Horse-drawn help at hand

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Looking at this week’s featured photograph, which is marked Ambulance Hall Rastrick, takes me back 18 years to 1996 when I was invited to the service of dedication at these premises.

This service of dedication followed the refurbishment of the old St John’s Ambulance Hall to become the Charles Wood’s St John’s Chapel of Rest in Bramston Street.

I remember thinking as I walked through the door what a transformation the premises had gone through following an extensive make-over. The official opening was carried out by Dr David Lord of the St John Ambulance Brigade by unveiling the commemorative plaque.

We go back to 1882 to find the real early days of what became known as St John’s Society. In those days they had no meeting rooms, little if any real organisation - hard times indeed and probably little incentive to keep going.

But through the efforts of many people the organisation whilst in its infancy did manage to keep going. Within a year from having nothing but enthusiasm of a few loyal members this fledgling organisation had raised enough to have its own horse-drawn ambulance.

This enabled the members to attend incidents and help to deal with almost any casualties in the district. That first day must have been a great occasion when they probably just drove it around the immediate vicinity just to show it off. While there was no doubt plenty of enthusiasm, the society largely fell by the wayside. It was at the beginning of the new century that a corps of the Boys Brigade was promoted in Brighouse with an ambulance section.

It wasn’t long after that the corps disbanded but those lads who had joined the ambulance section wanted to keep going by joining the St John Ambulance Brigade.

Following a meeting on August 6 1901 the new St John’s was approved and established. This proved to be so that on March 1 1902 under the leadership of the Mayoress Mrs Samuel Edger Hirst who held the position of Lady Superintendent they were able to form a Nursing Division. With both Divisions being constituted as Corps on June 14 later that year.

The question of purpose built rooms was first brought up in 1911 and having put it off for long enough the decision was taken to proceed in raising the necessary money.

Dr Frederick Fielding Bond, the corps Superintendent, had suggested that one way of raising some of the money was through another tried and tested method of that time - a Grand Bazaar.

It’s sad now looking through the names of some of those who served on that committee. A feature of the newly transformed premises is the role of honour of all the St John’s men who served and returned from the first world war and those who didn’t return.

A number of possible sites were looked at including one offered by Sir George Armytage on Clifton Road and vacant rooms in the Mechanic’s Institute now the Civic Hall. After considering these sites the one at Bramston Street was the one they decided on. By 1912 Sharp and Waller the Brighouse architects were proceeding with the plans the next year Mrs Susannah Smith from Lands House the wife of former Mayor Alderman William Smith J.P. had laid the foundation stone.