Malmesbury Fire Pump

on Saturday, 08 August 2015. Posted in Museums

Last year we posted a blog about work we did to conserve Malmesbury’s historic fire pump for display. The pump is one of the largest items the museum owns and arranging a space suitable for it to be displayed in was not straight forward for the museum. For this reason the fire pump had to go back into storage whilst a display area was arranged for it. But recently I have been able to go back and help with putting the item on display.

The pump belongs to the Athelstan museum in Malmesbury but is too large to fit in their own store so it has been kept in a commercial storage facility in an old aircraft hangar. I met the curator at the storage site along with two members of the modern fire brigade who had volunteered to help move the object. It was interesting to hear their opinion on this piece of historic fire fighting equipment. In particular I learnt that that although I had been calling it a fire engine it should in fact be called a fire appliance or pump. Apparently the modern fire service does not use the term fire engine at all. In the case of the appliance I had worked on it should not be called an engine as it does not have any sort of engine or motor. Its pump was powered by people pushing its handles up and down.

I was concerned that the appliance might have deteriorated since we worked on it last summer. When we did the initial conservation work we had not expected it to have to spend another winter in storage. If the environmental conditions were not right for it, for example if it had got damp, it could have deteriorated. However when it was rolled out of its storage crate there were no signs that it had deteriorated at all. The appliance was loaded into a van and carefully strapped down so that it could not move around and get damaged on the short journey to the museum.

At the museum the appliance was moved into position on a display plinth the museum had had made. But that was not the end of the job for me. Visitors will be asked not to touch the appliance but in case someone does we had to make sure the appliance was completely safe. The handles and the pump mechanism still moved meaning that children could easily get their fingers trapped if they decided to play with the appliance. To make sure this could not happen the mechanism had to be immobilised without damaging the object itself. I placed two pieces of Perspex inside one of the cylinders of the pump. They were cut to the exact length that allowed them to be put in place and stop the mechanism moving. They cannot be seen in the final display as the appliance has wooden covers that hide the internal mechanism. Wire was used to hold the Perspex in place and the wooden covers put back in position. Wire was also used to hold the folding arms in the closed position. The wire was fed through a plastic tube to prevent it rubbing on the paintwork and damaging it.

The museum is now in the process of putting together an information panel for the appliance and the display should be ready for visitors soon.

Sebastian Foxley, Object Conservator

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