Firefighting family were at Drayton's call

They were Market Drayton's firefighting family – the Sillitoes.

Market Drayton fire brigade in Buntingsdale Road in about 1930, complete with their open fire appliance and brass helmets. Charlie Sillitoe is on the right, and his father Henry is believed to be far left.
Market Drayton fire brigade in Buntingsdale Road in about 1930, complete with their open fire appliance and brass helmets. Charlie Sillitoe is on the right, and his father Henry is believed to be far left.

And for years they were on the spot at everything from minor incidents to plane crashes, their service spanning the days from shiny brass fireman's helmets and horse-drawn appliances to more modern equipment.

First there was Henry, and sons Charlie and Percy were destined to follow in his firefighting footsteps. Percy's log of his callouts over 20 years survives. It runs to about 1,600 incidents.

Percy's grandson Edward Sillitoe has been sorting through some things which came from his late grandparents' home in Frogmore Road which include the log and some fascinating photographs.

"They provide an interesting insight into Market Drayton’s fire brigade in the mid-20th century," he says.

Percy, born in 1909, was 94 when he died and his widow Lilian – who also served as a Drayton firefighter during the war – died last year.

Percy Sillitoe in his uniform.

Edward doesn't think the photos have ever been published before and has shared them with us saying he hopes they are of interest to Star readers.

"I think it is important to make, and share, a record of the stories behind old photos because in another generation so much local social history will be forgotten."

One photo shows Market Drayton Fire Brigade in about 1930 wearing their brass helmets and standing in front of their open appliance.

Market Drayton fire brigade in Buntingsdale Road in about 1930, complete with their open fire appliance and brass helmets. Charlie Sillitoe is on the right, and his father Henry is believed to be far left.

Edward says: "The location is Buntingsdale Road, with the boundary wall of Christ Church, Little Drayton, on the left. The houses on the right hand side are still identifiable, near to the recreation ground.

"Of the eight crew members we can only make one positive identification. The young fireman on the far right, nearest the houses, is my granddad’s older brother, Charles (Charlie) Sillitoe.

"I am reasonably sure that the older man on the far left is their father, Henry Sillitoe. I can vaguely remember my granddad showing me these pictures as a child and saying that his father was in them but we only have a photo of him as a young man for comparison.

"Henry, a blacksmith and farrier by trade, put in 24 years’ service as a retained fireman, starting when they had a horse-drawn, manual pump. Apparently, he used to look after the horse(s) too.

"His son Charlie followed him into the brigade, joining around 1927 and serving, on a retained basis, for 34 years. This dates the pictures to at least 1927 but not much later than 1930 because Henry would have been 56 by then and about normal retirement age for the times."

Among other pictures is one showing the old Market Drayton fire station on the corner of Prospect Road and Frogmore Road.

Market Drayton fire station around the mid 1950s.

"I believe this was built around 1939 but the picture must be mid-1950s because of the presence of the Auxiliary Fire Service Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump, or 'Green Goddess,' on the far right, which was introduced in 1953, and the absence of TV aerials on the roofs of Frogmore Road.

"This was where the family association continued. At the outbreak of war in 1939 my granddad Percy Sillitoe, and his brother Charlie, being general blacksmiths, worked in a reserved occupation, so were not called up for military service. With his brother already a fireman, Percy and – not to overlook the role played by women in wartime – my grandmother, Lilian, both joined the AFS for the duration of the war.

"Percy became a retained fireman with the regular Market Drayton fire service in March 1946 and served for over 23 years, retiring as Leading Fireman in September 1969. He served at this fire station and used the appliances in this picture.

"My dad Roger remembers visiting the station as a young lad in the 1950s to see the ‘Green Goddess’ when it was brand new.

"He also remembers the other vehicles as, from left, a 1940s Austin appliance carrying a 50ft escape ladder – look closely and you can just make out 'Shropshire Fire Service, Market Drayton' and the Shropshire coat of arms on the door – next, a 1940s Austin towing vehicle (aka 'the van') which towed a trailer pump; a 1950s Commer water tender which also towed a trailer pump; and the Bedford ‘Green Goddess’.

"With all the vehicles and pumps in a confined space, my dad recalls the station had a noticeable smell of petrol vapour. Dad had a Dinky Toys model of a Commer fire engine, which Percy used to borrow for use in drill night lectures.

"My granddad used to tell us that the wooden escape ladder was periodically safety tested by erecting it against the Eagle Brewery tower in Cheshire Street, at the junction of Maer Lane, climbing to the top and then ‘jumping’ the rungs to check they were solid. He was one of those who did the jumping. I suspect Health and Safety would object to that method nowadays!

"The temporary banner above the doors proudly declaring 'Market Drayton' must have been put up there for a special occasion but does anyone remember why?

"This building was replaced by the current fire station in Maer Lane by the 1970s and Prospect Road continued as the ambulance station until the 1990s. Today, this is the site of St Mary’s Mews.

"Percy kept a diary of every callout attended by Market Drayton fire station from 1949 to 1969. Primarily a record of payments received, it also provides a detailed record of the nature of around 1,600 incidents, their locations and often the owner of the property.

Percy's callout diary covers 1949 to 1969.

"It shows that, in the days of coal fires and a nearby steam railway line, chimney blazes, burning railway embankments, and farm fires kept them very busy.

"However it also reveals that they attended some more unusual emergencies. The entries show there were two helicopter crashes – in February 1962 at RAF Tern Hill and September 1966 at Soudley – a forced plane landing at Shavington Park in July 1957, and a plane crash at Tern Hill in October 1966."

The family also have another cherished memento – Percy's fireman's cap.

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