Sunday, April 1, 2007

Brockenhurst Fire Bell

This is the story of a bell. Passed by thousands. Noticed by a few. It lies on a busy crossroads in the centre of a bustling New Forest village on the south coast of England. Mounted on a heavy post over 20 feet high it once rang out to summon the local fire engine. Now it rings just once a year. To remember those who died in war on Remembrance Sunday.
The New Forest is a truly beautiful place. Established over 900 years ago as a Royal hunting area it is now the newest National Park in the UK enjoying special protection to preserve its unique character.Brockenhurst lies in the heart of the Forest. Once peaceful , it now has large numbers of tourists and college students giving the feel of a much larger place than a village of about 3500 residents. The photos show the bell in its location and provide images of the village centre and the surrounding countryside

History of the bell

This information was provided by Alan House, Deputy Chief Fire Officer of Hampshire. He campaigned for some 25 years to have the bell refurbished. Wheels turn slowly around here!

The bell was first suggested at a Parish Council meeting on 17 July 1911 when a letter was read out from the Coronation Committee who were suggesting that a fire bell be erected as a permanent Coronation memorial paid for from the Coronation funds that they had at their disposal. The site on which it now stands was offered by the Morant Trustees - the Morants being big owners of land and property in Brockenhurst at the time. The fee was a shilling per year payable to the trustees by the Parish. It was erected at the end of October 1912. The formal ringing of the bell with a test turnout of the village brigade did not take place until 23 July 1913 and 2 plates were placed on the post.

The first plate states:

"This bell was rung for the first time by John Morant ( the present Lord of the Manor) age 5 years on 23rd July 1913"

The second plate states:

"This bell was provided by the parishioners of Brockenhurst as a memorial of the Coronation of King George V 1911"

The first record of a fire for which the bell was used was in early June 1915 for a hayrick fire. On 7 March 1923, someone went to use the bell to alert the brigade of a fire involving a house with a thatched roof in Sway Rd and on the first pull to ring the bell the pull system which was rusted through fell off! Urgent repairs were then made to make it all work again. Early in February 1928, the bell was raised in height by 20ft because some of the firemen complained that the bell could not be heard easily. It is not known when it was last used in action but records indicate that it certainly ceased use in World War Two as bells were to be used to indicate invasion.

Over the years the bell remained largely unnoticed and neglected. Alan House campaigned for many years to have the bell restored to its former glory and he was invited to be the person to ring the bell for the first time after it was refurbished and remounted on a new post. The bell is thought to be unique in the UK as the only surviving public fire bell.
The fire station members now ring the bell to start and end the 2 minute silence for Remembrance Sunday.

The three photos show the bell before the height was raised in 1928, before restoration in 1997 and in position in 2007.

The bell today

Two years ago the bell was removed and fully refurbished by a Brockenhurst resident. Two new plaques bearing the original inscriptions were placed on the post. The close up photos show how well the bell looks today. I have been able to discover neither the maker nor the weight and dimensions of the bell. Enquiries continue……. The inscription on the bell reads: