THE BUILDING HAS A COLOURFUL HISTORY
This building has a colourful history. As early as 1856 Sandgate had a volunteer Fire Brigade. Funds were short however, and new equipment was vital to safeguard all sections of the community. In 1882 a widespread appeal was launched to provide the area with efficient fire fighting apparatus including the latest Shand and Mason horse drawn fire engine and a new set of ladders. Generous donations were made including one from James Morris, a former Governor of the Bank of England. However, a building to store the engine and equipment was also required, and the generous Reilly sisters, Jane Hester and Theodosia, held a Grand Bazaar to raise funds for this purpose in the beautiful grounds of their home, Encombe. The sisters also gave the land in the High Street for the building.
A local craftsman, John Waddell designed and constructed the building, and the Sandgate Fire Brigade took possession of the ground floor Engine Room in 1884 with much fanfare and rejoicing. In the same year, a Reading Room, above the Engine Room, was opened and run by the Sandgate Literary Institution. Later this room was used by the Sandgate Urban District Council as its Council Chamber, and when Sandgate Urban District Council was merged with Folkestone Borough Council in 1934, the Reading Room became a Public Library and this remained its use until 1982.
The Auxiliary Fire Service housed in the Engine Room did sterling service in World War II going to the aid of Canterbury during the blitz. However, it was clear that with modern fire fighting equipment, the Engine Room was not large enough and after serving as a Bailiff’s depot, it stood empty for ten years.