Suffolk: Historic Needham Market fire engine prepares for move to museum

suffolk: As the county’s fire service enters a new era a majestic link with its past is today preparing for its first move since the mid-1960s.

During that time the former Needham Market steam fire engine has had pride of place on display at the fire service headquarters in Colchester Road, Ipswich.

Now it is being dusted down and prepared for a new life as a star exhibit at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket.

The engine is to make the short journey later this week but before it settles into its permanent new home it will spend a few hours sitting outside the fire station in its old home, Needham Market.

The appliance is almost 100 years old – it was in 1911 that Needham Market Town Council decided they needed a steam fire pump.

The Shand Mason pump was delivered to the town in June 1912 – when it was seen as bang up to date.

Current assistant chief fire officer Phil Embury said: “This was state-of-the-art. Having a steam pump made it much more powerful than the hand pump that they had relied on until then.”

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It was not self-propelled – instead it was pulled to fires either by a pair of horses or it was towed by a Model T Ford.

And the water was not instant. If needed, a fire had to be lit and that took time to build up enough pressure to power the pump.

But once it was fired up the pressure of the water was much greater than the hand pumps had managed to achieve.

The pump remained in service in the town for 28 years.

The last fire it went to was on July 30, 1940 at Finborough. It is believed to have been the last steam fire engine to attend a fire in the UK.

It was then sent to the National Fire Service college at Saltdean near Brighton in 1942 to be put on display and stayed there for six years.

When the new fire headquarters was built at Colchester Road the Needham Market appliance became a prime exhibit and has sat at its entrance since 1965. Now the fire station at Colchester Road is set to close with the appliances based there transferred to a new station being built at Ransomes and the control room merged with that in Cambridgeshire.

The whole site is due to close by October.

Colin Spence, Suffolk County Council’s Portfolio Holder for Public Protection, said: “The Shand Mason is a fascinating piece of Suffolk’s history which is why I’m delighted its going to be on display in Stowmarket for years to come. When you think about the expertise and modern equipment our fire fighters have today, seeing equipment like this reminds us how far fire and rescue services have come.”