AN end of era was reached last week when the Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service merged with its neighbour from Dorset.

On April 1, 1948 Wiltshire Fire Brigade came into existence, together with 147 other county council and county borough run brigades formed by the Fire Services Act 1947.

At noon last Thursday the Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service flag was lowered for the last time at the Manor House in Potterne, following the final meeting of Wiltshire & Swindon Combined Fire Authority.

The Wiltshire HQ will for now remain as part of the fire service estate but the combined service's new main office has moved to Five Rivers Health and Wellbeing Centre in Salisbury.

The manor house is believed to date from around 1770 but the land and the Lords of the Manor of Potterne pre-date the Domesday Book, when the Bishops of Salisbury had the title. Their estates were taken over on the formation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1836.

It is not the first time that Potterne has had a Dorset connection. From about 1500, they leased their Potterne Estates to people who did not live locally. In the 16th century, they were let to Sir John Tregonwell of Milton Abbey, Dorset.

In 1770, the lease of the estate was put up for sale and, in the sale particulars, mention is made of a Mr Thomas Thurman having the lease of the Manor House. This is the first mention of a Manor House, and it seems probable that it was built at around this time. In 1836 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners eventually sold the manor to Henry S. Olivier, who let it to a Colonel Salmon. On the death of Mrs Salmon in 1878, the house came into the possession of the Gwatkin family, who made considerable additions. Their family crest can be seen above the main entrance to the house, and this same crest is found on several cottages in Potterne village.

In the grounds of the Manor House are stables thought to have been built in around 1800. Legend has it that materials from Maggots Castle at Easterton – known locally as Wroughton’s Folly, after Mr Seymour-Wroughton, who built it in 1750 – were used for the construction.

During the First World War the building was established as a hospital for the British sick and wounded, and it was used as a convalescent home during World War Two.

The Manor House remained the property of Major Gwatkin’s daughter, Mrs Copeland-Griffiths, until it was bought by for use as a fire brigade headquarters by the Wiltshire County Council on April 15, 1948 for £6,400. This was two weeks after the old Wiltshire Fire Brigade came into existence after the denationalisation of the wartime National Fire Service.

Brigade headquarters was at first in Chippenham, and the Manor House was not occupied until late 1948. Now, 68 years later, a new journey has begun with the Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service coming into being on April 1.

The decision to explore bringing together the two counties into one service was taken in December 2013 with the formal decision to combine being made by both Fire Authorities in November 2014.

Potterne will now be an area office for the fire service. But the use of the Potterne site extends beyond the Manor House – a separate building is home to the Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service Control Centre and a second building that was originally used as Wiltshire’s control before it moved to the tri-service Control at Police HQ is also office space.

Wiltshire fire chief Simon Routh-Jones retired recently after 37 years of service. He joined the Wiltshire fire service as a probationer firefighter in Salisbury in 1979 and has served his whole career in the county.

He said: “Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service has been proud to protect local communities for 68 years, and that exemplary support will continue with the new organisation.”