You are in [Themes] [Fires and Firefighting] [Fire Service since 1924]

The 1910 Merryweather "Dreadnought" motor fire engine served the town well for 14 years, but in 1924 it was decided to replace it with a petrol-driven engine. Once again the necessary money was raised in about six months.

The 1924 Leyland:

So, on 28 Nov 1924, the town took possession of its first Leyland petrol driven appliance, which it proudly named "John o' Gaunt". (It was "christened" by Mrs Spurrier of Stype Grange, whose husband was Chairman of Leyland Motors and was responsible for its procurement at a
special price. Mrs. Spurrier had provided, at her own expense, the engine's fire fighting first aid kit. This included an extending 35' ladder, a 40 gallon water tank, and a 180' reel of small bore hose. Very useful for minor fires.

The engine was powered by a 40-50 horse power 4 cylinder engine with full electrics and top road speed of over 40m.p.h. At that time it was fitted with solid tyres. The pump had a maximum lift of 27' and could still deliver 320 g.p.m,

A few days after its christening the new engine was called to a fire at Great Hidden Farm. It was away in 4 minutes, leaving before its Captain and spectators could reach the Fire Station.

1933. The front wheels were changed to pneumatic tyres giving improvement to the steering. It took another year of fund raising before the rear wheels were changed in 1934.

The change over was completed at 10.00 p.m. and at 4.00a.m. the following day the engine was tested, having been called to a fire at Shalbourne.

The transformation raised the morale of H.V.F.B. Not only had speed been increased by 12 m.p.h. but the comfort of the crew after nine years of solid tyres was very apparent.

At the same time there was a new Fire Captain - Major (retired) Attewell, MC, who took over on the retirement from Hungerford of the vicar Rev "Tom" Gray.

In 1932, Stype Grange was destroyed by fire. See more under Stype.

Also in 1932, the NWN reported that "Damage was caused to office equipment when fire broke out in he workshop of Mr G Willis, plumber of Eddington. Mr Willis is himself a fireman."

In 1934 the Leyland fire engine was converted to pneumatic tyres, which increased its top speed to 40mph.

The 1924 Leyland continued to give good service, and was only retired from service in 1942.

The Auxiliary Fire Service:

In July 1938 the Government created the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) to augment the fire brigade in wartime. These part-time fireman were recognised by the issue of a lapel badge first issued in August 1938 after completion of sixty hours training, reduced in June 1939 to one month of membership. The badge was made of sterling silver until June 1939 when it became white metal.

The photographs in the Photo Gallery show the Hungerford AFS in Barr's Yard (their garaging facility) in their latest fast response vehicle. Jack Williams remembered this as a "Ford V8 Pilot", but Roger Mardon (a fire service historican from Canterbury) kindly contacted the Virtual Museum (Aug 2012) pointing out that the "V8 Pilot" was not introduced until 1947, and that the vehicle appears to be a Ford Model 48 Roadster, a model introduced in 1935. The registration ABL 481 was registered in 1936. The photographs probably date from 1938-41.

The driver is Tom Cox; Officer in Charge Jack Brewer; in the rear seat are Jack Sadler and Bert Wyatt; standing is Tup Lambourne, and in the rear seat is Charles Williams.

In 1941, this was taken over by the National Fire Service.

The Hungerford crew were often sent outside the town to assist in major fires as a result of the blitz, for example east to London, west to Bath, and south to Southampton, and to the major Fawley Refinery fire. They travelled even as far as Exeter.

The Austin fire engine, GLE 973, 1942:

Hungerford's next new fire engine was an Austin, built in 1942. It acquired the name "John o' Gaunt II", the name plate being transferred from its predecessor, the 1924 Leyland.

The problem of the poor position of the fire station became apparent from as early as 1945. The A4 was becoming a busy and important trunk road, and exiting the fire station in Charnham Street was a problem. It was also difficult at times for firemen to get to the station.

In 1948 the National Fire Service was split into many county-based fire services, and Hungerford's service became under the control of the Berkshire Fire Service.

The NWN of 2 Nov 1950 reported "After 34 years with the service, Mr George Willis, officer in charge of Hungerford Fire Station since 1943, is retiring shortly. When he joined in 1916 they had a Merryweather steamer which took 20 minutes to get up sufficient pressure to start the engine. Mr Willis became chief engineer in 1935".

Jack Williams joined the brigade in 1951, and remembers happily that he and Margaret were taken around the town on the engine, with bells ringing, on their wedding day, 22 Sep 1951. He thinks that the Austin was in use until c1965.

The story is taken up by Peter Andrews of Tilehurst, who kindly wrote in May 2004:

"As far as I can recall, the engine was transfered for use on the Woodley Airfield site of Western Manufacturing soon after being decommisioned from the Hungerford town brigade in 1953.

The Company operated a large engineering facility on this site, adjacent to the Handley Page aircraft assembly plant next door, where several examples of the Herald airliner were produced.

The works was originally that of the Phillips & Powis aircraft company, later to become Miles Aircraft, producing the Magister, Messenger & Gemini planes. After aquisition of Adamant Engineering of Luton, the factory was re-named Adwest Engineering producing mainly power steering units for Jaguar & Rover cars.

An earlier claim to fame was the production of the first BIRO pens in the UK, later transfered to a factory at Thatcham. Other products included electrically powered actuators (high powered motors for use on aircraft to move surfaces such as the flaps etc), automobile radiator thermostats and basic railway signalling gear (mostly exported to 3rd world countries in Africa - before computerisation!).

Due to the original isolation of Woodley Airfield, the engineering complex (employing nearly 1000 at its peak), relied on its water supply from an on-site bore-hole, which was actually still in use into the 1990's, although in later years, was supplemented by a mains supply in times of drought.

As the site was fed only from a water header tank, all of the engineering buildings were connected to a high pressure hydrant system powered (in times of need) by a stationary Coventry Climax Godiva pump housed in a shed at the rear of the site.

The management thought it prudent to supplement this with an 'on-site' fire engine (and volunteer crew), partly due to the isotatlon of Wood1ey at that time and the nature of the work carried-out, and it certainly reduced the costof their fire insurance cover!

GLE 91-3 was housed in a dedicated building at the rear of the site, together with the storage of fire fighting equipment, and was fitted with a heater under the engine to encourage Winter starting!

A retained crew of about 6 of the staff used the vehicle for training sessions each week, mainly on the waste ground at the rear of the factory, (now developed into a large housing estate) .

tn my 20 years at the Woodley factory, I was privilaged to drive the K.2, although fortunately, I cannot recall a real emergency, although we dealt with many 'summer holiday' fires started in the surrounding scrub-tand by local children, and even spraying water over the large expanse of the factory roof' in times of peak summer heat, as temperatures in the large & poorly ventillated machine shops could become very uncomfortable.

The engine was kept in reasonable working order through its life at Woodley, although large sums of money were not spent in keeping it in 1st class condition, other than a re-paint when the ADWEST name was written on the side.

I can recall the Austin joining the procession through the local streets during the Woodley Carnival on at least one occasion, much to the amusement of the immediate residents who had not known of its existence!

As the engine became dated and in need of a major refit to remain viable, it was exchanged for a more modern Bedford appliance from a vehicle conservationist in the Odiham area in 1980."

Mr Mick Paul, of Odiham, who bought it in 1980, and restored it, wrote:

"It was built in June 1942 by the Austin Motor Co of Longbridge, Birmingham and supplied to a body builder in chassis scutle form where it was fitted with a fire engine body built to a home office "heavy pump unit" design. It was fitted with a Tangy 700 G.P.M. pump and a Ford V8 petrol engine. 

 On completion it was issued to No 15 fire force of the N.F.S. its station is unknown after the war it passed to the newly formed Berkshire & Reading fire brigade who rebuilt it for peace time use in their workshops. The large Tangy pump was removed and a pump from a Dennis trailer pump was fitted and driven via a Martin Harper transfer box from the road engine.

A hose reel and 120 gal water tank were fitted in what was the crew cab a panel containing a tank filler five way valve and throttle control was fitted to the front near side where the lockers used to be and was fed by a small gear type pump fitted to the gear box. (Incidentally this kit of parts was marketed by various manufactures as a means of converting war time auxiliary towing vehicles into hose reel tenders).

As the appliance was now minus its crew cab, the sides were built up to offer some protection on the lines of the pre-war new world design. The hand operated bell was moved from the roof of the crew cab and fitted to the near side by the officer in charge. This was operated through the cab side window. This also had the effect of reducing the height of the appliance by about six inches. Two orange flashers and a small electric bell completed its rebuild.

The only other modifications was red paint to replace the war time grey, chrome plate on the brass work and an Ajax ladder to replace the home office pattern carried before it was issued to Hungerford. I guess that is why the bell was moved as the old Charnham Street station was very low.

It acquired its name of "John o'Gaunt II". The name plate had come from its predecessor the 1924 Leyland.

As far as I know it served Hungerford well until it was replaced by a Kerrer game cock water tender in the late fiftys.

On retirement from Hungerford its name plate was removed and as far as I know it is still hanging in the new fire station at Hungerford.

Its retirement from Berkshire and Reading fire brigade was by no means the end to its working life as it was sold to Adwest engineering at Woodley near Reading where it served them until 1978. As a works fire engine this must have made it one of the longest serving war time appliances in daily use. It not only served the work site but was used all over the Woodley trading estate. It was used when the Waitrose warehouse caught fire and in 1976 during the hot summer it caught fire its self when the wind changed when it was in attendance at a heath fire causing damage to the near side. It was replaced by Adwest in 1979 and was left to deteriorate in a shed on site.

I purchased it in September 1980 for restoration and preservation in a very poor state and I spent over 900 man hours restoring it and took it to its first show in May 1981 since then we have been to many shows around this country and we have also taken it to Germany twice for fire service festivals.

It has been used for quite a few fire service weddings including that of Hungerford's officer in charge Norman Barr, and for his daughter's wedding. It has also been used for fire service funerals and has appeared in the Royal Tournament at Earl's Court. It is fully equipped with period equipment and is fully operational and has been used several times on fires on the road when we have been going to or from a show. It is my intention to use it on the road as long as the government in Brussels will allow us to but I have to say that may not be for many more years."

Photo Gallery:

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- The 1924 Leyland "John o' Gaunt"

- Members of the HVFB at Vic & Pat Caswell's wedding, 1923

- The 1924 Leyland

- Hungerford Auxiliary Fire Service in Barr's Yard (c1938-41).

- Hungerford AFS No 1, in Barr's Yard, 1936 (Moya Dixon).

- AFS Badge

- The AFS and the HVFB in The Bear yard, beside the 1924 Leyland fire engine "John o' Gaunt", now converted to pneumatic tyres, 1942

- The AFS and the HVFB in The Bear yard, beside the 1924 Leyland fire engine, 1942

- Hungerford A.F.S. during the 2nd World War.

- The HVFB with "John o' Gaunt" in The Bear yard, Dec 1941 [Albert Parsons]

- The HVFB c1941 L to R: R Honeybone, Reg Whiscombe, Douglas Wilmott, A Giles, G Willis, "Ted" Stevens, Alf Macklin, J Macklin, Vic Caswell.

- (fire-23) The Austin fire engine (reg'n number GLE 973), and named "John o'Gaunt II", in post 1948 condition (not 1942). It is painted red (not war time ‘utility grey’) and the sign: ‘Berkshire & Reading Fire Brigade’ (not formed until 1948). War time it would be ‘NFS’ (National Fire Service). Also war time it had a separate engine mounted on the back working a pump. It was rebuilt post-war to run off the road engine (which can clearly be seen). (Thanks to Neville Mason)

- (159) The Austin fire engine (reg'n number GLE 973), and named "John o'Gaunt II", in post 1948 condition(Moya Dixon collection).

- The Austin "John of Gaunt II" fully restored by Mr Mick Paul

- Jack Williams' wedding. Jack remembers that he and his bride Margaret were taken around the town with bells ringing on their wedding day 22nd September 1951.

- HVFB c1956. Back row: Norris, Pike, Stevens, Williams jun, Walker. Front row: Barnes, Williams sen, Wyatt, Cox, Walters.

- The new Karrier, Aug 1958

- The new Karrier, Aug 1958

- The Karrier in The Croft at Norman & Barbara Barr's wedding

- The fire brigade with a cup, c1960. (Kindly provided by Tracy Pike)

- Fire at the Great Western Mill, Church Street, Jun 1960

- The second "Everest" Climb, 1998

- The 1968 Fire Station in Church Street, May 2010

- The Fire Station during rebuilding, Feb 2017.

- The new Community Tri-service Station - the first in Berkshire, 7 Aug 2017.

- The AFS in Barr's Yard, c1941. (Moya Dixon collection)

- Fire Engine near the Down Gate, c1950 (Moya Dixon collection)

- Firemen in costume on the Georgian fire pump, for carnival (Moya Dixon collection)

- Firecrew barbeque c1988 (L-R, Morley, ??, Ward, ??, Ivy Wells, ??, ??) (Moya Dixon collection)

- Firecrew with the old fire engine and AFS equipment, c1941 (Moya Dixon collection)

- Members of Hungerford VFS, (Jack Williams on right). (Moya Dixon collection).

- "Darktown Fire Brigade". HVFS members with the old Georgian fire pump on Hungerford Common, ?1960s. (Moya Dixon collection)

- Fireman at the James Mill fire, Jun 1960 (Moya Dixon collection).

- ?Norman Barr outside the fire station, Charnham Street c1948 (Moya Dixon collection).

- The Austin fire engine, GLE 973, in Adwest livery (kindly sent by Peter Andrews, 2004).

The fire at Great Western Mill, Church Street, June 1960:

A further major fire occurred on 22 Jun 1960, when the large Great Western Mill in Church Street caught fire. Despite the best efforts of 20 fire tenders and pumps, and three turntable ladders, the building was totally destroyed. The fire was so severe that the adjacent railway was closed for several days as a result of the timber sleepers catching fire. The local fire service returned 15 times over several days to damp down further flare-ups until it was finally extinguised. For further information see Great Western Mill, Church Street.

As fire engines got bigger, there was pressing need for a larger and more modern fire station. The opportunity was taken to build a new modern station on part of the Great Western Mill site.

As the Charnham Street property belonged to the town (rather than the Berkshire Fire Service), the proceeds of the sale were held locally, forming the Old Fire Station Charity, which still exists today.

The Church Street Fire Station:

The new fire station in Church Street was built in 1968.

It was built on the site of an old tenement with a frontage of 81ft (see T&M Register), and held common rights for 1 horse or 2 cows.

1902 (T&M Register) Richard Henry Barker (owner & occupier)
1936 James & Co (occupier)
<1968 (James & Co (Hfd) Ltd (owner)
Undated (T&M Register) Royal County of Berkshire)

Another fire: NWN 14 Sep 1972 reported: "Two empty cottages which changed hands for £16,000 a few weeks ago were gutted by a mystery fire early Sunday morning. The cottages, named Down Gate, are at the entrance to Hungerford Common, and the new owner John Darlington, of Avenue Bungalow, Inglewood, said they would need re-building from floor-level at a cost of £8,000 to £10,000. The fire was spotted by policemen in a patrol car, and firemen put out the blaze withing three hours. The firemen did not discover the cause of the blaze, but Mr Darlington said "I am certain someone went inside the cottages. There is no mains electricity to them and there is no explanation for the fire"."

Norman Barr, Hungerford Station officer, retired in Dec 1994 after 34 years fire service. See "Fireman retires - relunctantly", NWN 8 Dec 1994.

2016 (CL) Peter Rackham

Peter Rackham, Hungerford Fire Station watch manager retired after 40 years service, 20 of them as watch manager, on 5 Dec 2016.

The new Tri-force Station:

In October 2016 it was announced that the Fire Station was to be expanded and re-developed as a community hub, including a community room and police desk. See "Fire station to be a community hub". NWN 29 Sep 2016.

The new Community Tri-service Station - the first in Berkshire - opened 7 Aug 2017, serving fire, police and ambulance staff.

See also:

- Firefighting Equipment, Brian Wright, Shire 1989.

- 1702 Fire Pump - extracts from the Constables' Accounts 1700-1736

- Fire Service Scrapbook Part 1 (Jul 1890 - Jan 1892)

- Fire Service Scrapbook Part 2 (Feb 1892 - Apr 1893)

- Fire Service Scrapbook Part 3 (Apr 1893 - Nov 1894)

- Fire Service Scrapbook Part 4 (Nov 1894 - Jan 1908)

- Fire Service Scrapbook Part 5 (May 1908 - 1913)

- Mick Paul's letter to Jack Williams, 24.2.1997

- "Fireman retires - relunctantly", NWN 8 Dec 1994.

- "Fire station to be a community hub". NWN 29 Sep 2016.

- "First tri-service station in county opens doors". NWN 6 Jul 2017.

- Official Opening of tri-service station commemorative booklet. HHA Archives [U]