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Kempston Fire Brigade

Drawing of Kempston firemen at a fire [CRT130Kempston34]
Drawing of Kempston firemen at a fire in 1910 [CRT130Kempston34]

A directory entry for Kempston in 1910 records the existence of a “Volunteer Fire Brigade, James Felts, captain, and 10 men”. Kempston Fire Brigade was formed by Councillor Felts in 1907. A report of the Bedfordshire Mercury of 27th September 1907 notes that a vote of thanks was given him by the Urban District Council … “Mr. Felts in acknowledging the thanks laconically observed that they had got the men, they had got the hose and got the water too”. The apparatus was to be kept at the Farrer Street Station. This was on the west side of Farrer Street opposite Rosedale Way, today the site lies under modern houses. Until then Kempston had relied on the Bedford and Ampthill Fire Brigades engines in cases of emergency and an article in the Bedfordshire Mercury for 12th April 1907 records the testing of the new mains water supply by the Bedford Brigade in order to see if sufficient pressure was available [AD1082/3]. Before this, Kempston had to rely entirely on ponds and the river. There had also been difficulties in that the Bedford Volunteer Fire Brigade had to use borrowed horses and on one occasion the fire engine had to be abandoned in Kempston as the proprietor of the swan, who had lent them his horses, sent a postillion to bring them back, rather than let them draw the engine back. Had there been another fire that night the engine would have been useless”.

Although the Brigade was formed by a Councillor the Brigade received no financial assistance from the Council. The Bedfordshire Mercury for 15th May 1908 reports that to support the fire brigade there was a systematic canvass of the district with authorised subscription lists. Collectors handed in £28 and more was promised. The later minute book of the Brigade Committee [AD1008] shows their attempts to raise money for necessary equipment and uniforms. A house-to-house collection of 7th February 1929 raised £21/4/4½, a whist drive £8/10/- and finally the committee decided to hold a fete on 10th June 1932, to be opened by Lord Ampthill, and containing many sideshows, the Sick Man, Kicking the Football, raffles, bran tubs, and a display put on by the “acrobatic children”. The fete was a success, making a gross profit of £105/9/3 and a nett profit of £67/8/1. Similar fetes were held in following years.

At this time the brigade was still paid for their attendance by householders or householders’ insurance companies and several pages of their minute book show the difficulties involved in finally getting payment in some cases.

The committee eventually decided to ask Kempston Urban District Council to take over the brigade on 19th February 1934. At first the council refused to do so and the firemen threatened to resign, even going so far as to arrange a day for selling all the brigade equipment. At last the council agreed to take over on 3rd July 1934.

In 1938 all county, borough, rural and urban district councils were constituted as fire authorities by the Fire Brigades Act. Authorities ere required to provide “the services for their borough or district of such a fire brigade and of such fire engines, appliances and equipment as may be necessary to meet efficiently all normal requirements”. In 1941 all fire brigades in the country were combined under the auspices of the National Fire Brigade to allow better co-operation in attending large bombing incidents. The Fire Services Act 1947 transferred local brigades to county councils or county boroughs. The fire station in Farrer Street is listed in the Bedford and Kempston Directory for 1947 but not listed in the directory for 1949/50 where the premises is simply listed as a county council depot and mortuary.

No fire service is included in this directory for Kempston so it looks as if the brigade ceased to operate about 1948, presumably as a result of more efficient motor engines close by in Bedford. In 1970 the county’s fire service headquarters moved from Britannia Road in Bedford to Southfields Road in Kempston where it remains at the time of writing [2013].