Ipswich Icons: Disastrous infernos that gave birth to fire brigade

Bond Street Fire Station- looking south toward Eagle Street with the three storey Fire Station on th

Bond Street Fire Station- looking south toward Eagle Street with the three storey Fire Station on the right. The tower at the rear is in the Fire Station yard, and the single storey building with the wide open door is the garage for the motorised Fire Tenders (today used as a Dance School). - Credit: Archant

The fire service in Ipswich can be traced back to at least 1830 when the insurance company, the Suffolk Alliance Fire Office, realised it was probably less expensive to retain a fire service than to pay for a total loss following a fire.

The Colchester Road Fire Station, which closed in 2011

The Colchester Road Fire Station, which closed in 2011 - Credit: Archant

The insurance company maintained two large and three small appliances (28 part-time crew) plus a retained superintendent.

However, they only attended fires at insured buildings.

A series of disastrous fires in the 1870s (including a particularly spectacular one in 1875 in Tacket Street) caused the council to create a local fire brigade, a service that would attend fires in any building, not just those protected by an insurance company.

The brigade’s headquarters were in Waterworks Street, in premises rented from the corporation-run water supply undertaking.


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Twenty years later the first purpose-built fire station was constructed in Bond Street (named after Henry Cooper Bond who had a tannery here) for some £3,850.

The fire service’s two large manual engines moved from Waterworks Street in 1899, and in the same year an appliance with a steam driven pump was purchased.

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Supplied by Shand, Mason and Co. this is regarded as the start of the modern fire service.

Both the manual appliances and the steam driven pump were horse- drawn, however rather than maintain their own horses the brigade used horses kept at The Sea Horse Hotel on the corner of Key and Bank Streets.

These horses were normally used for pulling trade carts that ran a regular service to the towns and villages of west Suffolk.

On Saturday, April 6, 1912 there was a fire at the R D and J B Fraser furniture store in Princes Street which stretched the Ipswich team, even though they were supported by the private company brigades from the Great Eastern Railway Fire Brigade, Ransomes Sims and Jeffries and from Footman Pretty and Co. A bugler at the barracks called for men from the Royal Horse Artillery who also attended.

After the fire a truck-mounted 50ft fire escape ladder, also built by Shand, Mason was purchased by the Corporation for £320.

The furniture store was rebuilt and later became a branch of Maples.

In 1923 there was a fire at Burton, Son and Saunders in Key Street that was so fierce the heat buckled the steelwork of Stoke Bridge which was demolished and replaced by a new concrete structure.

By 1926 the fire service was fully motorised with a 1919 Model T Ford and two Dennis appliances.

Today’s Suffolk Fire service was born out of the necessities of war.

Prior to the Second World War any borough or parish council (or joint parish councils) could run a fire service and by the late 1930s there were some 1,600 brigades across the country.

In preparation for war the Auxiliary Fire Service was formed as a parallel service to the existing brigades but as more and more fire service employees were called up, by 1941 it was necessary for the Government to form a National Fire Service.

They merged the auxiliary service with the local brigades and painted appliances a camouflage grey with a specific remit of dealing with the results of aerial bombing.

Following the war the service returned to local control, mainly to county and county borough councils.

However, in Suffolk it was decided that the whole of the county would best be served by a single brigade. The Suffolk and

Ipswich Fire Service was one of only five such arrangements in England and Wales, an arrangement that continues to this day, albeit with a minor change of name.

Throughout the fifties and early sixties the service had two main remits: The prevention of, and the fighting of fires. Fire prevention was achieved by going out into the community, by checking the plans of proposed buildings and by the inspection of premises, particularly those where the public assembled in any number.

The brigade also had a third strand to their work, rescuing trapped people and animals, and of particular and increasing importance here was the rescue of people from the aftermath of road traffic collisions.

This latter task has expanded with the growth of road traffic.

A new main fire station and service headquarters was built in Colchester Road in 1962 to a design by Ipswich architect Birkin Haward.

Bond Street continued in service until a further station was built in Princes Street in 1982 when Bond Street became a Mosque.

The Colchester Road station closed in 2011, headquarters moved into Endeavour House and the appliances to a new east Ipswich station on Ransomes Europark, close to the A14.

Today Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service receives more than 8,000 calls per year, attends some 5,400 emergencies from 35 fire stations spread across the county.

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