Lenham Fire Station
by Amy Myers
One snowy night, 8th February 1935, there was a small fire in a florist and greengrocery store in the High Street, which rapidly spread both to Percy Bradford’s draper’s shop next door (now Lavender Kings) and to the village telephone switchboard at the post office. The switchboard was then under the expert control of Esme Brown from the Hughes family who had run the post office since before the First World War. Esme managed to summon the fire brigade and soon afterwards, so the Kent Messenger recorded, the lines were burnt through. By this time villagers were hurriedly dressing and rushing to the Square to bang on doors and raise the alarm.
But there was no fire brigade stationed in Lenham and the fire raged on while brigades travelled from Maidstone and Ashford. The fire spread to living quarters in the upper storeys of the shops but when the firemen arrived they were handicapped by the insufficient water supplies because of the icy weather. They were reliant on water from Court Lodge pond and from Tanyard Farm.
‘Never again’ was the village’s reaction to this disaster and there was a united demand that Lenham should have its own fire brigade.
Lenham Fire Brigade No 1
The wheels of local authorities turn slowly but Lenham organised its own volunteer service in 1936 when Lenham Fire Brigade No.1 was established. Next year the Brigade proudly took part in the parade to mark the coronation of King George VI, cheering from the back of a local lorry. The Volunteers had regular drills on land next to the lock-up, and their vehicle was lodged at the Chequers, from which the fire bell rang. Later the lorry was stored at Hulland’s Garage.
With the coming of the Fire Brigade Act of 1938, it didn’t take long before local fire brigades were taken over by Hollingbourne Rural District Council and shortly afterwards Maidstone took control with Percy Clark becoming Chief Officer. The outbreak of war in September 1939 saw Lenham working side by side with the National Auxiliary Fire Service. At last Lenham had its very own fire station, which was on its present site on land donated by Lord Chilston.– a Nissen hut that cost £180. A Ford V8 saloon car was converted into a fire tender to tow a trailer pump. Next to the fire station was the by now automatic telephone exchange erected between it and the Lenham Working Men’s Club (now the Lenham Social Club).
30 Brigade outside the former school (now demolished) on the Headcorn Road. Bill Scotland is third from the left.
A year later the fire service became national and Lenham became 30 Fire Force Area of No.12 Region, which it remained for the rest of the war. In April 1948, however, the Kent Fire Brigade was formed. Ron Harden became the first Sub-Officer for Lenham, until he was badly injured in a fire, with Bill Scotland taking over.
It wasn’t until 1961 that the days of the Nissen hut came to an end and the new station was built. Steve Browne recalled in an interview for Focus that there was a run of large fires in the nineties, including Clark’s furniture store in Maidstone, and more recently the Week Street Fire. The fire services are called on for other reasons than fires including road traffic accidents. The whole process from the alert to leaving the station takes a standard five minutes. With regular training sessions and being on call, dedication is essential and loyalty to their mission ranks highly in Lenham’s fire brigade: in October 2002, when the new station opened, eight of the original 14 firemen were still serving. Today, Kent is divided into five operational groups which are sub-divided into cluster areas, and Lenham is in the Mid-Group, Maidstone Cluster although its work can take it anywhere in the county or even further afield. It’s vital but tough and dangerous work. Lenham has much to thank its fire brigade for.
Ex-Sub-Officer Matthew (‘Peter’) Clubb presented with the Queen’s Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to mark 20 years at Lenham Fire Station. Left to right; Ex-Sub- Officer Bill Scotland, Peter Clubb and Ernie Hare.