Glorious 1939 Leyland Pump Escape fire engine

Posted by Chris Graham on 6th February 2023

John Meakins worked for Kent Fire Brigade but now spends the summer months displaying this glorious 1939 Leyland Pump Escape fire engine.

Leyland Pump

1939 Leyland Pump Escape fire engine: John Meakins and fellow volunteer Alan Thompson with the fire engine.

“This engine was new to Dartford Borough Council Fire Brigade in October 1939 having been ordered in February of that year. Shortly into the war, in 1941, the whole of the fire services were nationalised so, although it continued serving in Dartford, they effectively lost it to the National Fire Council.

“After the war they de-nationalised and handed responsibility for fire services back to town and county councils, and the engine became part of the newly-formed Kent Fire Brigade in 1948. She was operationally used, still at Dartford, until 1955. Then it became a reserve vehicle, and it went to its last fire in Maidstone in March 1956. It ended up at the training school at Linton, near Maidstone.

Leyland Pump

When I joined the Fire Brigade in 1965, the Leyland was at the training school, painted dark green. It was a non-operational vehicle and that was the school’s policy. It was kept at the training school and used to train other brigades with the wheeled escape ladder. I trained on one of these, even though Kent had got rid of the thing by that time. It survived because it was kept at the training school.

“During the 1970s, it was decided to restore it as a museum piece. Pretty much the restoration was done in 1971/72 as you see it now. I ran it from 1973 as a museum piece while I was still serving in Kent Fire Brigade, and I continued after I retired. In 2012, the whole of the museum and the heritage owned by Kent Fire Brigade or Kent Fire and Rescue as it had become known by then, the current management decided they didn’t want the old stuff anymore and it was offered back to Dartford Borough Council, its original owners, and passed on for an official sale price of £1 and basically, I went with it.

“There’s not a lot of difference from how she was first delivered; the escape ladder is a different make, it’s now a Merriweather, it had a wheeled escape ladder before, similar looking but built by a firm called Bayley. An 8.8 four-litre petrol engine straight-six and overhead cam shaft. Pretty much the same engine as Leylands would have put into their long distance coaches in the 1930s. The fire pump – 700 gallons per minute made by Guinn and powered by the road engine and sits under the seat with duplicated controls on both sides amidships.

“There are a few examples of these vehicles up and down the country. Some brigades kept them operational up to the end of the 1960s, but they were really passed their prime. Provided we can keep it going, the future’s bright. Not a huge amount is spent on it – we have to keep it going on a ‘wing and a prayer’. It looks nice but it’s been restored like this for 50 years now.”

This article comes from a recent issue of Heritage Commercials, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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