The team in Dudley have opened the doors on a long-locked room to find the headquarters of an old company fire brigade almost perfectly preserved, more than half a century after it stood down.
You may well have seen some of the news and social media coverage. The story has been featured by the BBC with the story being read by over 80,000 people and the interest has spread far and wide; into Europe, the US and even Australia!
The huge National Works site, which has belonged to the Alan Nuttall Partnership Limited since 1986 – some thirty years, has also been home to these items which pre-date Nuttalls, by some decades.
For those who may not know, the factory was built in 1915, on the instruction of David Lloyd George, as a munitions factory for the First World War. The manufacturing continues on the site to this day, although the products have changed over the years, once home to the infamous Bean Cars. For several decades later it was to the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) – Dudley Co-op. The vintage equipment dates from that period, when CWS had their own works brigade 1934-1971 according to current research.
As Nuttalls are celebrating our fiftieth year in business, in 2016, there had been an ongoing hunt for historical stories from around factory floor. The #50YearsofNuttalls campaign has featured long standing employees and celebrated our fantastic past project work. The story of the old Fire Station was mentioned and the team couldn’t resist the curiosity, so it was opened up to take a look, also giving press access to the firefighters’ old station, which has been protected behind a padlocked door on the ground floor since the 1950s.
We’ve always known it was here,
Said Matt Hornblower, Operations Director,
but this is such a large site, there are little corners that no one goes into. But recently we came in and had a good look around, and we still keep finding things. Anna was keen to follow up on the story when I mentioned it to her and we made our way across the site to take a look. We were both in awe of how wonderfully preserved the room is, despite a bit of dust, there are drinks, buckets of fire sand and even a newspaper!
The most impressive piece in there is a pump trailer, powered by a petrol or diesel engine. Still bright red, with ‘CWS DUDLEY’ lettered in gold on the front, it looks as though all it needs is a bit of a wipe-down. There is still air in its tyres and just a few spots of oil on the floor beneath. The documentation which is still with it suggests it dates from the 1950s, when the Co-op had its own on-site fire brigade; a necessity for factories as large as this one, even once a national fire service had been established.
The trailer pump still has its number plate: RJ9012, which belongs to the trailer and we have been informed that this supports it being from around 1934. They were part of a limited run and each had a consecutive number plate – right upto 9,999. I wonder how many are still around today?
Perhaps even more striking are the uniform jackets and caps, still hanging from hooks on the green-painted walls. In some cases the names of their wearers are still chalked above them, as if they walked out one day and never came back. Names still in evidence include I Silk, W Price and A Round.
Hanging on the opposite wall is a row of neatly rolled-up canvas hoses, along with a single gas mask and also among the items is a certificate awarded to one of the men – the name is hard to read but could be Jones – when the Dudley brigade entered competitions with other Co-op forces from around the country. There are even a few programmes from such events dating from the 1950s.
These names have sparked delight in some local families as they’ve excitedly called in to tell all about the Brigade. Astonishingly, one of the Firefighters got in touch and relayed some of his fantastic memories of competing against other fire crews at competitions! Including pictures of a particular success in 1963, when the team won both group and individual competitions. They’d have been taking part in such contests, racing each other to perform drills such as assembling equipment and rolling out lengths of hose. Some of the original competition booklets and magazines remain in the room.
Another piece of historical interest, though not necessarily fire-related, is a huge Tannoy unit. Standing about five feet tall and filled with the type of old valves that used to glow in the back of our television sets, it would once have been used to carry messages, and probably radio channels, around the works , some of the original receivers are also dotted around the site.
The question now is, what to do with such a find.
We’re having such a fantastic response to the story. It’s delightful to reunite families with the history of their recent ancestors and astounding to see the amount of people who are keen to hear what happens with the find. As the Black Country Museum is such a close neighbour, we have invited their curators to review the pieces and that has proved so useful in dating and giving the story. We’re continuing to work with them, along with some archivists, to make sure that we preserve this jewel of Black Country and UK history.
Concluded Anna Bamford, Marketing Manager.
The fire station has attracted a lot of interest and has been featured on regional and national news in the UK. Follow BBC Midlands Today’s depiction of the discoveries below.
A disused fire station in the basement of an old factory in Dudley remains untouched in 50 years. Now the owners are hoping to find out more about its history. https://www.facebook.com/midlandstoday/videos/10154541777914761/
Mystery of the abandoned fire station basement… https://www.facebook.com/midlandstoday/posts/10154543511414761
Last night on Midlands Today we showed you the mystery of the old fire station hidden away for fifty years in Dudley.It’s tucked away underneath what was the old Co-Op factory which had its own fire brigade from the 1930s to the sixties. Among those watching were the sons of two of the factory firefighters… https://www.facebook.com/midlandstoday/videos/10154544701389761/
“The thought that this place may be connected to my father’s history stopped me in my tracks,” said Rob Silk, whose late father worked at an abandoned fire station in Dudley. http://bbc.in/2dYI3C7 https://www.facebook.com/midlandstoday/posts/10154550231564761
We know that some of you, many of whom have years of memories in the Black Country, might be able to help fill in the blanks of the story – so please do mention it and see if your memories can help us. If you think you could help, you can contact Anna Bamford, Marketing Manager on 01384 245100, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow the story on twitter using the hashtag #NuttallFireStation.