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The Fire Pump

One of the most treasured relics of East Hendred is 19th century village Fire Pump which is now on a permanent display at Snells Hall.

English rural history enthusiasts and just curiosity visitors to the village and to Hendred Museum always find it worth seeing this famous piece of machinery. The pump was purchased in 1831 by the Parish Overseers after a series of disastrous fires in the village. One such fire was referred to as the Great Fire of Hendred and was talked about in the House of Commons.

The overseers had their own fire brigade with a captain and an engineer. Pumpers and other helpers (Bucket Men) were gathered when required.

The makers of the unit are uncertain. It is horse drawn with shafts for one horse. Four wheels (wooden with metal tyres) of the pump box footprint 39 inches by 100 inches and 63 inches tall, designed to pass through many domestic doorways. The shafts add a further 93 inches.

The pump is worked by hand from both sides with a pumping team of at least two per side.

Suction and delivery hoses are fabricated of leather joints being riveted by copper rivets, there were several canvas hose pipes also but only two now are available and these are no longer usable. Further equipment includes copper hose lance with attachments for changing spray patterns, and coarse filter for removing detritus from the intake. Long wooden raking tools (approximately, 15 feet) are also stored and can be carried on the side of the pump, these are for removing thatch. There is a collection of some 20 leather buckets.

Pumpers and Bucket Men were issued with leather arm bands each with a numbered copper tag. Payment would be made only to those with arm bands. Hourly rates applied.

The method of operation was to draw the pump close to a water supply and suck up water into the machine. It is possible to prime the pump by pouring water into either end of the tank and this method could be used with a bucket team if no suitable supply was available for suction purposes.

The last time it was used in danger was at a fire in Hendred in 1938 when the Fire Service from Wantage needed help to get water from the local stream to their pump.

It was subsequently used post 1945 to water a new cricket pitch during a drought.

In 1890 when Parish Councils were formed, the pump was taken over and the same system of operating was used. The Captain of the brigade would report to the Council annually and was responsible for the operation, including training and maintenance.

The Pump was housed as part of the village pound near Champs Chapel in a specially constructed small building of brick and corrugated iron. That shed was extended slightly a few years after.

When the District Council became responsible for the providing of a Fire Service, the pump was taken over by them and moved to Wantage. There is a minute relating to Wantage RDC stating that if Hendred required the pump they should send horses for it. The pump stayed Wantage-based until the 1939-45 war when it is believed it was returned to Hendred and its original home.

At some stage after Nationalisation of the Fire Service, WRDC decided to sell the building and adjoining patch of land. The successful bidder (Mr ‘Tink’ Mulford) discovered the pump inside the shed. Mr Peter Mulford and some of his colleagues from the AEA Graphic Design office fully restored the paintwork and arranged for one wheel to be repaired at Harrison's Church Street Blacksmiths. The pump was housed in the original building until the property was sold by the Mulford family. They kindly donated the pump back to the Parish Council who in turn passed it to East Hendred Heritage Trust for safe keeping.

During that time the pump was moved to temporary stores in 3 private locations in the village.

Planning permission was obtained on land at Snells Hall (Village Community Centre) and the necessary work carried out to lay foundations and electricity ducting for a suitable building. That hurdle negotiated the big boost came from gifted materials and dedicated volunteer labour ranging from shovelling surplus contractors soil to complex carpentry using recycled timber donated by the Hendred Estate, much from the demolished garages at the Eyston Arms.

The Parish Council and the East Hendred Community Centre supported the proposal as did the Vale of White Horse District Council.

East Hendred Heritage Trust provided the building, giving it to East Hendred Community Centre (which is also a village Charity, then leasing back a major portion of the building holding the Fire Pump and a small store for 30 years.

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