Nobody made a big deal when Hendon Fire Station opened exactly one hundred years ago.
The local paper wasn’t invited and no plaque commemorating what would have been a joyous event was put up. There are no photographs of the celebrations, if there were any, and nobody made a note of the exact date.
All we know is that it was officially opened in The Burroughs in May 1914 at a time when horse drawn fire engines were only just being phased out.
A horse drawn fire engine at Finchley Fire Station.
Just ten years previously, Finchley Fire Station, in Church End, had received the first motorised fire truck in the world.
When the war broke out months after Hendon Fire Station opened, the Hendon station was forced to hand one of its two fire engines to the army.
Hendon MP Phillip Cunliffe-Lister asked Parliament when the station would get its second engine back after the war ended.
They got their wish. In what would have been a slightly unusual scene – especially back then – a fire engine was carted over from Stockport in Greater Manchester.
PHOTO: Memories of Hendon
Until the early 1930s, before phones became a staple in every household, watchmen would sit in a tower at the very top of the fire station to look for fires.
I could feel my knees trembling slightly as station manager Mark Blumfield led me to the top, although it was too dangerous to head into the tower itself.
“It’s an amazing view, but there would have been no time to waste back then. They would have had to be on their guard at all times,” he explained.
As might be expected, things have changed quite substantially in the last one hundred years.
“Nowadays, the watch room is on the bottom floor and we find out about fires electronically”, he said.
Firemen used to live here with their families. The station would have been alive with the pitter patter of tiny feet and wives would drape their washing over the old balcony.
It was manned by a Captain Adams, and although evidence shows he had a younger wife and perhaps a child, little is known about him.
And when a reports of a fire came in, the clang of the old Pelton wheel would fill the fire station, warning firemen to assemble downstairs.
Those on the top floors would slide down the pole, which is still in use today and is the longest in London.
I’m not exactly the most co-ordinated of people, so I kept my distance through fear of plummeting head first through the trap door.
Mark also showed me a stash of old postcards and letters which have been sent to firemen over the years and we tried to decipher the old-fashioned cursive-style lettering.
Today, firemen work in shifts and the old flats are now used as bedrooms for those working night shifts. The smell of a huge warehouse fire they tackled in Whetstone the night before still hangs in the air.
Although Captain Adam’s job is now performed by Mark, he says the role of a fireman has changed over the years.
“Today, it’s much more about educating people on how to prevent fires. Only ten per cent of calls we get are an emergency – the rest of the time we’re in schools or performing free fire safety checks.”
In 2014, Barnet boasts the same fire stations it has always had – Finchley, Mill Hill, Barnet and Hendon.
And with fire stations closing all across the country, Mark is proud that Hendon still boasts a rich history spanning one hundred years.
“It’s seen so many changes. I love the history so I’ll fight for it with a vengeance”, he said.