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ArticlesEvery Object Tells a Story

Every Object Tells a Story

MargeryRow upon row of gleaming firemen’s helmets, a bug-eyed fire engine called Barkis from the 1930s and another, older vehicle, made just as the 19th century turned into the 20th, gaze out across each other behind plate glass.

It’s an unlikely spot, a holiday park clubhouse, for this collection of fire brigade memorabilia. You can almost picture it coming alive during the small hours, when the visitors are bedded down for the night in their comfy caravans, holiday lodges and glamping pods.

The impressive display at Martin’s, the new name for the bar and restaurant at Highlands End Leisure Park, Eype, is something of a focal point for both holidaymakers and visitors. But park proprietor Martin Cox never set out to build up a collection and house it here. It just sort of happened.

It all began with a couple of copper branches—nozzles that go on the end of hoses—which Martin had on display at the house he shares with his wife, Vanessa.

“When we had our son, James, now 29, we thought they weren’t appropriate to have at home. So we put them on the wall of the clubhouse. The collection started to grow and there was a gradual interest from customers, who used to come and bring me things every year. Each item has a different story behind it.

“I have a friend in Reading who is a very useful contact and he lets me know when something comes up. We’ve got just under 1,000 logged items, all secured and alarmed.”

Martin was a retained fireman for 31 years, joining at Bridport in March 1976, just before the busiest summer of his firefighting career.

“We’d be called out every weekend,” he recalls. “I’d be out from 11 o’clock on a Friday night right through until Sunday afternoon.”

Two years later and he was at Dorchester, where he worked at County Hall in the Personnel Department. He comes from a family of firefighters with his uncles, Peter, Phil and David Cox, firemen at Bridport and his cousin, Carol, working in the office in the station at South Street where the library is now. His nephew, Tristan Cox, is still with the Fire Service at Bridport.

“It got me away from the day-to-day work and it was something that interested me. It was community spirited, there was great camaraderie and I gained skills I wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

Martin, who has been with Highlands End since 1984, retired from the Fire Service in 2007 but is still involved from time to time. Recently, he helped work out pension entitlements which had become due for retired, retained members, following a long process through the courts and pension regulators.

Pride of place in the Highlands End display goes to Barkis, the 1936 Leyland Pump Escape fire engine, named after the character in Dickens’ David Copperfield who is always willing.

“They wanted a name that had a link to its task,” Martin says. “It was at Weymouth originally and ended up at Dorset Fire Brigade. From 1963 to 1967 it was in Bridport. My uncles used to drive Barkis and rode on it.”

Barkis was lost until the mid-80s when Martin was contacted by someone with whom he used to work at County Hall.

“He was a railway enthusiast and, through these links, he saw Barkis advertised in Halifax. I went up and brought it back. We had it completely rubbed down and resprayed and put it back to its 1936 spec by copying the photos.”

Across the room from Barkis is an even older vehicle, the 1902 fire engine from Bridport.

“Sometime in the 1980s it was rescued from the glass greenhouse down at West Bay on the green near the George. It was deteriorating so we took it to the fire station in South Street. When the new fire station was built in Sea Road South in 1996, there was nowhere to put it. The district council gave it to the museum and then it came up here on long term loan.”

Everything in the Highlands End collection has a story attached to it. For Martin, an item’s history is part of its appeal.

“A chap turned up here about three to four years ago and his father had been in the Dorchester station and he asked me if I’d be interested in buying a brass helmet. When I picked it up he gave me the whole history of it, including the medals his father had got for rescuing someone in the Lulworth Castle fire in 1928.”

There are cap badges, helmets, old fire marks (years ago, if you didn’t have one at your house it meant you hadn’t paid for fire insurance so if there was a blaze, the fire brigade wouldn’t put it out), photos, posters and postcards.

“I came across an old chap in here once who was looking at Barkis and crying. I sat down with him to find out it was the same as he used to drive in the war during the Blitz. It brought all these memories back for him. He spent his whole holiday talking about it and looking through the whole collection.”

And then there is framed collection of buttons, brought in by a teenager about 20 years ago.

“He came back recently, to see if they were still here.”

The display of memorabilia is a testament to Martin’s enthusiasm for the Fire Service and has become a firm favourite with customers.

“The collection makes the bar very different,” Martin says, with a philosophical shrug. “It keeps stuff together which otherwise would have been lost or destroyed.”

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