Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Great Wishford, Wiltshire
Hands to the pump, or, Odd things in churches (3)
One of the oldest fire engines in Britain is kept in St Giles Church Great Wishford. The churchwardens bought the fire engine from engineer Richard Newsham in 1728. It was a horse-drawn appliance and the pumps inside were hand operated and could shift about 65 gallons of water per minute – you needed a team of ten or so people working the pump handles to achieve this. The machine was quite costly – the churchwardens paid £33 and 3 shillings for it, a considerable sum in the 1720s – but it must have been worth it at a time when there was no organized fire service, timber buildings made fires a frequent hazard, and the system of fire insurance that evolved in the 18th century only covered those who paid the premium. Even in the Victorian period, and well into the 20th century, the fire engine was still apparently used in the village.
I don't think the fire engine was originally kept in the church, although in a way it would have made sense to keep it there – everyone would have known where it was and access would have been easy. And in the 18th century people were a lot less precious about using a church in this way than they were in later periods. Nowadays, we half expect to find relics and curiosities of former ages in our churches, but even bearing this in mind, coming across this shining red monster is quite a surprise.
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