Calling the Fire Brigade in the early 1900s
Before WW2, the majority of buildings in Forncett were built entirely or partly from wood and hence the threat of fire was ever-present. However, there was little, if any, help quickly available. In 1895 Long Stratton Parish Council decided that the parish was too small to support a fire brigade on the rates, and so a subscription was raised to purchase a fire engine and a volunteer team of firemen was formed. This fire brigade was recalled by Edward Thurston who, as a boy, lived at Corner Farm in Forncett End. Edward was born in 1901, so the event in question, when an oil engine set fire to a barn, probably happened around 1915.
"The oil engines were a lot of trouble, we had a fire as a result of one that wouldn't start. Oil leaked all around it and caught fire which burnt the roof off a very old barn. Everything in it was wood, it was a boarded barn, tarred on the outside, with wonderful oak beams in the roof. We had the fire engine from Long Stratton which was horse-drawn. It was nearly an hour before they got there and the barn was well ablaze. The fire engine consisted really of a pump. It had two wooden bars and needed four men on each side to pump the water through the hoses. I actually worked on the pump and I got about £1 for pumping."
The horse-drawn Merryweather fire engine was built in London and, when operated by eight men, it could deliver 55 gallons of water a minute up to a height of ninety feet. When it was finally scrapped, it was salvaged by Dick Richardson, who worked for Fakenham Fire Brigade. It turned up many years later, in the early 1950s, being used by a local farmer to pump out ditches and ponds! (see photo below)
To hear Edward Thurston telling the story himself, in around 1990, just a year before he died, click here.
With thanks to Debbie Sutton for help with this article.