December 9 2013 Latest news:
Monday, August 19, 2013
It looks like a humble domestic garage, and it is possible to walk past it in blissful ignorance of what lies within.
But the tiny brick building with bright red doors is one of the hidden treasures of Norfolk – Stalham Firehouse Museum.
With a 129-year history of heroism and sacrificial service, it deserves to be on the tick-off trail of curious tourists and locals.
The museum was officially opened in 2002 by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. But a few years ago, it was in danger of being forgotten, as it remained closed.
However, a nine-strong team of volunteers is now in charge of its renaissance as a tourist attraction, and on Friday Mr Lamb returned for a visit to what he called an “excellent and very well maintained” attraction.
Husband-and-wife Micky and Kaye MacKinnon, from Ingham, are chairman and secretary of the group, whose members open the museum to the public six days a week from the week before Easter until September.
The committee’s sterling work ensures that visitors get free entry to the attraction – which houses a treasure trove of fire service items, including a handpump from Carrow Road in Norwich, which is like the first pump used at Stalham Firehouse when it opened in 1833.
Mrs MacKinnon said: “We know that this is living history. And when we got involved, we were determined that it would be open and that people would know it was here.”
She added: “It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s like a Tardis.”
The firehouse was the third of its kind in Britain when it opened in 1833 – following Edinburgh (1824) and London (January 1833).
It stands in the grounds of St Mary’s Parish Church, and was set up because people were increasingly finding that neither insurance nor the state brigade provided adequate fire cover.
The firehouse began shortly after a meeting was held at The Swan in Stalham, where local landowners, farmers and traders agreed to provide funds and appointed a superintendent, captain and engineer.
A 22-strong team of volunteers was recruited to operate the first handpump, which cost £133 13s. The firehouse itself cost £41 5s and 6d.
The handpump was used until 1902, when a more powerful, horse-drawn one was bought from Woolwich Arsenal, paid for by public subscription.
That was quickly in action in 1903 when Bristow Mill near Stalham burnt down, and in November 1906 when Hensman’s Drapery and Grocers in Stalham was destroyed by fire.
In 1929 a Dennis motor pump was bought from Dumbarton, and was able to pump out 350 gallons per minute. But it was too big for the firehouse and had to be stored elsewhere. In 1941 an Austin trailer pump was one of three trailer pumps in use at Stalham, and in 1948 Stalham became part of the newly-formed Norfolk Fire Service.
The firehouse was last used in 1962 when the new station was built in the town.
Mrs MacKinnon said the firehouse “stood empty and looked very sorry for itself” for a number of years until local lady Christine Lloyd raised a group of people to get it opened as a museum in 2002.
But recently, there was a three-year period when it was not open – ended when town chiropodist Margaret Ferguson pulled together a new band of volunteers, overseeing its reopening and then handing over its management to the current team.
Mr MacKinnon, a former firefighter in Middlesex, London and Essex, said being a firefighter when the firehouse was used was “incredibly tough”. He said: “The hoses were leather, so you can imagine how heavy they were when they got wet. I’m very glad that I was in the modern fire service.”
■ The museum is open during the season on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am-12 and 2-4pm, on Wednesday from 10am-12, and on Saturday from 10am-1pm. If you can help with funding or time, contact Mr and Mrs MacKinnon via email@example.com. The Stalham Firehouse Museum website is www.stalhamfirehousemuseum.co.uk
■ New Norfolk Museums Service boss pledges to protect the county’s heritage - see page 6.