Special History Week Blog – New South Wales’ Oldest Active Fire Stations
Whilst the closed No. 1 Volunteer Company Fire Station in Haymarket is the oldest surviving purpose-built fire station, some of Sydney’s early stations remain operational. This blog will look at the oldest active fire stations and the brigades that continue to operate out of them. These buildings are all located in Sydney and include City of Sydney (1888), Balmain (1894), Lidcombe (1899) and Ashfield (1901). Join us at 2pm today for a look at the #5 oldest active station in NSW!
Please note when we say “oldest active fire station” we are referring to the physical building not the brigade itself. That is a completely different list!
1888 – No. 1 City of Sydney Fire Station
The City of Sydney Fire Station remains the oldest continually operational station in New South Wales. Designed by the Colonial Architect’s Department, the building was formally opened in 1888 and has evolved to meet the demands of the present-day Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW). Although the City of Sydney Fire Station is often associated with the foundation history of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB was the precursor to FRNSW), it was not the first station completed specifically for the Brigade. Rather, the first station opened under the MFB was Marrickville (later known as Stanmore) in 1886. This station has a really interesting history itself, beginning life as the Petersham Volunteer Company but that is a story for another day!
City of Sydney Fire Station is located on the western side of Castlereagh Street, in the heart of the Sydney. It is a prime example of Victorian Free Classical style architecture. The construction comprises two multi-storey wings and a large courtyard to the rear. The watchroom which housed the telephone exchange board, fire alarms and electrical apparatus was located on the northern side of the ground floor. The Museum currently has the original switchboard from the City of Sydney watchroom on display.
The Station has undergone a number of changes over the years; beginning with the expansion of the workshops in 1893. With space limited, the building was extended further to the north in 1907 to provide space specifically for administration and accommodation. Another major alteration took place in 1928 when the ground floor of the original building was converted into two engine bays to house the Brigade’s growing fleet of motor appliances. In 1999, a proposal was made to the City of Sydney Council for refurbishment and adaptive reuse works, along with new facilities. Many characteristics of the 1887 building (and later 1907 additions) were conserved and a new building was created with modern facilities and engine bays. The new Station was completed in February 2003 and the restoration of the original building began the following month.
Recently the station has undergone even more renovations to allow its continual use.
1894 – No. 12 Balmain Fire Station
The current Balmain Fire Station located at 391 Darling Street, Balmain, was designed by Charles Hellmrick in the Victorian Italianate style. It was completed by Foster & Heels in 1894, however a Brigade was well-established in this area almost twenty years prior.
In 1875, the Mort’s Dry Dock Brigade was formed in Booth Street, Balmain, by workers from Mort’s Dock and Engineering Works. As the Brigade protected the interests of the wider community, the new name Balmain Volunteer Company was adopted shortly after. In 1884, the Brigade registered with the MFB and in 1891 a new station was opened on Montague Street. Just three years later, another new station was constructed in Darling Street and this is still occupied today. (Pictured Below: Balmain Fire Station and Balmain Main Street, c. 1900)
1899 – No. 30 Lidcombe Fire Station
Completed in 1899, Lidcombe Fire Station is an important example of Late Victorian/Federation Utilitarian architecture. Again, the history of the Brigade extends back further than the physical building. This history starts with the Rookwood Volunteer Company which was formed in 1892 at Joseph Street, Rookwood. In 1899, the Brigade moved to a new purpose-built station located on Church Street, Lidcombe. It was in 1913 that the name was changed to Lidcombe Brigade and permanent staff were introduced. This Station remains operational today. (Pictured Below: Lidcombe Fire Station c. 1900 and 1983)
1901 – No. 14 Ashfield Fire Station
The current Ashfield Fire Station at the corner of Victoria and Norton Streets, Ashfield, was built in 1901 and demonstrates an example of Federation Anglo Dutch architecture. The building has undergone changes over the years, including additions made to its first floor in 1915.
As with the other stations mentioned above, a Brigade existed in this area prior to the construction of the currently active fire station. In 1888, the Ashfield Volunteer Company formed and operated from a Liverpool Road address in Ashfield. The Volunteer Company moved to the new premises in 1901 and in 1912 permanent firefighter staffed the building.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this extra special blog and you’ve enjoyed this look at the 4 oldest active FRNSW buildings.
Join us at 12:30pm today for LIVE trivia on our Facebook page and at 2pm we’ll share what the 5th oldest still in use fire station is in NSW, which is actually the oldest one outside of Sydney!
For more on these vents please visit https://www.museumoffire.net/history-week-digital-event