The Ivybridge Fire Brigade

The first organised municipal fire brigade in Britain was established in Edinburgh in 1824 whilst other areas at this time had volunteer fire brigades. In Ivybridge, it was July 1846 before a few local gentlemen declared at a public meeting that it would be ‘highly desirable that the important village and neighbourhood of Ivybridge should be provided with a fire engine’. The ever growing population of Ivybridge with its extensive paper and flour mills, woollen manufactory and tan yard significantly increased the risk of a major fire. Ivybridge had also become a tourist destination attracting large numbers of visitors during the summer months.

 

The local community of Ivybridge rallied around and together raised just over £109 enabling a fire engine to be purchased. The vehicle arrived in March 1847 and the Royal Farmers Insurance Office, in recognition of the achievement, donated 12 leather buckets. A modest fire station to accommodate the new engine was built using spare stone from the railway viaduct which had neared completion. The station was located in the grounds of a house in Fore Street close to the present Methodist Church. As the engine was horse drawn, suitable stabling was also provided alongside.

 

During these early years of the fire brigade numerous minor incidents were reported such as hay rick fires but on 27 November 1876 the brigade was called out to a serious fire at the Union Flour Mills in the centre of Ivybridge. The fire was discovered by an employee of Stowford Paper Mill on his way to work around midnight. He raised the alarm and the brigade along with the paper mill’s own small appliance were soon at the scene. Despite their best efforts they were unable to save the mill. The buildings along with all the machinery were completely destroyed as well as a large quantity of wheat. Thankfully the flames were prevented from spreading to the nearby dwelling houses whilst William Bennetts, the Mill Manager succeeded in saving 27 sacks of flour but not without severely burning one of his hands’. Luckily all the account books were kept at Mr. Bennetts’ house in Highland Street and thankfully the mill was insured. It was believed that the fire had started in the upper part of the mill as the roof and upper storey were destroyed first.

 

Whilst the advantage of a local fire engine was clear to everyone in the village, the water supply was sadly far from adequate, with the existing reservoir said to be ‘at least 200ft. too low’. There was barely a trickle of water in some parts of the village making firefighting extremely difficult. The situation was not improved until the new water supply came on stream during June 1916, with the construction of the reservoir at Butter Brook on Harford Moor, recorded at 854 feet above Ordnance datum. With the old reservoir just 220 feet above Ordnance datum this represented a significant improvement and would mean good pressure for the whole of the district.

 

By the turn of the twentieth century the small original fire station was deemed inadequate. The Urban District Council recommended that a store in Western Road should be converted to create a new one and around 1904 the local fire service moved to its second location in Ivybridge.

One of possibly the most challenging incidents for the fire brigade occurred on 13 February 1908 when it was called out to attend a fire at the paper mills of Messrs. J. Henry and Co., formerly Holman and Co. at Lee Mill Bridge. At around ten minutes to ten, the engineer, Mr. F.W. Lawrence, on his way to the workshop at the mill, discovered a quantity of rags in the old building in flames. The structure which was composed principally of wood was soon ablaze. Unfortunately the mill’s firefighting equipment was merely a few fire extinguishers and there was no hose in the village.

Ivybridge Fire Brigade, under Captain William Martin were first to arrive and were directed to the resin house. This building was exceedingly important because it was located between the old and new parts of the mill. If the fire had been allowed to reach this area then all of the new buildings would have been most likely destroyed.

The employees of the mill which all lived at Lee Mill or Ivybridge and numbering around 50, were promptly on the scene and were reported to strenuously assist the firemen in containing the fire. The Plymouth Fire Engine arrived at around 12.15 a.m., followed closely by Captain W. H. Hoskin, and twelve men of the Plympton Fire Brigade.

Ivybridge Fire Brigade, under Captain William Martin were first to arrive and were directed to the resin house. This building was exceedingly important because it was located between the old and new parts of the mill. If the fire had been allowed to reach this area all of the new buildings would have been most likely destroyed.

The employees of the mill which all lived at Lee Mill or Ivybridge and numbering around 50, were promptly on the scene and were reported to strenuously assist the firemen in containing the fire. The Plymouth Fire Engine arrived at around 12.15 a.m., followed closely by Captain W. H. Hoskin, and twelve men of the Plympton Fire Brigade.

The efforts of the brigades were unsuccessful as far as the old mill was concerned. The remainder of the mill thankfully was saved but the blaze continued all night. The damage was estimated at between £2,000 and £3,000. The families of Mr. Austin, Mr. Druce, and those who occupied four cottages adjoining the rear of the destroyed buildings, fifteen in all, removed their furniture into the open and found accommodation for the night in the village.

 

For the following five days the mill owners requested that the Ivybridge Fire Engine remained at the site for fear of the fire reigniting, given the materials present. It was widely appreciated that without the prompt intervention of the local brigade, the whole of the mill would have been gutted. In the end it had just been the older part of the mill along with three cottages and nearby buildings which suffered. To cover some of the cost for the use of the fire appliance, the Council claimed a sum of £80 from the owner of the mill, Mr Henry. In a rather mean and perhaps unappreciative manner, Mr Henry managed to reduce the charge to £30 which brought contempt from the Council. Furthermore, whilst the charge was rendered in March it was not settled until August. Soon after, the Urban Council decided that for future callouts to locations outside of the district, the engine would not be permitted to leave the station unless a deposit of £15 was paid immediately a demand was made. This would ensure the brave men of the brigade would not be left waiting to be paid. Whilst many local people considered the charge to be too high, the Water Committee came forward with a scale of fixed charges for the use of the engine outside of the district:

2 guineas for up to 12 hours for the use of the fire engine and then 2 shillings for each hour after

£1 for the superintendent and 2s. for each hour after 5 hours

15 shillings for the captain and 1s. 6d. after the first 5 hours

10 shillings for the firemen and 6d. for each hour after

Furthermore, the superintendent or captain had the authority to employ 10 casual pumpers at 5s. for 5 hours and 6d. for each hour after and a minimum charge for horse hire at 30s.

Lastly refreshments for the brigade would be charged if required plus insurance for the pumpers and casuals.

The fire engine in Ivybridge at the time was maintained out of the rates whilst the firemen received ‘a paltry 1s. 6d. per drill, of which there were four per year’. They were insured under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which would provide payment of compensation for injury and this cost the ratepayers a further £3.15s. a year.

The fire at Lee Mill Bridge paper mill proved to be the death knell to the business. It had already been struggling to survive due to weak trading conditions only worsened by cheap paper imports from countries such as Sweden and Germany which arrived to Britain locally through the port of Plymouth. Later that year the paper mill’s machinery was put up for sale which included a Bertram’s 80 inch paper making machine, a 80 inch Duplex cutter, a Lancashire boiler, a Wallace and Stevenson’s traction engine and three road waggons, 8 cart horses and associated tack, a large quantity of damaged machinery from the old mill, several tons of brown packing paper plus a number of the buildings and 30 acres of land. With the sale, paper manufacturing at Lee Mill came to an end. Some people may recall the name Harris of Devon emblazoned across the front of the building in large lettering when it was a centre for horticultural machinery during the 1950s and 60s.

 

The new levy which was introduced for the use of the fire engine, however, did not appear to be well publicised. When a fire broke out at Filham House in November 1908 and the alarm raised, the superintendent of Ivybridge Fire Brigade was instructed not to attend until the payment of £15 was guaranteed. A cyclist was despatched to the owner of Filham House, who unaware of the arrangement, immediately agreed to remunerate the fire brigade. On receipt of the message the brigade proceeded to Filham House only to find on their arrival that local people had come to the house owner’s aid and had already brought the fire under control. The occupant of the property was Mr. Reginald Watts of a Plymouth firm of solicitors, Messrs. Watts, Ward, and Anthony. The fire had started in the bath room which contained a hot-air cupboard full of linen, adjoining the servants quarters. It was assumed that the hot water pipes became abnormally intense resulting in the ignition of the linen and woodwork. Residents of Ivybridge and friends of Mr Watts reportedly worked very hard to contain the fire but in order to protect the contents it was considered advisable to remove a quantity of plate, china and furniture to the lawn outside. Amongst those who assisted in tackling the fire were Dr. Cooke, Rev. Hilliard, Mr. Carter Allen, P.C. Osborn, Messrs. T. Chugg, T. Bowcott, F. Chudleigh, C. Tarr, F. Fleming, A. Harris, G. Harris, G.T. Phillips and several members of the Urban Council. Following the incident and the delay in attending the fire, the Council came under criticism only for them to rebuke the remarks stating that it was the public who had brought this matter upon themselves by ‘serving the brigade shabbily’ over previous incidents such as the one at lee Mill Bridge. Mr Watts, however, came to an agreement to pay £10 17s., the reduction due to the fact that the pumpers were not engaged and the engine was not used at all.

On 5 May 1914, another devastating fire broke out, this time at Stowford Paper Mills in Ivybridge. The Ivybridge fire brigade, which included superintendent Mr. William Henry Full and captain William Henry Martin were soon in attendance assisting the mill’s own fire brigade, whilst engines from Plympton and Stonehouse arrived much later. Whilst the fire was eventually brought under control it was clear by the following morning that major damage had been sustained to the paper mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Adjoining buildings were also damaged, as well as the launder which channelled water into the mill. This event is explained in more detail on its own dedicated web page.

Mr. William Henry Full and the captain William Henry Martin were both prominent members of the local community in Ivybridge. William Full was the Urban Council’s surveyor whilst William Martin went on to hold office with the council during the 1930s.

On 5 May 1914, another devastating fire broke out, this time at Stowford Paper Mills in Ivybridge. The Ivybridge fire brigade, which included superintendent Mr. William Henry Full and captain William Henry Martin were soon in attendance assisting the mill’s own fire brigade, whilst engines from Plympton and Stonehouse arrived much later. Whilst the fire was eventually brought under control it was clear by the following morning that major damage had been sustained to the paper mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Adjoining buildings were also damaged, as well as the launder which channelled water into the mill. This event is explained in more detail on its own dedicated web page.

Mr. William Henry Full and the captain William Henry Martin were both prominent members of the local community in Ivybridge. William Full was the Urban Council’s surveyor whilst William Martin went on to hold office with the council during the 1930s.

On 5 May 1914, another devastating fire broke out, this time at Stowford Paper Mills in Ivybridge. The Ivybridge fire brigade, which included superintendent Mr. William Henry Full and captain William Henry Martin were soon in attendance assisting the mill’s own fire brigade, whilst engines from Plympton and Stonehouse arrived much later. Whilst the fire was eventually brought under control it was clear by the following morning that major damage had been sustained to the paper mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Adjoining buildings were also damaged, as well as the launder which channelled water into the mill. This event is explained in more detail on its own dedicated web page.

Mr. William Henry Full and the captain William Henry Martin were both prominent members of the local community in Ivybridge. William Full was the Urban Council’s surveyor whilst William Martin went on to hold office with the council during the 1930s.

By 1928, Mr Norman Jasper, Chairman of the fire brigade commented that the fire appliances at Ivybridge were ‘somewhat out of date’ and a firm had been consulted with a view to overhauling them.  By 1931 the Urban Council were discussing adding a trailer pump to the equipment of the fire brigade, prompted it seems by a well-known firm of fire-engine manufacturers touring Devon and offering demonstrations.

 

Ten years later in 1938, the Auxiliary Fire Service was created which was shortly superseded by the creation of the National Fire Service, providing a unified service throughout the country.

 

During the Second World War the fire brigade in Ivybridge were well drilled with a Leyland fire engine and an average of 12 men who maintained a 24/7 service.  The men could be called out from their work and attended weekly practice procedures as well as participating in various civil defence exercises. In addition to the regular peacetime service Ivybridge had a well organised auxiliary fire service for emergency work. Historically several men from Stowford Paper Mill were members of the fire service and this tradition remained with a number of retained firemen working at the mill during its latter years.

It is known that the original fire engine survived for at least 100 years, although certainly not remaining in service. A local newspaper report from 1947 recorded its existence

‘the old Ivybridge Urban Council’s manual engine, bearing the date 1847, its pumping days over… it now cannot even be towed in a carnival procession because its wheels are falling to pieces.’

The third and current fire station was built in 1977. The Western Road building was demolished in 2021 to create dedicated car parking spaces for the residents of Western Road who were no longer permitted to leave their vehicles on the kerbside.

IVYBRIDGE FIRE BRIGADE

The first organised municipal fire brigade in Britain was established in Edinburgh in 1824 whilst other areas at this time had volunteer fire brigades. In Ivybridge, it was July 1846 before a few local gentlemen declared at a public meeting that it would be ‘highly desirable that the important village and neighbourhood of Ivybridge should be provided with a fire engine’. The ever growing population of Ivybridge with its extensive paper and flour mills, woollen manufactory and tan yard significantly increased the risk of a major fire. Ivybridge had also become a tourist destination attracting large numbers of visitors during the summer months.
The local community of Ivybridge rallied around and together raised just over £109 enabling a fire engine to be purchased. The vehicle arrived in March 1847 and the Royal Farmers Insurance Office, in recognition of the achievement, donated 12 leather buckets. A modest fire station to accommodate the new engine was built using spare stone from the railway viaduct which had neared completion. The station was located in the grounds of a house in Fore Street close to the present Methodist Church. As the engine was horse drawn, suitable stabling was also provided alongside.
During these early years of the fire brigade numerous minor incidents were reported such as hay rick fires but on 27 November 1876 the brigade was called out to a serious fire at the Union Flour Mills in the centre of Ivybridge. The fire was discovered by an employee of Stowford Paper Mill on his way to work around midnight. He raised the alarm and the brigade along with the paper mill’s own small appliance were soon at the scene. Despite their best efforts they were unable to save the mill. The buildings along with all the machinery were completely destroyed as well as a large quantity of wheat. Thankfully the flames were prevented from spreading to the nearby dwelling houses whilst William Bennetts, the Mill Manager succeeded in saving 27 sacks of flour ‘but not without severely burning one of his hands’. Luckily all the account books were kept at Mr. Bennetts’ house in Highland Street and thankfully the mill was insured. It was believed that the fire had started in the upper part of the mill as the roof and upper storey were destroyed first.
Whilst the advantage of a local fire engine was clear to everyone in the village, the water supply was sadly far from adequate, with the existing reservoir said to be ‘at least 200ft. too low’. There was barely a trickle of water in some parts of the village making firefighting extremely difficult. The situation was not improved until the new water supply came on stream during June 1916, with the construction of the reservoir at Butter Brook on Harford Moor, recorded at 854 feet above Ordnance datum. With the old reservoir just 220 feet above Ordnance datum this represented a significant improvement and would mean good pressure for the whole of the district.
By the turn of the twentieth century the small original fire station was deemed inadequate. The Urban District Council recommended that a store in Western Road should be converted to create a new one and around 1904 the local fire service moved to its second location in Ivybridge.
One of possibly the most challenging incidents for the fire brigade occurred on 13 February 1908 when it was called out to attend a fire at the paper mills of Messrs. J. Henry and Co., formerly Holman and Co. at Lee Mill Bridge. At around ten minutes to ten, the engineer, Mr. F.W. Lawrence, on his way to the workshop at the mill, discovered a quantity of rags in the old building in flames. The structure which was composed principally of wood was soon ablaze. Unfortunately the mill’s firefighting equipment was merely a few fire extinguishers and there was no hose in the village.
Ivybridge Fire Brigade, under Captain William Martin were first to arrive and were directed to the resin house. This building was exceedingly important because it was located between the old and new parts of the mill. If the fire had been allowed to reach this area then all of the new buildings would have been most likely destroyed.
The employees of the mill which all lived at Lee Mill or Ivybridge and numbering around 50, were promptly on the scene and were reported to strenuously assist the firemen in containing the fire. The Plymouth Fire Engine arrived at around 12.15 a.m., followed closely by Captain W. H. Hoskin, and twelve men of the Plympton Fire Brigade.
The efforts of the brigades were unsuccessful as far as the old mill was concerned. The remainder of the mill thankfully was saved but the blaze continued all night. The damage was estimated at between £2,000 and £3,000. The families of Mr. Austin, Mr. Druce, and those who occupied four cottages adjoining the rear of the destroyed buildings, fifteen in all, removed their furniture into the open and found accommodation for the night in the village.
For the following five days the mill owners requested that the Ivybridge Fire Engine remained at the site for fear of the fire reigniting, given the materials present. It was widely appreciated that without the prompt intervention of the local brigade, the whole of the mill would have been gutted. In the end it had just been the older part of the mill along with three cottages and nearby buildings which suffered. To cover some of the cost for the use of the fire appliance, the Council claimed a sum of £80 from the owner of the mill, Mr Henry. In a rather mean and perhaps unappreciative manner, Mr Henry managed to reduce the charge to £30 which brought contempt from the Council. Furthermore, whilst the charge was rendered in March it was not settled until August. Soon after, the Urban Council decided that for future callouts to locations outside of the district, the engine would not be permitted to leave the station unless a deposit of £15 was paid immediately a demand was made. This would ensure the brave men of the brigade would not be left waiting to be paid. Whilst many local people considered the charge to be too high, the Water Committee came forward with a scale of fixed charges for the use of the engine outside of the district:
2 guineas for up to 12 hours for the use of the fire engine and then 2 shillings for each hour after
£1 for the superintendent and 2s. for each hour after 5 hours
15 shillings for the captain and 1s. 6d. after the first 5 hours
10 shillings for the firemen and 6d. for each hour after
Furthermore, the superintendent or captain had the authority to employ 10 casual pumpers at 5s. for 5 hours and 6d. for each hour after and a minimum charge for horse hire at 30s.
Lastly refreshments for the brigade would be charged if required plus insurance for the pumpers and casuals.
The fire engine in Ivybridge at the time was maintained out of the rates whilst the firemen received ‘a paltry 1s. 6d. per drill, of which there were four per year’. They were insured under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which would provide payment of compensation for injury and this cost the ratepayers a further £3.15s. a year.
The fire at Lee Mill Bridge paper mill proved to be the death knell to the business. It had already been struggling to survive due to weak trading conditions only worsened by cheap paper imports from countries such as Sweden and Germany which arrived to Britain locally through the port of Plymouth. Later that year the paper mill’s machinery was put up for sale which included a Bertram’s 80 inch paper making machine, a 80 inch Duplex cutter, a Lancashire boiler, a Wallace and Stevenson’s traction engine and three road waggons, 8 cart horses and associated tack, a large quantity of damaged machinery from the old mill, several tons of brown packing paper plus a number of the buildings and 30 acres of land. With the sale, paper manufacturing at Lee Mill came to an end. Some people may recall the name Harris of Devon emblazoned across the front of the building in large lettering when it was a centre for horticultural machinery during the 1950s and 60s.
The new levy which was introduced for the use of the fire engine, however, did not appear to be well publicised. When a fire broke out at Filham House in November 1908 and the alarm raised, the superintendent of Ivybridge Fire Brigade was instructed not to attend until the payment of £15 was guaranteed. A cyclist was despatched to the owner of Filham House, who unaware of the arrangement, immediately agreed to remunerate the fire brigade. On receipt of the message the brigade proceeded to Filham House only to find on their arrival that local people had come to the house owner’s aid and had already brought the fire under control. The occupant of the property was Mr. Reginald Watts of a Plymouth firm of solicitors, Messrs. Watts, Ward, and Anthony. The fire had started in the bath room which contained a hot-air cupboard full of linen, adjoining the servants quarters. It was assumed that the hot water pipes became abnormally intense resulting in the ignition of the linen and woodwork. Residents of Ivybridge and friends of Mr Watts reportedly worked very hard to contain the fire but in order to protect the contents it was considered advisable to remove a quantity of plate, china and furniture to the lawn outside. Amongst those who assisted in tackling the fire were Dr. Cooke, Rev. Hilliard, Mr. Carter Allen, P.C. Osborn, Messrs. T. Chugg, T. Bowcott, F. Chudleigh, C. Tarr, F. Fleming, A. Harris, G. Harris, G.T. Phillips and several members of the Urban Council. Following the incident and the delay in attending the fire, the Council came under criticism only for them to rebuke the remarks stating that it was the public who had brought this matter upon themselves by ‘serving the brigade shabbily’ over previous incidents such as the one at lee Mill Bridge. Mr Watts, however, came to an agreement to pay £10 17s., the reduction due to the fact that the pumpers were not engaged and the engine was not used at all.
On 5 May 1914, another devastating fire broke out, this time at Stowford Paper Mills in Ivybridge. The Ivybridge fire brigade, which included superintendent Mr. William Henry Full and captain William Henry Martin were soon in attendance assisting the mill’s own fire brigade, whilst engines from Plympton and Stonehouse arrived much later. Whilst the fire was eventually brought under control it was clear by the following morning that major damage had been sustained to the paper mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Adjoining buildings were also damaged, as well as the launder which channelled water into the mill. This event is explained in more detail on its own dedicated web page.
Mr. William Henry Full and the captain William Henry Martin were both prominent members of the local community in Ivybridge. William Full was the Urban Council’s surveyor whilst William Martin went on to hold office with the council during the 1930s.
By 1928, Mr Norman Jasper, Chairman of the fire brigade commented that the fire appliances at Ivybridge were ‘somewhat out of date’ and a firm had been consulted with a view to overhauling them.  By 1931 the Urban Council were discussing adding a trailer pump to the equipment of the fire brigade, prompted it seems by a well-known firm of fire-engine manufacturers touring Devon and offering demonstrations.
Ten years later in 1938, the Auxiliary Fire Service was created which was shortly superseded by the creation of the National Fire Service, providing a unified service throughout the country.
During the Second World War the fire brigade in Ivybridge were well drilled with a Leyland fire engine and an average of 12 men who maintained a 24/7 service.  The men could be called out from their work and attended weekly practice procedures as well as participating in various civil defence exercises. In addition to the regular peacetime service Ivybridge had a well organised auxiliary fire service for emergency work. Historically several men from Stowford Paper Mill were members of the fire service and this tradition remained with a number of retained firemen working at the mill during its latter years.
It is known that the original fire engine survived for at least 100 years, although certainly not remaining in service. A local newspaper report from 1947 recorded its existence
‘the old Ivybridge Urban Council’s manual engine, bearing the date 1847, its pumping days over… it now cannot even be towed in a carnival procession because its wheels are falling to pieces.’
The third and current fire station was built in 1977. The Western Road building was demolished in 2021 to create dedicated car parking spaces for the residents of Western Road who were no longer permitted to leave their vehicles on the kerbside.