North Devon in 100 Objects: 27. The Barnstaple Steam Fire Pump

A 19th century steam fire pump.

The splendid piece of engineering that is the Barnstaple Steam Fire Pump was a product of the 19th century London engineering company Shand Mason who specialised in the building of superior fire appliances. This example was purchased by the Borough of Barnstaple in 1914 for £320. It was a horse drawn double vertical steam engine which could steam up from cold in seven minutes, ready to go rapidly into action. It is thought to have served Barnstaple until the mid-1930s, when it was replaced by a motorised fire engine.

The pump disappeared from the records until it turned up after World War II in the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire. In 1975 it was bought and saved by Dr Jonathan Minns, an enthusiast for Victorian British engineering who had set up the British Engineerium in a disused Victorian sewage pumping station in Hove, West Sussex. There it was brought back into steaming condition and took its place beside other examples of Victorian engineering.

In 2018 the Barnstaple steam fire pump was again put up for sale, and it was Barnstaple ex-businessman and former Borough Mayor and philanthropist Keith Abraham who stepped in to bring back to our town the Barnstaple Steam Fire Pump. It has been refurbished, tested and certificated by enthusiasts of the West Somerset Railway at Williton and it now takes pride of place in the museum’s Social History Gallery.

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