Chronicles: Ventnor Fire Brigade – A Brief History

In 2012 the Ventnor Heritage Centre acquired some archives from the Ventnor Fire Brigade. These include log books which recorded firemen on duty, incidents attended and the regular inspections undertaken. Perhaps the most interesting are newspaper cuttings held in scrapbooks from 1922 to 1999.

The following brief history of Ventnor Fire Brigade was written by Station Officer B T Burden.

“After a severe fire at the Ventnor Mill in 1847, the Town Board decided to store 30 buckets and two ladders for such emergencies. In 1876 the Town Board bought a manual horse-drawn hand pump [shown in the photo here] manned by 12 volunteers. The photograph below is from 1876 and shows such a pump still in use.

On Saturday November 22nd 1902 at 5am, a fire broke out at the Star Inn and Mill, Niton. The proprietor and villagers tackled the blaze with buckets of water. A horse rider was dispatched to Ventnor for the Fire Brigade, which promptly turned out reaching the incident at 7:30 am. The building was gutted, but the action by the firemen saved other buildings in the area and they were highly praised for their actions.

In 1910 the Council bought two new horse drawn pumps, one with a telescopic fire escape extending 50ft. 24 volunteer firemen manned these pumps. The callout system was by ringing a bell on top of the fire station in Market Street. Quote from a meeting of Ventnor Urban Council ‘Ventnor had the highest level of fire fighting on the Island and the excellence of the firemen was beyond praise’.

Shortly before 1pm, 21st May 1925 fire broke out at Vectis Store, near Bleakdown, Newport. Ventnor beat the horse drawn pump from Newport to the fire.” [This brief history does not mention that the Council bought a motorised engine to replace the horse-drawn pump in 1922, which may explain why the Ventnor brigade got there first.]

On January 4th 1924 a shop in the High Street, known as the Toy Box, was gutted by fire. The new fire engine was put to good use and two persons were rescued from the roof. The estimated cost of repair was £4,000- a large amount in those days. During the 1920s and 30s the brigade attended many serious fires e.g. Luccombe Country House, Week Farm House and barns, garage at Royal Hotel, Drakes clothes shops on High Street, Ventnor.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Ventnor had eight full time firemen and sixteen volunteer firemen, two fire engines, six trailer pumps, plus three women messengers. The fire station was moved [from Market Street] to South Street where it remains to this day. The town was heavily bombed because of the radar station which was built on St. Boniface Down. During the war the brigade was run by the National Fire Service under region 14. From 1946 it reverted back to the Town Council with twelve men and one engine. In 1948 the Ventnor Fire Brigade was taken over by the Isle of Wight County Council and run from the headquarters in Newport.

Since the 1950s Ventnor has seen many large fires: shop 55 High Street in 1951, St. Lawrence Hall Hotel 1951, large country house called Nutkins in Niton 1952. Plane crash St. Boniface Down 16 killed 1962. Breathing apparatus was introduced in 1964. Bonchurch Manor 1 death 1967. Town Hall 1978, Beach Hotel 1982, Hambrough Road 1984, Sandrock Hotel 1984. Person Trapped down well 1985, Ventnor Pier 1985, King Charles 1st Hotel 1988. The station is now manned by 20 retained firemen with two fire engines called out by pagers.

See also Ventnor Fire Brigade from the 1920s

Richard Downing, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Photos of Ventnor  Fire Brigade 1876 with horse drawn hand pump, and of  Ventnor Fire Brigade in about 1905 are from our collection. This article first appeared in the South Wight Chronicle on 7 January 2015.