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The London Fire Brigade Museum

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published October 9th 2012
Keep calm dear it's a museum about fire fighting not firemen
I'll bet you didn't even know that there was a London Fire Brigade Museum; I hadn't heard of it either two weeks ago, before I booked a visit. It can be found in Southwark Bridge Road and occupies both the site of a former fire station, now the LFB's training area, as well as the Victorian home of Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the first superintendent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, between 1861 and 1891.

Our tour guide, Dave, was immensely knowledgeable and was able to answer each and every one of our questions, some of them a little obscure. He was also a mine of information during the two hours he spent taking us back in time and teaching us about the history of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

The tour starts in the original fire station, a building crammed full with early pumps

Wheeled Water Pump
Wheeled Water Pump


steamer engines

Steamer Engine
Steamer Engine


and fire engines, some that would have been horse drawn, and others powered by petrol.

Fire Engine
Fire Engine: Look at the Crank Handle and the Hand Operated Bell


We learned that there were no organised fire fighting resources in London at the time of the Great Fire in 1666 and necessity proved to be the mother of invention. The early 18th century saw the first manually operated wheeled pumps that forced water at fires. Eventually they were superseded during the 19th century by wheeled escape ladders and hose carts. It was also during the industrial revolution that the first horse drawn steam engines (steamers) were introduced.

Steam Engine
Steam Engine


Finally, during the following century when motor vehicles were becoming more commonplace, the first fire engines (as we would recognise them) came into operation.

Twentieth Century Fire Engine
Twentieth Century Fire Engine


Stage two of the visit takes place in the former home of Massey Shaw. This 1860s building was home to him and his family, as well as to the fire brigade. Dave explained how the Prince of Wales (Queen Victoria's son) used to go out with Shaw and his men to extinguish fires, and of how he rewarded them with brandy and cigars. This part of the museum takes you back again to 1666 and traces the trajectory of the fire service through the formation of the independent fire assurance companies, the appointment of James Braidwood as the Chief Officer of the LFEE (the predecessor of the MFB) and then the stewardship of Massey Shaw. There is a huge amount of information on uniforms, helmets and breathing apparatus through the centuries. You learn about the role of the fire services during WWII and of how the LFB has modernised, learning from previous mistakes and disasters, and now employing women on the same terms as men. If you're a visual person, there's a wealth of paintings of fires between 1666 and the Blitz.

The museum's days in its current location are numbered, but while it remains in Southwark Bridge Road it is not disabled friendly, something to bear in mind if you can't manage stairs. Visits take place twice daily during the week, but are only open to pre-booked groups. All relevant information can be found on the website.
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Why? To learn about the history of the London Fire Brigade
When: Contact the museum for booking visits
Where: 94a Southwark Bridge Road
Cost: 5 per person
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