report that the Fire Brigade in Thornbury was to have a new electric siren. This was to be purchased at a cost of £30 and placed over the Police Station in the High Street. At night there was the bell system in the houses of the firemen to summon them to the fire station but during the day the siren would be invaluable.
However as well as costing £30.00 the siren was unpopular because it was tested at 9.a.m on Sunday mornings. The Western Daily Press of 25th September 1937 reported on the feelings that this practice aroused and Mr Arthur Charles Pitcher, although a supporter of the Fire Brigade in general was very outspoken about having the peace of his Sunday morning ruined. The Clerk of the Council Mr Wicks was instructed to have the time of the testing altered.
The Western Daily Press of 12th March 1938 reported that the firemen were on the point of resignation because they were not being paid. This was because their payment came from the insurance companies were on occasion refusing to pay out. One instance quoted was a fire at Brookend Berkeley in which a house was totally destroyed and the lady who lived there was killed. The insurance company refused to pay the Fire Brigade – presumably because their efforts were to no avail. Mr Pitcher in his capacity as chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee suggested that the firemen should be paid at their practice rates whenever they were called out and the balance should be settled when the money was received from the insurance company concerned. It seems they were being paid one shilling an hour for practising and the Council agreed that the payment should be made as suggested, despite Mr Thompson’s statement that the firemen were not happy with the hourly rate and he felt that one shilling and sixpence an hour would be more reasonable.
On the 9th October 1939 the Western Daily Press reported on an accident that had arisen during one of the practices. The fire chief, Mr Arthur Wilkins, was thrown from the back of the fire engine as it rounded the bend near the Gas Works. He received concussion and a fracture of his left arm. We had been told that these injuries occurred when the fire station was opened in 1931 and that they were caused by Mr Wilkins not being used to the fire engine having a motor rather than a horse and consequently accelerating faster. Like many of these tales there was some truth in it but the story was not entirely correct.
People think of Thornbury as rural and peaceful but it is significant that in July 1945 the Gazette reported Sir Frederick Cripps D.S.O. the Civil Defence County Controller as saying that “the Thornbury area had suffered more from attacks from the Germans than perhaps any other area in the county. On 116 different occasions bombs fell in the area.” He went on to explain that in the last of these 116 attacks over 80 bombs, not to mention numbers of incendiaries, were dropped. A report like this shows the extra pressure put on the fire service at this time. Click here to read more about the Fire Service in World War II
After the war, the provision of fire cover for the local population again became the responsibility of local authorities. Thornbury came into the jurisdiction of Gloucestershire County Council in 1947.
In 1950 the Sub-Officer of the Thornbury Fire Station was Horace Walker. In an article in the Gazette of that year there was a report of the annual dinner for the firemen in which Mr Walker reported on the progress that the fire service in Thornbury had made since becoming part of the County Fire Service. The thumbnail image here on our left seems to have been taken in the late 1950s (after after December 1956 when the fire station applied to have the Maclaine Fountain moved from the fire station doorway to its new location at the top of Castle Street). The photograph shows the Thornbury Fire Station with the Gloucestershire sign above the door. Please click on it for a larger image. It seems that by 1950 the County Fire Brigade had 25 stations, 18 of which like Thornbury were “retained.” In that year the fire service had responded to 40 fire calls, the busiest months being July and August when the men had had to work long hours often under great difficulties, one of which being a shortage of water.
On 19th September 1950, Dorothy Parsons who had been left the adjacent property by her father, sold to the Council a small plot of land at the rear of The Fire Station for the erection of a Watch Room for £20.
Thornbury’s Modern Day Fire Service
After 1974 fire fighting in our area came under the remit of the County of Avon, and the fire service was known as Avon Fire Brigade. The County of Avon was abolished in 1996 and replaced by four smaller, more localised councils – Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset District Council, North Somerset District Council and South Gloucestershire District Council. However in the interests of efficiency (and cost) a combined fire authority was formed. The Fire and Rescue Services Act was passed in 2004, leading Avon to change its name to Avon Fire And Rescue Service (AF&RS).
Above on the right we have a thumbnail image of the present day station in Gloucester Road in Thornbury which was constructed in 1980 and led to the closure of the smaller station in the High Street. Please click on it to see a larger photograph.
After the fire station in the High Street was closed it was converted and became the Fire Station Bakery, then the Thornbury Mill House coffee shop and patisserie. Since then it has been various fast food outlets including a Chinese takeaway and an American food takeaway. It is currently The Old Fire Station Pizzeria.