Small Museums #4: Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum

Natalie Bradbury

With the help of costumes, Victorian fire appliances and model horses, this small museum in Rochdale tells a firefighting tale.

Rochdale Fire Station is the first sight to greet visitors to the town, its hose tower looming high over the tram stop and nearby railway station. And as far as introductions go, the 1930s building is an impressive one: sturdy, secure and imposing in the classic Accrington brick that is becoming of a former mill town. One of the country’s first automated fire stations, Rochdale Fire Station boasted cutting-edge facilities like onsite firefighters’ housing and even a ballroom. It gets better. Walk a few steps around the corner to the back entrance of the building and you’ll find one of Rochdale’s most sparkling hidden gems: Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum.

Entering the station yard, you’re immediately struck by the museum’s collection of shiny red fire engines (and, to the volunteer-run museum’s credit, oh, how they sparkle!). Representing all eras and styles, from humble wagons and early horse-drawn vehicles – complete with life-size model horses realistic enough to make you do a double take – to more recent motorised trucks; they’re clearly someone’s pride and joy. The well-maintained metalwork sets the standard for the rest of the museum, which continues inside a former workshop block. Medals and fire appliances gleam and even the worn fire pole (of course) is housed rather grandly in its own wooden cupboard.

Through artefacts and ephemera ranging from costume displays, breathing apparatus and pumps to notices and newspaper articles, the museum tells the story not just of firefighting in Greater Manchester and the personalities associated with it (our favourite is Superintendent Alfred Tozer, who was known for his love of horses), but the development of the public service we know today. As the museum explains, the earliest organised fire services were set up by insurances companies and it was only when local services were overstretched amid the destruction of the Manchester blitz of 1940 that a national service was initiated.

Medals gleam and even the worn fire pole is grandly housed in its own wooden cupboard

Also of special interest to Mancunians are pieces from Manchester’s own municipal firefighting landmark, the former London Road Fire Station in the city centre, which we’re told was once the “finest fire station in this round world.” As well as exploring its status as a remarkable feat of architecture (the designs were reportedly drawn on Chief Officer William George Parker’s shirt cuff seven years before the building was completed), the museum highlights the London Road station’s technical innovations, such as the fresh air ventilation system that stopped the smell of the stations’ horses from reaching the firefighters’ flats above. As a public campaign to save London Road station from dereliction rages on, it is comforting to know that at least some small remnants of its past can be enjoyed by the public.

Feeling the cobbles of the museum’s replica Victorian street beneath your feet and peering in through the recreated windows highlight the enduring debt we owe to the fire service. The museum celebrates its 30th birthday in September and volunteers are currently working to secure the building’s future so it can be restored to its former glory – definitely time to blow some candles out!

Culture Guides

Food and Drink

Start 2023 as you mean to go on, with the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North.

Cinema

Black and white classics and a Tarantino-scripted pop-thriller are amongst our Valentine’s themed picks for February.

Exhibitions

The world of art and exhibitions never quite stops, so we have lots of new shows to look forward to at the start of 2023.

Cardboard Carnival at The Edge

Families

New year, new start, and what better way to welcome in 2023 than by planning and experiencing all sorts of exciting family events in Manchester and the North?

Gwendoline Riley. Photo by Adrian Lourie

Literature

Live literature land welcomes in 2023 with lots lined up in Manchester and beyond, from book launches and bookshop openings to prize-winning poets and award-laden authors sharing their secrets and stories.

Music

More brilliant gigs appear on the horizon as we inch further into 2023.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Queer Contact Festival, stunning physical theatre and intimate in-the-round performance top our eclectic list of drama, comedy and dance this month.

Classical Music

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Tours and Activities

New years are for new experiences, and we have a whole lot of ideas to inspire you as 2023 gets underway.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
The Nature of Forgetting at The Lowry
Theatre Until 31 January 2023, from £16.00

The Nature of Forgetting at The Lowry

Activity Until 3 February 2023, from £30.00

Baumka Conscious Clubbing at Victoria Warehouse

Activity Until 8 February 2023, from £170.00

Drawing course with Nina Hunter

Music Until 16 February 2023, from £9.50

Donna Candy at SOUP

vegan super club
Activity Until 17 February 2023, from £50

Supper Club at the Vegetarian Society Cookery School

Exhibitions Until 18 February 2023, FREE

The Confessional at HOME

PUSH Festival 2023 at HOME
Festivals Until 18 February 2023,

PUSH Festival 2023 at HOME

The Singing Mermaid at Waterside
Families Until 19 February 2023, from £14.00

The Singing Mermaid at Waterside CANCELLED

Activity Until 23 February 2023, from £59.99

Write Like A Grrrl: Ignite

Activity Until 25 February 2023, from £13

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Tour