The Old Plympton St Maurice Fire Engine - a potted history
The fire engine was built by Nuttalls of Longacre London in 1765. An advertisement from that date states that Elizabeth, widow of Adam Nuttall of Longacre, London, was engine maker to all His Majesty’s Public Offices, Dockyards, Forts and Garrisons etc., belonging to His Majesty’s Royal Navy.
Initially it was probably owned by an insurance company which used its own engine to protect houses that indicated, by a plaque, that they were insured by that company. Such a plaque can be seen on Brick House Fore Street which was registered with Sun Insurance in 1791. Subsequently it appears that the Borough of Plympton St. Maurice took over responsibility for the engine.
In 1871 the fire brigade consisted of a conductor and twelve volunteers. The engine, horse drawn and hand pumped, was housed next to the Guildhall in Fore Street. The brigade was called the PDVFB – Plympton and District Volunteer Fire Brigade. The company was summoned by bugle, and the most important job was catching the horse which was kept in the field south of Fore Street.
In the Plympton Magazine in February 1895 there is a description of a fire in the grocer’s shop of Mr. Reuben Triscott. “The fire was got under in about two hours. The house was gutted and the three children rescued. Order was maintained by P.C. Frood. The hydrants, the stand pipes, the pressure of water and the hose reel fittings could not have been better. But for so good a water supply and so prompt and efficient a fire brigade, there is little doubt that the whole row of seven houses would have been burnt down.”
A correspondent to the Morning News in 1922 describes how the St. Maurice fire brigade was called to a fire some miles away. “The fire engine was taken out of its shed but to our surprise was left in the street, while hose and firemen were packed onto and into a taxicab and driven off to the fire. On asking why the engine had not gone too, we were told, ‘Oh, ‘Er can’t go yet. The ‘oss be out to milk rounds.’ In due course the ‘oss’ returned. Then in solemn state the engine was driven off to the fire.”
A popular display was a demonstration of the brigade on the Castle Green when a fire in a mock- up house would be extinguished. One such event was recorded by Pathe News in 1923 when the parish was paid two guineas for the privilege of filming it.
In 1994 the engine appeared on the Blue Peter programme.
On the fire engine are the arms of the ancient borough of Plympton St. Maurice, or Plympton Erle as it was often called. The Arms consist of a falcon and the abbreviation Comit Sigill Burg. De. Plympt.
When the fire shed next to the Guildhall was converted to a caretaker’s flat the Civic Association assumed responsibility for the fire engine. It was housed on their behalf initially at the Fire Station in Glen Road, and subsequently at Saltram House. During this time its condition deteriorated. The Civic Association has since employed a wheelwright who repaired the wheels and axles.
At the time of the Lamb Feast in 2005, a Royal Navy Field Gun crew pulled the engine from Ridgeway to the Castle Green. In preparation for this, members of the Fleet Time Support Group undertook a major restoration, including refurbishing the Borough crest. Since then, the fire engine has regularly been a highlight in the parades for the Plympton St. Maurice Midsummer Festival and the May Ridgeway Fair.