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The Shefford Fire Brigade

Shefford High Street about 1820
Shefford chapel of ease and High Street about 1820

Shefford has had a fire brigade of sorts for at least two hundred years. The first mention of a fire engine is in the chapel wardens' accounts for 1807 [P70/5/1a]: "November 7th to takeing down porch and building new Ingin house £1-3-0". This shows that the engine house was built against the north side of the church, in place of the old porch. Other references are as follows:

  • 10 October 1808: "a New Rope to fire Engine": 2 shillings;
  • 30 May 1819: "To 2 new poles to Fire Hoock": £2-5-6;
  • May 1819: "To a bill delivered for Repairing the Small Fire Engine": £4-5-4;
  • May 1819: "2 Years Salary for Repairing the Engine": £1-10-0;
  • May 1819: "Received for Old Engine": £1-1-0.

1819 is the last year that fire brigade expenses are met by the chapel wardens, control seeming to pass to the parish vestry. The engines mentioned were either hand carts or horse drawn vehicles carrying assorted implements such as buckets and rakes, with which to pull burning thatch from roofs as well as hosepipes and pumps to extract water from ponds and the rivers.

Shefford Brigade and their Tilley engine
Shefford Brigade and their Tilley Engine in the late 19th century [FSD/PH1/1]

In 1826 the vestry voted that [P70/8/1]: "the superintendence of the Fire Engines be put in the hands of the Chapel Warden for the time being". Other entries in the Vestry Minute Book record:

  • 1st April 1833: "That the Phoenix, County and Norwich Fire Offices be written to for their Assistance in procuring New Pipes & Buckets to the Engine";
  • 13th April 1833: "The old engine pipe to be re-sewn and mended by J.Heditch at 10d per Foot. Note the Phoenix Fire Office allowed £7 and the Norwich £5 toward the Repairs of the Engine the County nothing";
  • 26th May 1855: "Resolved that the Chapel Wardens be authorized to practice the Engine sufficiently to keep it in good working condition and also to select a place for the proper protection of the same".

The need for a Fire Brigade is illustrated by this short account of arson from the Northamptonshire Mercury in December 1830: "A fire, the work of an incendiary, broke out yesterday afternoon in the farmyard of Mr.Graham, a gentleman highly respected in his neighbourhood, steward to Sir John Osborne of Chicksands, about a mile from here [Shefford]. It was discovered early enough to prevent the destruction of the whole rick-yard, and was confined to the straw rick, where it commenced. It was gratifying to observe the emulation between all classes to render assistance".

the old fire station January 2008
The Old Fire Station January 2008

From 1859 a Fire Engine Account was established to meet expenses of the engine and gather in subscriptions from house and shop owners to ensure that a fire brigade could be maintained. It is not known where the fire engine was kept from 1855 but in 1897 a committee was established to organise the building of a new Fire Station, duly dubbed the Jubilee Fire Station, after Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of that year. This station, officially opened on 11th May 1899, still stands in Northbridge Street. It was rented from the trustees of the Lucas Charity. From this time the brigade was run by a committee of subscribers and brigade officers.

 Shefford firemen
Shefford Firemen [Z50/101/16]

The photograph above [Z50/101/16], taken in the early years of the 20th century at the rear of the Jubilee Fire Station, was also reproduced in the North Bedfordshire Courier of 2nd January 1962 [FSD/PC5]. Former Shefford Brigade Fire Chief George Mason identified the Shefford firemen (in the smocks) as, left to right: Bill Whitbread; Nobby Clarke; Fred Walker and Harry Vickers. The man standing at the back, he identified as Biggleswade Chief Officer Captain George Thomas

In March 1906 the head of the brigade, captain Robert Johnson, retired aged 80 after 55 years with the brigade! He was replaced by Captain A.Haddow, with F.Brown as his Second Officer. A second-hand "steamer" fire engine was purchased from Bedford Corporation in 1920 for £200. This engine was horse drawn, the steam power being used to operate the pump. At a christening ceremony it was named "Victory", a reference to 1918. A year after purchase a Mercedes 45hp motor tractor was purchased from Wright & Company of Waltham for £110 to replace horses as the motive power for the steamer.

 Shefford Fire Brigade about 1925
Shefford Fire Brigade about 1925 [Z50/101/10d]

Captain Haddow retired some time between 1921 and 1926 and was succeeded by a Mr.Ludford, with a Mr.Harwood as his Second Officer. Ludford resigned in 1927, due to pressure of work, and was succeeded by Harwood, with a Mr.Vickers as his Second Officer.

By 1934 subscriptions were not covering the cost of maintenance of "Victory" or insurance for the appliance or for the members of the Brigade. As a result the members of the Fire Brigade resigned en masse. Thus on 9th August the running of the Volunteer Brigade was taken over by Shefford Parish Council. An article in the North Bedfordshire Courier 17 Jan 1967 [FSD/PC8] states that by that time the Shefford brigade was down to half strength. A recent recruitment campaign had yielded just one man and five more were still needed to make up numbers. The reasons for the lack of volunteers were stated to be family commitments and the fact that the money earned on call-outs was taxed. The brigade became part of Bedfordshire Fire Service in 1947.

The last lease on the Northbridge Street fire station ended in 1969 [X465/306] but on 1st April that year the brigade moved into a new fire station built by Bedfordshire County Council, now responsible for oversight of all fire brigades in the county, in Ivel Road, near the junction with Southbridge Street [FSD/PC10]. The new station was officially opened by the High Sheriff on 21st June that year. In February 1980 the station witnessed an important first [FSD/PC27]. A mother of two, married to a fireman at the station, Julie Thatcher became the first female fire-fighter in the county.

 Shefford Fire Station Jaunary 2008
Shefford Fire Station January 2008

Shefford Fire Brigade still [2008] operates from the station in Ivel Road. It remains a retained brigade, that is to say, relying for its fire-fighters on local people with day jobs who respond to call outs.