The birth of a Norwich landmark

Norwich fire station is set to close later this year. Derek James takes a look back at the birth of a city landmark.

Here is a picture of the birth of a building – one which has played a leading role in Norwich life and one which will be closing later this year.

This photograph was taken by the brilliant city photographer and historian George Plunkett and shows the Bethel Street Fire Station taking shape during 1933.

Up until then the firemen had been operating out of a hopelessly outdated and inadequate station in Pottergate, from where they protected no less than 78 parishes within a 10 mile radius of the city.

In those days policemen and firemen were one of the same but were starting to go their separate ways as the two jobs were so different.

At an inquiry into the building of the fire station at Bethel Street, before the arrival of the police station, Chief Constable John Henry Dain said it would save thousands of pounds to have the police station next door to the fire station.

Among the objections was one from members of the Gladstone Club in St Giles.

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Its members were concerned about losing their beautiful bowling green which backed on to the land where the fire station was to be built.

However, the station was given the green light and a collection of properities were demolished.

These were Jay's Court, which contained five houses, and Blazeby's Yard consisting of six houses, along with a packing case business run by James William Aldridge.

A number of properies in Bethel Street also came down.

The land itself was found to be riddled with potholes, wells and cesspools. Many were up to 30ft deep.

Some of the wells were perfectly dry and had been skilfully lined with brick or flint and vaulted over with brick ribs.

Archaeologists thought they had been built to store arms and ammunition during the Civil War between 1642 and 1651.

The new fire station was opened in November 1934 by Lord Mayor Alderman Fred Jex.

He and other civic dignitaries were treated to a tour of the station and a demonstration by the police/firemen.

But before long the dark clouds of war were looming and our leaders realised the fire service was woefully undermanned.

In 1938 Norwich had four professional firemen, who held police rank and a dozen police constables were resident in Bethel Street Fire Station performing dual roles.

In the same year an appeal went out for people to join the auxiliary fire service and in no time more than 100 people had stepped forward for training.

As more people came forward Bethel Street couldn't cope with the demand and Colman's Carrow Works' Brigade took over some of the training.

Each recruit was asked to fill in an application form which was scrutinised by the chief constable before they received a boiler suit, a pair of Wellington boots and a peaked cap.

Little did those new recruits realise the horrors that lay ahead as they would be fighting to save a city on fire...

Watch this space for the continuing story of the Bethel Street Fire Station and I will be introducing you to some of the people who worked there.

Thank you for all your photographs and memories of life at Bethel Street which I shall be using over the next few weeks. If you have any more memories to share with us then please send them to me at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email them to me at