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Gillingham's Fire Engines

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Gillingham's First Fire Engine

Purchased by the Vestry Committee (fore-runner of the Parish Council) in 1790 from the makers, Bristowe of Whitechapel, London. Used exclusively until 1836, and kept in working order as a back-up machine until 1904. Now on display in Gillingham Museum and believed to be the only surviving example of its type.

It was pulled by a horse, but the shafts which were fastened to the front axle, are now missing. It took at least eight strong men to pump, four standing each side, whilst other people would be fetching buckets of water to fill the tank incorporated in the body of the fire engine. Another man would stand on the engine and direct the metal branch (copper and brass nozzle) towards the fire.

It would have attended the fire in 1825 at Pernes Mill, the building shown in four paintings by John Constable, copies of which are shown in Gillingham Museum.

Gillingham's Second Fire Engine

In 1836 an improved horse-drawn manual fire engine pump was obtained from the same makers - Bristowes of Whitechapel. The operation was similar to the 1790 engine, with four men each side working the two manual pump handles.

It was used until 1904 but it was not until 1920, that both old manual fire engines were sold to Mr George Edwards. The fate of the 1836 engine is not recorded. but the 1790 engine was kept at Purns (formerly Pernes), and occasionally used in carnival processions, until eventually it was given to the Museum in 1958.

Gillingham's Steam Fire Engine

A Steam fire engine made by Shand Mason was bought in 1904 for £250, and was one of the first of its type in the area. It was still horse-drawn, but was converted during the 1914 - 1918 War to be towed by a lorry. The steam powered pump was very powerful and efficient compared with the old manual engines, and gave sterling service for over 25 years attending fires at Marnhull, Shaftesbury, Wincanton, as well as locally.

In 1930 the Steam fire engine was badly damaged when it overturned in an accident on Spring Corner, Gillingham when answering a practice call. It was sold for £11 scrap to Mrs Court at her King's Court scrapyard where it lay until the late 1940's when it was eventually broken up.

A Dennis trailer pump was purchased, shortly after the Steam fire engine crashed. This type of pump was very successful and they were used until the late 1950's.

Further information on Gillingham other fire engines is contained in a booklet published by Gillingham Museum.

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