Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 26, 2018
Webpage updated: September 01, 2018




The carriage of patients to the Borough Hospital in Plymouth at the beginning of the 19th century was in the hands of Mr George Clark, a carriage proprietor of 14 Athenaeum Street, who kept a Brougham carriage available for that purpose.  However, for some reason he was discharged from that duty circa 1902, for in the Council Minutes of 1903 there is a reference to him offering to sell the Brougham to the Corporation.  They declined the offer and, indeed, told him to remove it.  They then invited quotations from liverymen for the supply of horses to provide an ambulance service.   Mr Clark, presumably miffed by his dismissal, quoted six shillings per day, whereas all the others quoted only five shillings per day.

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution working conditions had become more dangerous and accidents and injuries more frequent and life threatening.  A navee working on constructing a railway, for example, could be miles away from the nearest Doctor or hospital and without fast treatment of his injury could face disablement or death.  His ability to support his family was thus in great jeopardy.  As a result of this terrible situation,  there was a move to revive the former Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, who in the 11th century had taken care of pilgrims to the Holy Land but whose English properties had been suppressed by King Henry VIII during his purge of the monasteries during the sixteenth century.  A  new British Order of Saint John was formed and on July 10th 1877 they inaugurated the Saint John Ambulance Association.  Its members would be trained in what they called "First Aid".  This movement became extremely popular and in Plymouth units were formed by the Great Western Railway Company and the Plymouth Co-operative Society.  This was followed in June 1887 by the formation of the Saint John Ambulance Brigade, whose trained members would attend events such as football matches and provide both "First Aid" and a speedy means of transporting the injured to hospital.  They also became involved in getting sick people from home to hospital as well.  The Plymouth Saint John Ambulance Association was formed in April 1893.  It was connected to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and was supervised by Doctor W Buchan.

Worshippers at the George Street Baptist Chapel, in George Street, Plymouth, were soon agitating for their own "First Aid" classes, particularly a Mr R Charles Jean, a local journalist.  As a result, one of their members, Mr Hugh Hedley Vicars Miller, held the first classes in the Sunday School building, with the support of Doctor T G Vawdrey, and on November 4th 1910 Mr Miller  and his two younger brothers, Mr Wilfred Spurgeon Lucas Miller and Mr Walter Wingate Miller, founded the George Street Ambulance Corps.  They started with a simple stretcher, donated by Mrs Miller, and in 1913 were presented with a two-wheeled handcart with a canvas cover.

It would appear that East Stonehouse must have had its own emergency carriage because in January 1917 it was going to be purchased by Plymouth Borough Council.

The Corps acquired its first motor ambulance in March 1918 and a second one in December the same year, when a new depot was also opened at number 28 Tavistock Road, Plymouth.  A "Flag Day" was held in May 1920.  At some point around mid-1920 the name Plymouth and District Ambulance Service appears to have been adopted.  Divisions were formed at Saint Budeaux and at the Royal Albert Hospital and Eye Infirmary in October 1920.  Further units were to be formed at Stoke, Ford and Keyham Barton.  There was great confusion over the name of the organisation, though, as in 1921 the Royal Marine Band gave a concert in support of what they called the "Three Towns' Ambulance Association (George Street Ambulance Corps)".

During 1921 the George Street Ambulance Corps, the Great Western Railway Saint John Ambulance unit and the Plymouth Co-operative Society Saint John Ambulance unit amalgamated under the Saint John Ambulance Brigade title and a new headquarters was officially opened at numbers 35 and 36 Notte Street.

A special concert was held at the Gaumont Palace Cinema in 1934 in aid of the Stonehouse Saint John Ambulance Association Station Building Fund.  This particular unit had 28 members and in addition to providing facilities in East Stonehouse also ran a first aid hut at Whitsands, on the Rame Peninsula of Cornwall.

By the 1930s the City, as it by then become, was outgrowing the ambulance facilities and a search was started for more suitable premises.  After dismissing the old stables at Pounds House, Central Park, thanks to the close co-operation that had been established between Hedley Miller and the police, the Council donated a site close to the hospitals and police headquarters.  The 'J H Beckly Memorial Ambulance Station' was officially opened in 1935.

The Plymouth and District Ambulance Service, or the Plymouth Saint John Ambulance Brigade, provided heroic service during the Second World War but the National Health Service Act 1946, which received the Royal Assent on November 6th 1946, required the local health authority to take the responsibility for their provision.  On Monday July 5th 1948, the day the National Health Service came in to being, the Plymouth and District Ambulance Service was handed over to the Lord Mayor of Plymouth and the City of Plymouth Ambulance Service came in to being.  As the City grew northwards during the 1950s, the Crownhill Ambulance Station was officially opened in 1954.

Under Local Government reorganisation of 1974, when Plymouth lost its administrative status, its fleet was merged into a new Devon County Ambulance Service, run from Exeter.