How Godalming's fire service started out in a shed in Moss Lane

By The Editor

24th Apr 2022 | Local News

The engine shed in Moss Lane. Photo courtesy of Roy Squires.
The engine shed in Moss Lane. Photo courtesy of Roy Squires.

Godalming's fire crews are highly trained, dedicated, well-equipped men and women who respond promptly to all sorts of incidents – not just fires but also road accidents, and other incidents where people need help.

The presence of an organised firefighting crew in the town can be traced back 205 years - to 1816 - with the building of the engine house in Moss Lane. Our picture shows the building, which stood near the school.

Here Godalming Nub News takes a look at the history of the service in Godalming, with appreciative thanks to former SFRS firefighter Roy Squires for his information and photos.

Although Godalming had an engine, and a building in which to keep it, during the second decade of the 19th century, it wasn't until 1870 that the business of tackling fires was put on a formal basis. Until that point the job had been the province of volunteers, and anybody else who happened to be around at the time the alarm was raised.

In March 1848 a 'Meeting of Commissioners for improving the town of Godalming' resolved that whenever the engines (now plural) were "called into use to extinguish Fires of Property insured, that the Insurance Office are charged 2s, besides the expenses of Engineers an Assistants...''

The upkeep and use of the engines was overseen by a committee, and keys to the Moss Lane building were kept at various businesses in the town, and at the police station.

In November 1867 a meeting was held in the town, at which it was decided to form a Volunteer Fire Brigade, but it wasn't until three years later that a large gathering in the Town Hall, presided over by the Mayor, saw "The project... fully discussed and met with hearty approval of all present," according to the Surrey Advertiser of 18th October 1870.

Some 18 names were registered as members of the brigade, and it was resolved to convene an early meeting to draw up the rules and regulations of the new organisation. The brigade was to be supported by public subscription.

From 1876 to 1904 the fire brigade was stationed at The Wharf.

At a quarterly meeting of the town council on May 3rd 1894 it was decided that the council would take over the running of the brigade.

A major change for the townsfolk was that subscriptions to pay for the service would now longer be collected: instead, unfortunate property owners whose building was engulfed by fire would have to pay the costs of putting out the flames.

The charges were levied on a sliding scale depending on the property's distance from the fire station.

Putting out a fire within five miles of the fire station at The Wharf would cost the building owner £4 4s per day, which included the fee for the horses.

Charges for a blaze between five and nine miles distant would cost him £5 5s for the first day, and £1 1s for every subsequent day. That fee, too, included the cost of the horses.

The list of charges warns the unfortunate owner would also be responsible for "...payment for all Damage done to the Engines, Horses, Buckets or other Appliances used with the Brigade; as also remuneration to the Members of the Brigade as above mentioned."

For each incident, the firemen were paid 4s for the first three hours and 1s per hour thereafter; engineers received 5s and 1s 6d respectively; foremen 7s and 2s6d; the superintendent was paid 7s and 2s6d.

Any public-spirited citizens who helped out at the scene of a fire were paid sixpence an hour for their assistance.

On 4th June 1903 the town council agreed to not only buy the latest firefighting equipment – a Patent Double Cylinder Vertical Steam Fire Engine with Variable Expansion Gear - for £295, but also to purchase a plot of land in Queen Street from a Mr Bridger for approximately £140, on which to build a new fire station.

The council borrowed the £1,000 necessary to pay for the land and to meet the £525 cost of the new building, which was constructed by local builder David Fry and his men.

Town Mayoress Mrs Pilcher opened the new fire station on May 4th 1904.

Minutes from the 1936 meeting of the Fire Brigade Committee throw light on a busy summer, with chimney fires at houses in Salt Lane, Hydestile, and Farncombe Hill and The Mint, plus a heath fire at Wormley, followed by a storeroom fire at a business in St John's Street, Farncombe, in July and a 'motor car on fire in Church Street' in August.

September saw a false alarm: "The only explanation of this call is that lighteneing (sic) caused the alarm bell at the Gas Works to ring," the minutes note. In 1938 an Auxiliary Fire Service was formed. The volunteers were trained by crews at the fire station and helped tackle fires during the war. During the war local brigades were amalgamated to form a national service. In 1948 the national force was disbanded and the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service was formed. Surrey County Council now has responsibility for running the service. The crews moved from The Wharf to their new station in Bridge Road in 1972. The plaque commemorating four comrades who fell in the First World War moved with them from Queen Street, and is proudly displayed in the station. Godalming now has a daytime crew and retained crews on call overnight and at weekends. To read more about the history of the fire service in Godalming, and browse his fascinating photo archive, visit Roy's website, godalmingfirestation.com

     

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