Henry Powis-Pinder, as Matthew Scraby in 'Lady Tatters'.

Leading Fireman Henry Powis-Pinder of Shanklin’s Auxiliary Fire Service passed away on 25 July 1941 aged 68 and it’s not only because he’d never served in any fire service before volunteering for the A.F.S. when in his 60’s that his life is remarkable.

When researching the lives of firemen of the past, its common to find that their family backgrounds were one of manual labour – typically in construction or agriculture. The life of Henry Powis-Pinder is therefore contradictory to all expectations being as remote from that of the stereotypical fireman as one could imagine.

Henry was born in Camberwell on 6 September 1872 and baptised at the nearby St Giles’ Church on 11 October. The baptismal records show that his parents were Dr Edward Pinder and his wife Naomi. Henry grew up in the expansive family home in the leafy Grove Lane (where average property sells for £900k today) alongside a cluster of half-siblings which appear to have originated from both parents’ previous alliances.

Henry in 'Iolanthe', 1901

Little is known of Henry’s childhood or teenage years until discovering a reflection published by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company which reads – Henry Powis Pinder’s first stage appearance was on tour in 1893 as the Vicomte de Champletreaux in Ma’m’zelle Nitouche with Mr and Mrs Frank Wyatt. He made his London Stage debut at the Savoy in December 1894. Pinder next appeared in a D’Oyly Carte program with Carte’s Company “D” from March to November 1896, playing the Herald in The Grand Duke and (from October onward) Mr Goldbury in Utopia Limited.

This description perfectly pitches Henry’s life as one dedicated to stage entertainment and in 1897 he married D’Oyly Carte singer Ethel Florence Quarry of Highgate, at Pancras. The 1901 Census found them settled at an address in Fulham Road, Fulham, owned by and shared with Henry’s mother, with the couple listed as theatrical actors. Searches of newspaper archives for pre-WW1 period of the 20th century are littered with references to Henry and Ethel’s professional performances and associations. In 1911 the couple, now a family with a young son Arthur, were resident at 86 Windermere Road, Ealing – a modest semi-detached abode but again in an area where today the property would be valued at not much under one million pounds.

The first reference connecting Henry with the Isle of Wight appeared in a County Press article in the edition of 16 January 1915. Shanklin Town Hall had been the venue for – an evening entertainment of singular artistic excellence – in aid of the St John Ambulance Association. The ‘crowded performance’ concluded with a one-act comedy Jerry and the Sunbeam starring Miss Dorothy Gouldsmith and Henry Powis Pinder. This appears to have been the time at which Henry detached himself from the bright lights of London and was entranced by Shanklin where he staged notable burlesque evenings at the Town Hall from 1918 for which hospital commandants were encouraged to contact Henry to arrange free attendance for soldiers wounded in war. Finding Shanklin a worthy home the couple embedded themselves in local society with Henry becoming a freemason of the Chine Lodge in October 1919.

Advertisement from the IWCP, 24 August 1918.

Henry and Ethel’s contributions to Shanklin’s entertainment industry were relentless from there on, eventually establishing the Sunshine Theatre on the Esplanade, becoming famous for their Sunshine Concerts from 1921, which in the mid-1930’s starred Arthur Askey among others. These continued until the outbreak of the Second World War when his son, who assisted his father with management of the Sunshine Theatre, left to join the army. Three days after the declaration of war Henry celebrated his 67th birthday – but his age didn’t prevent him from volunteering to serve with the Auxiliary Fire Service.

The 'Sunshine Concert' party of 1935, featuring Arthur Askey.

Sadly in 1941 his previous good health suddenly failed him, and he was unable to continue his firefighting duties, in which he had been appointed to the role of Leading Fireman. Finally, at a nursing home in Shanklin he passed away on 25 July. His funeral, held at St Blasius, was attended by a mass of local friends and dignitaries, and (where able to obtain travel permits) notable friends and admirers of the stage from London. The fact that his service was staged as a brigade funeral and his coffin borne by Firemen Blundell, Smith, Higley, Bannister, Bayliss and White, suggests that the veteran actor had done much to impress and endear himself to his colleagues with his later-life firefighting endeavours. Representatives were also sent from brigade and A.F.S. units in Ventnor and Sandown. The floral tributes displayed included those from Shanklin Fire Brigade and the men of the Sandown Road A.F.S. sub-station.

Rest in peace Leading Fireman Powis-Pinder.