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Preston’s fire brigade and the Bloomfield Mill disaster

Posted on - 13th August, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News
Preston Fire Station in Tithebarn Street, 1896 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Fire Station in Tithebarn Street, 1896 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston’s first fire station was built in 1852 and was in use until 1962. Prior to the founding of municipal fire brigades, fire crews, and appliances were provided by voluntary bodies such as the Parish. Insurance companies kept their own fire brigades and for a regular fee, would extinguish your building. If you were not insured the building could have been left to burn. 

Gradually significant cities such as Edinburgh and London formed their own brigades. These were publicly funded. The first was the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1866.

Preston’s fire stations

Preston’s first fire station Pic: Red Rose Collection

Preston’s first fire station was located on Tithebarn Street. It was built in 1852 and demolished in the late 1960s to make way for the new bus station. The building had a short-lived new lease of life, as a car valeting service.

Preston’s ex fire station in 1967 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston’s ex fire station in 1967 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

A new fire station was opened in 1962, on Blackpool Road. This was much larger and is still in use today. Happily, fires are not as common as they were in Victorian times when a devastating fire destroyed Bloomfield Mill.

Preston’s new fire station in 1964 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston’s new fire station in 1964 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston’s Bloomfield Mill fire of 1871

Unfortunately, there was a spate of mill fires in Preston during the 1870s. Textile mills were full of combustible materials and cotton dust in the air could spontaneously combust. One such blaze occurred in January 1871 when Bloomfield Mill, off North Road, began to burn. The building owned by Messrs Richard Threlfall and Sons burned for several hours, and despite the best efforts of the Preston Fire Brigade, the building was completely destroyed. 

However, the brigade prevented nearby weaving sheds from combusting and there was no loss of life, initially, as the hands had enough warning to evacuate. Sadly, over 500 operatives were thrown out of work, although the mill was insured and later rebuilt. 

Unfortunately, the building was to claim a victim during reconstruction. One afternoon the gable of the building was being rebuilt when it suddenly fell outwards. A support beam had snapped and  Thomas Gibbons was thrown on to some joists, sixty feet below. Other workers were injured but Thomas unfortunately succumbed to his injuries. 

In the run-up to World War II, the fire service was reorganised and effectively nationalised.

1938, prelude to war

The Fire Brigades Act of 1938 created Fire Authorities out of county boroughs and municipal boroughs. They were required to provide the necessary equipment to serve their borough. However, the fire service was essentially nationalised in 1941 when the National Fire Service was formed. After the war, control reverted back to the county councils.

A Leyland pump escape fire engine from 1939 Pic: Heritage Machines
A Leyland pump escape fire engine from 1939 Pic: Heritage Machines

No article on Preston’s fire brigade would be complete without mentioning Leyland Motors, located just down the road from Preston. They made a range of fire appliances that were used throughout Britain in World War II.

Follow Geoffrey for more Preston history.

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