In the first of a new series, Ed Fagan, the Museum's Operations Manager, tells us about his favourite object in the Museum: our Shand Mason steam fire engine.
My favourite object is not a secret: it’s well known that our Shand Mason steam fire engine and I get along very well together. I like the impact that it has on people. It’s big enough to be impressive out on the rally field, yet small enough that the visitor can relate to it with relative ease. When we have the engine out, we are often asked, ‘how old is it’ to which fellow keeper, Pat Langley, and I always respond by asking, ‘which bit are you looking at?’
My first experience of the engine was helping to prepare it for its annual visit from the insurance company. It immediately interested me because all the parts are familiar, yet at the same time different. It’s had a hard life compared to many a normal fire appliance. Both the Southwark and Vauxhall and Metropolitan Water Boards used it extensively as a portable pump or trench engine, as the scoring to the pump bores caused by pumping dirty water and gravel testifies. The timberwork that makes up the hose box and coachman’s seat is well worn and the panelling dates from different eras. We’re not sure why: the result of damage perhaps, or a conversion from a more ‘old fashioned’ side-loading hose box?
Our engine has quite a presence when out and about. On a rally field filled with traction engines or performing in a ceremonial role for London Fire Brigade, it always draws a crowd. And many of those that have seen it out and about have afterwards visited us at Kew and asked where to find it in the Museum.
The engine and pump is quite impressive. For many of our regular younger visitors, it has become the highlight at the end of a Grand Steam Up to play in the mist as the engine discharges 1000 litres of water from its pump tank.
But it really gets into its stride with a little extra horse power. We first horsed the engine at Fawley Hill, the home of Sir William and Lady McAlpine, in 2014 – very carefully at first. Since then we have had our engine in motion many times, with several different coachmen in charge, all of whom have treated it with reverence. Whilst attending a heavy horse event organised by Simon Powell in 2015 we could not overcome the urge to leave the showground and its soft surface and see how the engine fared on the road. I can tell you that it flew along: no squeaks or rattles, from a walk to a trot to a canter and finally two tons of steam fire engine at a gallop. That’s the surface it was designed to dash on.
I really enjoy my job, but particularly love spending time with this engine. As a result I spend quite a lot of my own time taking it out and about to promote the Museum. Arriving somewhere new is always good - our reputation precedes us - but going back, particularly to events like the Odiham Fire Show, we always receive the warmest of welcomes. The engine really is a wonderful ambassador.
The Museum’s Shand Mason steam fire engine will be on show at our Fantastic Fire Engines event in September.
BACK TO NEWS