Former Blackburn Fire Station including the drill yard wall
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Byrom Street, Blackburn, BB2 2LE
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- Statutory Address:
- Byrom Street, Blackburn, BB2 2LE
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Blackburn with Darwen (Unitary Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Former fire station, 1915-1921, by Walter Stirrup of Blackburn and Manchester. Greek Revival style with Beaux Arts and Baroque influences
Reasons for Designation
The former Blackburn Fire Station, Byrom Street, including the drill yard wall, constructed in 1915-1921, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* it is an imposing complex with an impressive composition and design symbolising civic pride and encompassing Greek Revival and Baroque influences to dramatic effect, including an 80ft-high drill tower; * it is an interesting example of a self-sufficient brigade headquarters incorporating fire, police and ambulance services, domestic accommodation, stables, stores and workshops; * despite some later alteration original building functions remain readable and it retains its historic character and numerous original features both externally and internally.
* it is an early example of a fire station purpose built for motorised appliances.
Provision for the storage of fire-fighting equipment in Britain begins informally, as the equipment (buckets, hooks and ladders) were historically provided by parishes and available to anyone within the community. Equipment would therefore be stored in an accessible place within the parish – often the church porch or a pre-existing agricultural building. In the C16 and C17 early wheeled ‘fire engines’ and other developing technologies required larger storage structures. At this time purpose-built ‘fire engine houses’ begin to appear, however architecturally they are still indistinguishable from cart sheds or other vernacular structures. More commonly they are adapted existing buildings.
After the Great Fire of London in 1666 fire insurance companies began to establish their own brigades and supply more elaborate equipment. They erected office buildings with some ancillary storage for fire equipment, and tended to use rented horses from commercial stables. As the profession of fire-fighting developed, the buildings were required to be distinguishable and representative of a specialist industry.
The first truly Municipal fire brigade began in Edinburgh in 1824, followed by Rochdale in 1826, Manchester in 1828, Brighton in 1831, Liverpool in 1834 and Norwich in 1835. London followed in 1866. These establishments focused first on providing up-to-date equipment, paid staff and training, using buildings inherited from the insurance companies, as well as converting other buildings and renting commercial stables. In the 1850s and 1860s they turned their attention to what the architectural expression of a specialist fire station ought to be, and a recognisable building type was established. Professional brigades ‘lived-in’, so the buildings became larger and domestic as well as operational.
From the mid-Victorian period to the inter-war period the language, layout and functionality of fire stations remained fairly consistent as proud, often-elaborate and consciously civic buildings. Many areas had combined Police and Fire stations in this period. Horse-drawn vehicles were replaced by motorised appliances from the 1920s, and as a result many stations were adapted or replaced. Watch towers (once functional and then later symbolic devices) finally became obsolete and separate practice towers superseded them.
During the Second World War and post-war period fire stations became more utilitarian. A watch-system, introduced in the 1920s, meant that the buildings no longer needed to be residential so they scaled-down, although divisional headquarters remained larger and incorporated office space as well as accommodation. Industrial materials were increasingly used as fire stations began to shift from town-centre to edge-of-town locations that were better connected to road networks. From the 1960s onwards they tended to become single-storey structures for operational reasons and increasingly functional, but later stations often retain the presence of a civic building (due in a large part to the readily identifiable doors) and share the same basic layout as their predecessors.
The first written mention of an organised fire brigade in Blackburn is in an article dated 6 August 1794 (Cotton Town website) in which it records that the engines of the town were kept in a state of readiness by a routine of bi-monthly maintenance. 17 firemen manned the engines and townspeople were encouraged to support them should they ever need their services.
In 1851 Blackburn received its Charter of Incorporation and one of the Corporation's first duties was to improve firefighting facilities. A new manual fire engine was purchased in 1856 and housed near the Town Hall, but after a rapid population expansion following the growth of the cotton industry, a purpose-built fire engine station was built at Clayton Street in 1865. In 1882 Blackburn Police Fire brigade was formed, reporting to the local Chief Constable, and the old brigade was disbanded. Horse-drawn appliances were introduced to supplement steam fire engines, and as the town grew further new premises were required. Land off Byrom Street was selected for a new station.
Blackburn Fire Station, Byrom Street was designed by Walter Stirrup of Blackburn and Manchester and constructed by Messrs Marshall and Dent, and was the first station in the borough (and one of the first in the country) to be designed to accommodate modern motor appliances. In October 1914 the Corporation's application to the local government board for £31,600 for the scheme was approved and construction commenced in 1915. However, it was not completed until 1921 due to the First World War when public building was suspended. By this time wage and material costs had risen considerably and the construction eventually cost £80,000. The brigade moved from their former HQ on Clayton Street into the new station on 8 December 1921, and the station was officially opened on 18 May 1922 by James Kay Esq, Deputy Mayor of Blackburn. Upon opening the station was regarded by some as one of the finest in the country.
The station originally contained an engine house/room with automatic doors, a switchboard room, mechanics' shop, an ambulance house, houses for the two first officers, and a concert room and recreation room used for billiards, concerts and lectures and with two sliding poles leading down to the engine house. There was also a drill yard of over 4,000 square yards, an 80ft tower for hose drying and fire drills, and stables for the Mounted Police. As well as the station itself 33 houses were constructed around the perimeter of the drill yard for the firemen and their families. In total, there was one inspector, two sergeants and 33 men.
After the Fire Services Act of 1948 the Police Fire Brigade became the County Borough of Blackburn Fire Brigade and the station was refurbished, and on 1 April 1974, following the reorganisation of local government boundaries, the Byrom Street station became Station 71 within the newly formed Lancashire County Fire Brigade. The fire station closed in 2012 after the opening of a newly constructed fire station on the opposite side of Byrom Street. The building has since been converted for other uses, including mechanic's businesses, offices and a judo dojo.
Former fire station, 1915-1921, by Walter Stirrup of Blackburn and Manchester. Greek Revival style with Beaux Arts and Baroque influences
MATERIALS: pressed red brick with sandstone dressings, slate roof coverings. The original timber sash windows have largely been replaced by uPVC windows.
PLAN: the former Blackburn Fire Station is a large complex with a U-shaped plan comprised of a main block to the front alongside Byrom Street and ancillary ranges and a drill tower at the rear, along with a large former drill yard surrounded on three sides by terraced housing originally built to house the firefighters and their families. The building is bounded by Byrom Street to the east, Sumner Street to the south, the drill yard and former firemen's houses to the west, and neighbouring buildings to the north.
EXTERIOR: the former fire station is mainly of two-storeys with single-storey ranges to the rear and a mixture of hipped, pitched and flat roofs. The windows, which nearly all have replacement uPVC glazing, have sandstone sills and flat-arched brick lintels. Cast-iron rainwater goods survive, including hoppers with the date '1915' in relief stylised numerals, along with brick chimneystacks with sandstone dentilled cornices.
PRINCIPAL EAST ELEVATION: the front elevation faces east on to Byrom Street and consists of a tall central block incorporating a six-bay engine house to the ground floor, which is in sandstone. The bays of the engine house are separated by large engaged-columns with Tuscan capitals and each square-headed opening has late-C20 motorised doors. Above the openings, and supported by the columns, is a deep band between the floor levels with decorative carved relief wreathed mouldings, including framed blind panels, pendant mouldings (in the style of Roman fasces/bundles of rods) topped by lion heads, and a Greek-key frieze. A large hanging sign that was originally affixed to the centre of the band has been removed and relocated to the forecourt of the new station building opposite. To the first floor are six tall windows with carved sandstone surrounds incorporating roundel decoration to the upper corners and to the top of the elevation is a deep entablature with further roundel reliefs and paired dentils to the cornice, surmounted by a prominent parapet with alternate cross-shaped pierced panels. The hipped roof is concealed from view by the parapet, but incorporates two large chimneystacks at each end.
The central block is flanked by two lower, two-storey, square pavilions with hipped roofs incorporating central ridge stacks, and narrow, pedimented entrance bays in sandstone flanked by wider outer bays. The pavilions were originally houses for the two first officers and remained in their original use until 1974 when the station changed from borough to county control and they were converted into office, recreational and dormitory space. Both pavilions project forward slightly and are identically styled with clasping sandstone pilasters to the corners and ground-floor windows set within elaborate full-height sandstone surrounds. The first floor is of sandstone and has two narrow windows to the upper floor of the pedimented entrance bay and three larger windows to each flanking side separated by relief foliate pendant mouldings. To the top of the elevation is a Greek-key frieze and a low parapet. Both pavilions' entrance doors have been replaced; the left pavilion also has an additional doorway tucked into the projecting north side adjacent to the central block, which originally formed the main entrance for the station. The south return of the left pavilion facing Sumner Street is similarly treated to the front elevation with a pedimented central bay flanked by small ground-floor windows and a sandstone first floor with the same framed relief panels as to the central block. The north return of the right pavilion, which is plainer, faces neighbouring buildings and is largely hidden from view by a high wall. The rest of the buildings on this side consist of the rear sections of workshops that face into the drill yard. A two-storey block, which contains a stone stair accessing the first-floor concert room, has a visible stair window on this north side and also the building's only two surviving sash windows.
SOUTH ELEVATION: this 11-bay elevation facing Sumner Street incorporates the former stables and stables office, which comprise the four-bays to the far left and were converted in around 1942 into a dormitory, locker room and toilets as the brigade expanded; they are now used as offices and a mechanics. The westernmost bay, which housed stables, harness room and the office is of two-storeys with a hipped roof and a ridge stack, and originally the upper floor was a hay loft. It has a deep plan with a longer west side elevation facing an entranceway into the drill yard with a mixture of original and later door and window openings. The three adjoining bays on Sumner Street are single-storey and also have a hipped roof, and were originally a stable block. The former stables has three windows and a central full dormer with a raised head. Both blocks have an overhanging dentilled eaves.
To the right of the former stables is a three-bay, flat-roofed, single-storey former ambulance house with three large square-headed openings (now - 2019 - infilled) separated by large sandstone columns in the same style as those to the front elevation, and supporting a deep entablature with paired dentils to the cornice. The ambulance house ceased its original use in 1941 and the openings were partially bricked-up in the mid-1960s and the upper sections converted into windows (now covered by boarding).
A high yard wall to the right of the ambulance house is surmounted by cast-iron railings and incorporates a carved doorcase. The three bays to the far right of the elevation form the south return of the second officer's house and are as described above.
DRILL YARD ELEVATIONS: the rear elevation of the main block and the rear ancillary buildings all face onto the eastern end of the drill yard. At the rear of the engine house is a large glass verandah/canopy (the glass is now largely covered by corrugated sheeting) known as 'the Wash' that runs the full length of the engine house and has timber king-post trusses. The wash is supported on the west side by slender cast-iron columns and was originally a covered area where the engines were washed down. An early-C21 brick and breezeblock wall has been inserted into the wash to separate the canopied space into two and an early-C21 painted-breezeblock garage has been constructed in front of the wash's southern section, which also abuts part of the northern wall of the former ambulance house. A large window in the ambulance house's west wall has been converted into a vehicular entrance to create access to the interior.
The buildings on the southern side of the drill yard are arranged around a small secondary yard area with original tethering rings for the station's horses affixed to the walls. The former stable block has a full dormer in the same style as that facing Sumner Street, and openings with modern roller shutters. The adjacent stable office block is part two-storey and part single-storey at the rear and has windows and doorways of varying size, including a window partly converted into a doorway, and an altered opening in the north end wall. Attached to the east side is a single-storey projection built during the Second World War as an anti-gas decontamination unit.
Along the northern side of the drill yard is a range of stores and workshops, with a small north-east yard behind. The largest block, which was originally the main workshop, has a gable end facing onto the drill yard with three large vehicular openings and sandstone banding and copings (some missing) to the gable. The central opening was originally a large multipaned window with an integral central doorway, but this has been removed and a modern roller shutter installed. To the west of the workshop is a drill tower that rises above the fire station and acts as a local landmark. It is a substantial six-stage structure approximately 80ft high that tapers as it rises and was used for hose drying and fire drills. The tower incorporates a sandstone plinth and brick quoining, and has a Baroque top stage. On the tower's south yard-facing elevation is a ground-floor doorway with a sandstone doorcase incorporating roundel decoration. The three stages above each have a large loading door-style opening with carved sandstone architraves with prominent keystones and aprons. Above the fourth stage is a sandstone band that becomes a cornice at each corner, and the fifth stage has a keyed oculus to all four sides. The top stage is treated like a belvedere with openings supported by classical columns, carved scrolled corners and semi-circular balconies, and is surmounted by a flagpole.
The drill yard is surrounded on three sides by a high brick wall with rounded copings, which is stepped in sections and has brick gate piers with sandstone banding. The yard has been subdivided into two (western and eastern sections) by modern metal palisade fencing; the larger western section retains its original tiled surface, whilst the eastern section immediately adjacent to the station buildings has been tarmaced over.
INTERIOR: internally the engine house retains its original buff-coloured tile floor and a doorway in the north wall with an elaborate architrave and an original five-panel door that leads into a room off. An identically styled adjacent doorway through to the first officer's house has been removed and blocked up, and a large window in the engine house's southern wall with a similarly detailed elaborate architrave, which lit the former watch room has also been removed and blocked up. Early-C21 brick dividing walls have been inserted to separate some of the bays into separate car modification and repair units, the southernmost one of which has a modern inserted mezzanine office structure. Motorised late-C20 rear doors and a traffic light control system survive, but have been boarded over internally.
The rest of the interior of the principal front block, including the former houses of the first officers, was not available for inspection, but the interiors are understood to contain five-panel doors, moulded cornicing and door architraves, picture rails, some cast-iron radiators, chimneybreasts, at least one timber fire surround with a tiled interior, built-in cupboards, glazed tiling to walls (now largely painted over), and stairs with stick balusters and newel posts with chamfered corners in the two former houses. The space above the engine house consists of a concert room and recreation room and is accessed via a stone stair with a timber handrail and painted cast-iron splat balusters (a stained-glass stair window that originally lit the stair has been removed to the modern fire station building opposite on Byrom Street). The concert room has a barrel-vaulted ceiling with plasterwork decoration, panelled walls that incorporate a fireplace at the southern end with a tiled interior and copper hood and hearth fender, fixed-bench seating to three walls, and pendant lights. The neighbouring recreation room is plainer but has moulded cornicing and a picture rail. A fire surround has been removed, but the chimneybreast survives. A former kitchen on the same floor was converted into toilets and a ladies powder room in the 1970s. Two brass sliding poles originally led down from the first floor into the engine house, including one from the concert room. The poles were removed in 2012 to the new station opposite on Byrom Street and Burnley Fire Station, but their panelled pole-drop doors and cabinets both survive; that to the concert room is set to the south-west corner and has a curved door. Further poles were also originally located within the first officers' houses and led down from the bedroom to the ground floor adjacent to the engine house, although both have now been removed (probably in the 1970s).
On the south side of the complex the ambulance house is now a mechanic's workshop and retains its original flooring, timber-boarded ceiling (some sections of boarding are missing) and bay divisions, but two of the rear doors onto the wash and the drill yard have been removed. One set of original doors survives at the eastern end but the reverse side facing into the wash has been blocked up. A stone stair leads down to a series of basement rooms underneath the ambulance house, which were used as the station control room during the Second World War and a drill training area in the late C20. An air filtration plant and system installed during the Second World War also survives.
The stables, stables office and harness room were converted in around 1942 into a dormitory, a locker room and toilets, and a dining room and kitchen in the hayloft as the brigade expanded. They are now in use as a security office, car mechanic's workshop, and a flooring business. The interiors were not inspected, but the stable office block is understood to have a stair with stick balusters in similar style to those in the first officers' houses, and the former hay loft has timber A-frame roof trusses.
The interiors of the northern stores were not inspected, but it is understood that a drying room retains rails and shelving, and a basement contains boiler and substation rooms. The interior of the main workshop was inspected and retains its original steel trusses with overhead travelling crane, two mechanics pits with timber covers for working on the appliances, and an original built-in cupboard. Three doorways that originally led through to the neighbouring stores and a small north-east yard have been blocked up. The interior of the tower was not inspected, but it is understood that it contains a timber stair with open treads that accesses all the floor landings, and at the ground-floor rear is a hose drying room with rails and pegs affixed to the walls, with a further hose room and storage room in a single-storey annexe at the rear (north side).
Books and journals
Hartwell, C, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England. Lancashire: North, (2009), 116
Blackburn Fire History. Phoenix Project, accessed 19 February 2019 from http://www.blackburnfirehistory.org.uk/
Blackburn Fire Service. A Concise History of Blackburn Fire Brigade 1794-1974, accessed 19 February 2019 from http://www.cottontown.org/Health%20and%20Welfare/Pages/Fire-Service.aspx
Barrett's Directory of Blackburn & District 1930. Pages x and xi
Blackburn Borough Centenary Souvenir Booklet 1951
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing