When Ryde Fire Brigade became the Isle of Wight’s first organised formation of firemen in 1829, the equipment, of which there was very little, had no dedicated storage and was merely placed alongside the other basic assets of the town authority.
Contemporary records of the Committee of Management of the Sun Fire Office suggest that certain money was subscribed to the town later the same year to part or fully fund the purchase of a fire engine of unknown type or origin. It seems more likely that the purchase of a wheeled appliance didn’t happen until 1835. No references confirm where the engine was accommodated, but that was to change with erection of the Town Hall, completed in 1831, into which the brigade moved later in the same decade.
The rudimentary brigade under the superintendence of Cross Street ironmonger George Woods was afforded a squalid low-ceiling accommodation at the far north-west corner of the Town Hall beneath the chambers, opening out onto Market Street. Scant evidence exists today, save for rusting hinges that held the station doors perched beneath the long since bricked up arches. So basic was the accommodation that when the town acquired a wheeled escape ladder it was kept outdoors in the narrow passageway between the Hall and St James’ Church.
The Market Street fire station. The wheeled escape ladder was kept in the passage behind the posts to the right of the photo.
The Brigade operated from this inconspicuous base until winter 1904 when the town’s first purpose-built station was opened in Brunswick Street, later renamed Station Street. The Brunswick Street station was largely due to the drive of Captain Sidney Charles Sapsworth, Ryde’s commanding officer from 1897 to 1910.
The station served the town for 89-years, undergoing several rebrands and structural alterations throughout.
During the Second World War on formation of the National Fire Service, the station was designated the callsign 14D2Z (14 = Fire Force 14, D = division ‘D’, 2 = district ‘2’, Z = sub-divisional headquarters with a control centre). Essentially no major structural alterations were made to accommodate the additional gear. By 1944 with the threat of aerial attack diminishing rapidly, the station was redesignated 14D4 amid a massive reduction of strength. This is where Ryde acquired the number ‘4’ which remains its principle designating factor to this day.
After the war there was little need for structural change to the station. In preparing for disbandment of the National Fire Service, local authorities upon who legislative responsibility was to be placed for the provision of firefighting services from April 1948, were required to submit draft Establishment Scheme proposals for Home Office approval. The scheme submitted in late 1947 indicates that Ryde still sported Ethel the Leyland Pump Escape (PE), and even its 1925 Leyland Braidwood engine Alice. Throughout the post-war period and into the 1950’s Ryde’s watchroom log makes repeated reference to the two engines as the PE and Main Pump respectively.
But in subsequent decades the appliances had to be updated, and they were, requiring substantial station alteration and a farewell to the ornate arches. Other than the distinctive brickwork pattern in the remaining two columns, little of the original external appearance remains, and by the 1980’s and the rebranding of the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service, the station was identified as inadequate for the future expansion of the service.
The plan to move the station to a new facility on Nicholson Road was not solely related to the towns operational need. The service aspired to expand on its modest training centre that shared facilities with the operational staff at Sandown Fire Station.
A few years earlier, shortly after moving to the Isle of Wight and keen to explore, I recall walking a footpath that crossed the railway to Pig Leg Lane, following it up the hill, through agricultural fields forming part of Preston Farm and out a five-bar gate onto Great Preston Road. The upper leg of that footpath is now Nicholson Road, a tract of which offered the service a far broader drill ground, an impressive drill tower structure, the service’s first live-fire building (which was installed a little later) and a range of offices, lecture rooms, shower facilities and other ancillaries. Combining this with an equally impressive structure to rehouse the fire station led to what I once heard a senior officer refer to as the jewel in the crown of the service.
A near unrecognisable 2023 Google Earth image of the former Preston Farm, now Nicholson Road.
Operational firefighters of Ryde and instructors and officers of the Brigade Training Centre began moving in during 1993, but the formal opening by HRH Princess Margaret, wasn’t staged until the following May. Later BTC was renamed the Service Learning and Development Centre (SLDC) and since combining with Hampshire FRS the centre is a satellite of the primary training facility at Eastleigh.
What follows below is scanned images of the original programme produced for the opening. I will add that several of the dates and references cited in the history section are inaccurate. I have also added some photographs, retained at the station, taken on the same day.
Former Freshwater firefighter Colin Piper proudly presenting vintage uniform alongside the Shand Mason manual engine he restored, displayed at the Brigade Training Centre during the opening (the engine remains there to this day).
When I first joined the station in 1996, my first boss, Station Officer Dave Potts, stated that when the station was built it had been designed to be used as a day-crewed station, and he predicted that one day it would happen. As the years went by, Dave retired, and nothing seemed to change – until 2009 when recruiting began through a process known as migration – the enabling of retained firefighters to transfer direct into wholetime roles. On 1 February 2010 Stn. Off. Potts’ prediction became a reality - 15 personnel, under the command of Watch Manager Kelvin Wright who transferred from Newport, formed the first wholetime firefighters of Ryde since the Second World War. To sufficiently accommodate the needs of the expanding role of the station an extension was added, colloquially referred to by those of us on the watch as the West Wing, two years later.
After seven years of day-crewing, the service, at the request and idea of Ryde wholetime operational staff, permitted an evolutionary change from day-crewed status to a two-watch seven-days-a-week system devised by one of the firefighters. Both day-crewed and two-watch systems afforded an unprecedented capacity to absorb critical non-operational community functions in addition to substantially improving response times during wholetime staffed hours, but a great reliance was still placed on the station's retained personnel who had served the town since 1948, and continue to provide a vital element of the response capability.