First base-Watling Street. City of London.

Braidwood’s London Fire Engine Establishment steamer racing through the City. (Illustrated London News)

With no suitable Insurance Company fire station/building in which to house the newly created London Fire Engine Establishment Headquarters (1833) and to provide a residence for its first Superintendent, James Braidwood, a reclaimed building was secured in Watling Street. EC. It became the principal station of the LFEE’s seventeen fire stations and its two floating engine stations. It was located on the north side of Watling Street, sitting between Bow Lane and the junction with Queen Victoria Street. The station address was No 68 Watling Street; but today the site encompasses No’s 66 to 69. (Bacon’s pocket London plan [map] of 1899 shows that end of Watling Street as a block of connected buildings.)

Walting Street-1833. City of London.

Braidwood was required to ‘live over the shop’ at London’s ‘double’ engine station. The buildings former use is not stated in the Insurance Co reports but it clearly had sufficient accommodation for the two horse-drawn manual fire engines. Contained within the four-storey building’s footprint was the engine room, the stables for the four horses and sufficient accommodation for the foremen and the firemen (some with families) required to reside at the Watling Street station, which was named Cheapside. The station underwent adaption in 1850 but strain was already beginning to show on a building too small for its growing role.

Braidwood’s firemen wore a dark grey uniform. His Brigade consisted of only 76 firemen. Each marked with an individual number, placed on the left of the tunic, a number that corresponded to his name in the roll. Any report of misconduct, which reflected discredit on the LFEE, was brought to the attention of the Superintendent at the Watling Street HQ.

One third of the men were constantly on duty at the engine house day or night, and the whole force were liable to be summoned to fires, or any other duty, at a moment’s notice. Braidwood’s men were also responsible for salvage and the protection of goods from both fire and water damage. Although this was a secondary duty. No man could leave a station from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except to attend a fire, or with a written order from the Superintendent. The moment an alarm of fire was given, wherever it may be within the LFEE boundary, Braidwood had to attend (‘with all possible expedition, and takes command of the whole force’). Braidwood was no fan of the ‘new’ steam fire engine and it was not until 1860 that the LFEE acquired its first ‘steamer’, and even that was hired.

Capt. Eyre Massey Shaw. Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment 1861-1866.
First Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, created in 1866.

Following Braidwood’s death at the Tooley Street fire in 1861 Capt. Massey Shaw was appointed as the second LFEE Superintendent. The claustrophobic atmosphere of his headquarters, and his family’s accommodation, took a little while to bite on Shaw but within a couple of years he deemed it too small, and not fit for purpose, for the headquarters of the new London wide municipal fire brigade. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) came into force on the 1st January 1866, although Shaw did not have much time to complain that day as he had a massive fire at St Katherine’s Dock to content with. In fact, it would be another 12 years before Shaw managed to move from the Watling Street address to one south of the river in Southwark.

One effect of the creation the MFB was that the fire brigade no longer maintained a salvage responsibility and so the Insurance Company’s formed, and financed, the London Salvage Corps (LSC). There first station opened at No 33 Watling Street before moving to No 64 in 1874. (Other LSC stations opened at Southwark, Great Marlborough Street and Wellclose Square the same year (1866).

64 Watling Street. London Salvage Corps station.
64 Watling Street. London Salvage Corps station stables.

64 Watling Street. London Salvage Corps station.

The Great Marlborough Street station-Soho-London. Opened in 1866.

With the LSC headquarters established in Watling Street, the MFB headquarters moved to Southwark Bridge Road. SE. opening in 1878. The Cheapside fire station was retained at No 68. Its most noteworthy blaze occurred in 1902 and received national press coverage. Not least because of the unwarranted criticism of the Brigade’s response and its actions. Such was the press’s campaign it led Capt. Wells R.N. (now Chief Officer of the MFB) to consider his future. The London press, in particular, had him in their sights after nine people, eight of them women, died in the fire.

Tragic fire in the City of London. Cheapside station-Watling Street- first to respond. 1902.

The fire in Queen Victoria Street involved a five-storey office building. Despite the delay in summoning the fire brigade when they arrived their 50-foot ladders could not reach those women trapped, and screaming for help, on the upper floor. By the time the Brigade’s 70-foot escape ladder arrived from its Southwark’s base it helped in the rescue of two women . However, it was the daring rescue, performed by Station Officer Wood of the Southwark station that received the public’s acclaim and a bravery medal from the London County Council (LCC).

The Press continued to publish bitter and blistering articles blaming both the LCC and the Brigade for its failings, their focus falling on Capt. Wells himself. In total contrast the Inquest jury exonerated the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and gave unqualified praise to the MFB for their actions at the fire. None of which did anything to appease the Press and their quest to continue to point the finger of blame at Well’s and his Brigade.

(This fire led to the LCC being given powers under the London Building Acts (Amendment) Act 1905 to require building works to be carried out in certain existing buildings to facilitate the safe escape of the occupants in the event of a fire.) 

63-66 Watling Street-Headquarter’s station of the London Salvage corps.
London Salvage Corps crews outside their Watling Street headquarters. Circa 1906.
Chief Officer Fox, of the London Salvage Corps, leaving the Watling Street station. 1920s.
The London Salvage Corps chief, Captain Brymor Eric Miles, M C, was arrested in his Watling Street office. He was later remanded when he appeared in Bow Street Police Court. The case was a sequel to the Leopold Harris fire raising trial. The photo shows the Salvage Corps headquarters, Watling Street, London. 20 November 1933

The Cheapside fire station closed in 1907 on the opening of the new Cannon Street fire station. The London Salvage Corps headquarters, that had occupied Nos 63-64 Watling Street expanded. A new building, covered the site of 63-66 Watling Street, adjoining what had once been the LFEE/MFB headquarters. It retained that site until 1960 when the headquarters relocated to 140 Aldersgate. Its salvage stations were closed and all the salvage tenders operated form the new headquarters.

The LSC plaque remains at the site no 63-65 on the corner of Watling Street with Queen Victoria Street,

The London Salvage Corps were disbanded in April 1984..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.