‘I bought this 1933 Bedford lorry...and discovered it was one of Ely’s oldest fire engines’

WHEN Peter Swan bought a rusty 1933 Bedford lorry found dumped in a back yard in Kent, little did he know he had stumbled across a small piece of Cambridgeshire history.

The Fenland resident first spotted the 79-year-old vehicle lingering behind a cafe in the Home Counties in 2009.

With a niggling feeling at having left it behind, he went back and purchased it a year later - totally unaware that he was about to return Ely’s oldest ever fire engine to its Cambridgeshire roots.

It was only when a friend pointed out the JE registration plate, which had been unique to the county in the 1930s, that he began to realise the significance of its background.

Hours of research, which included digging through old copies of the Ely Standard at the Cambridgeshire Archives, later revealed its remarkable history.


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“I couldn’t believe what I found out,” Mr Swan. “It was all by accident.

“It’s just been very exciting. It was almost like doing a family tree.”

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An article published in the Ely Standard in November 1933 showed the six cylinder, 44 horsepower vehicle was bought by the Ely Urban District Council for �655.

It had a 30 gallon tank connected to a small first aid pump and hydraulic pattern hose reel but was a little slower than today’s machines - its speed was limited to just 10mph.

“This provides a very big improvement to the Fire Brigade appliances,” the articles reads.

Mr Swan has now restored the vehicle, which was used in Ely during the Second World War, to its former glory.

A two-year renovation project started with stripping the vehicle down before repainting and refitting its components.

However he was adamant that he wanted to retain its historic feel and that he “didn’t want it to look new”.

He even managed to save the original engine, which had only done 12,000 miles.

Mr Swan also plans to take it to this year’s Prickwillow Ploughing Festival on October 6 and 7 this year.

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