THIS week Looking Back reader and contributor Geoffrey Pritchard looks back at the history of the recently demolished Weymouth fire station, where his father Ronald Pritchard served as the fire-brigade administrative officer in Dorset from 1948 until he retired 23 years later
IN THE last week in February, passers-by watched as the last remnants of the former Weymouth Fire Station yielded to the demolition crews.
The old building had been unoccupied since the Fire and Rescue Service moved to the new Community Fire Station in Radipole Lane which was formally opened in July 2011.
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Fire Brigade had been a volunteer service until the 1930s.
Following a fatal fire in Gloucester Row in 1934, a Committee of Inquiry was held into the operation of the Borough Fire Brigade and the Council resolved to reorganise the service on a professional basis.
Frederick Wain from Exeter Fire Service was appointed Chief Fire Officer with a nucleus of other full-time staff.
Wain showed himself to be very energetic and persuaded the council to buy a new fire appliance and a new fire station was planned on West Plain between North Quay and High West Street.
Some of the site had previously been occupied by small houses in Silver Street and Jockey Row, which had been demolished under slum clearance orders. Strangely, the site had been earmarked for housing before it was identified as a suitable site for the fire station, so its proposed use is a repeat of history.
The contractor was Whitelock of Bournemouth, with a successful tender of £16,700. It comprised an appliance room, workshops, training rooms, a drill tower, flats for firemen and accommodation for the Chief Fire Officer.
The building was occupied in October 1939 but after two years fire services were nationalised and in 1948 returned to local authority control, this time under Dorset County Council.
The borough council therefore had control of the building for a very short time, and members were extremely annoyed that they were not to regain control of the fire service, although it was clear that such small authorities could not effectively operate such services. In 1948 it was necessary to find accommodation for the County Fire Headquarters and a Western Division Headquarters and, pending purchase of a suitable property, the fire station housed these additional functions until 1986.
The major part of the headquarters occupied what had been the accommodation in the main building for the Borough Chief Fire Officer and county officers including my father were dispersed in what had been a sitting room and bedrooms and one office was converted from a bathroom, although not for some considerable time.
Additional accommodation was eventually provided in a concrete and asbestos building constructed cheaply in 1963 and demolished when the headquarters moved to Dorchester.
Gradually the flats were converted to office use and the interior of the building bore no resemblance to the original structure. Its demolition has, albeit temporarily, opened up views unseen for 75 years.
The passing of the old building will bring back many memories for those who occupied the building and those who gratefully received the services it provided. It has served the town well.
* My father, Ronald Pritchard served as the fire-brigade administrative officer in Dorset from 1948 until he retired 23 years later.
He was a building society accountant in Cardiff and joined the pre-war Auxiliary Fire Service, becoming full time in 1939 and serving through the Cardiff Blitz.
He had intended to return to the building society but experiences of industrial depression in South Wales in the late 1920s and early 1930s, which he thought might recur after the Second World War, caused him to remain in the fire service which, in any case, he found interesting.
My early life was punctuated with fire calls as he acted as brigade duty officer every four days and he had to be notified of every fire in the county and give instructions on which crews and stations to turn out or, if it was serious enough, notify the chief officer or deputy.
Eventually a phone was installed in my parents’ bedroom as our home phone was in the hall and he spent some nights running up and down stairs. Once, when I was about five, at 2am the fire engine when returning from a fire went past our house and it was decided by the crew to give a second’s burst on the engine’s bell.
Unfortunately it jammed, much to the embarrassment of the crew and the horror of my mother!