The Town Hall is situated next to the Market House, in Market Place, Garstang. The building was opened in 1680, but unfortunately burnt down in 1750. It was rebuilt in 1755 but was again badly damaged by fire in 1939. Most of the Georgian stone work remained however, and it was incorporated into the building. The clock tower was a later addition to the building, and was erected thanks to public subscriptions in 1847.
The Town Hall Fire of 1939
In the early hours of Sunday 29th January 1939, Mrs Towers who lived on the High Street awoke and smelled smoke. She looked out of the window and saw a red glow in the ground floor of the Town Hall opposite, and smoke pouring from the top floor.
Realising it was a fire she woke her husband, and they banged on the bedroom wall to alert their neighbour, John Greenhow, the Superintendent of Garstang Fire Brigade.
Mr Greenhow, with the new fire engine and a full complement of men were on the scene within minutes, and were joined by members of the British Legion who occupied the top floor of the Town Hall, who gave what help they could.
The flames spread very quickly and soon extended throughout the building, but the heroic efforts of the fire brigade prevented it extending into the market hall next door, and to other nearby buildings.
Saved by firemen from a locker on the first floor were documents relating to the Charter of Incorporation granted on August 6th, 1680 by Charles II. The original Charter of Incorporation was granted to the town by Edward II in 1314. This Charter was surrendered in 1680 when Charles II granted a new one with increased privileges.
In addition to the Charter, documents and the old minute book, other historic articles which were saved from the blaze included a gallon measure bearing the inscription “Imperial Gallon Garstang 1826”; a pair of handcuffs, two halberds; the market bell, and a statue of Queen Victoria.
All these items are still in the possession of the Town Trust, apart from the statue of Queen Victoria.
The town’s ancient stocks were unfortunately lost in the blaze. These were kept in a small gallery above the main room and could not be reached. They were destroyed with a number of chairs, equipment and library books belonging to the British Legion.
Gas cookers, heaters and other apparatus displayed in the Gas Company’s showroom on the ground floor were removed undamaged, but valuable hairdressing equipment from the two salons on the ground floor occupied by Miss Dora Gill and Mr. James Tomlinson were badly damaged by fire, water and falling masonry.
Two gas meters, one of which was used for lighting the Town Hall clock were also badly damaged.
A small terrier owned by Mr. Tomlinson was rescued from the building.
Two full-size billiard tables, and equipment belonging to the British Legion were damaged beyond repair, the piano was smashed to pieces, and clothing and gifts brought for a sale of work to be held a few weeks’ time were destroyed.
An eye-witness said: “The clock on the tower struck three, and stopped a quarter of an hour later through the heat. An hour later the clock struck one, and gave a resounding clang as the tower and the weathervane over the belfry toppled backwards and crashed into the interior of the burning structure. As part of the roof and masonry fell a shower of sparks was sent into the air. It was fortunate that the tower fell inside the building otherwise somebody may have been injured as quite a number of residents in the vicinity had rushed to the spot.”
The fire was believed to have started under the hearth in a small committee room, and damage was valued at £1000, approximately £66,000 in 2020 money.
On the 18th February 1939, a sale of work organised by a Women’s Committee and held in the Garstang Assembly Rooms raised around £130 for the British Legion.
The sale was opened by the Hon. Mrs. Fitzherbert-Brockholes (wife of the British Legion President, Major J. W. Fitzherbert- Brockholes. Mary Bartlett then presented her with a posy of tulips.
A local newspaper reporting on the event ran an article about an unusual sideshow at the event:
DEAD FOX ON SHOW
A novel sideshow at a Garstang British Legion sale of work on Saturday was a fox shot by Mr. O. Tomlinson, a Blackburn fish merchant, near Darwen few days ago. Behind the dead animal, which was displayed on a bed straw, was a card with the words, “Come and see a genuine killer, that killed nine sheep and twenty hens before being caught.”
On the 11th April 1940 the old market bell, which had crashed to the ground, but remained intact, during the fire was finally back in place and rung again over the new building.
Superintendent Greenhow is standing, to the right of the engine wearing a flat cap, behind the man holding his bowler hat. Seated on the right of the fire engine is his son, Jonathon (Jonty) Greenhow.
Some newpaper cuttings showing the damage to the Town Hall and clock