"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

January 28, 2010


Photos: Illustrated London News
Theater fires plagued London in the 19th Century and Chief Fire Officer Massey Shaw embarked on an ambitious program to improve safety.

According to the London Fire Brigade:

"Theatre fires were very common in Victorian times because of the gas lamps used to light the stage. In 1881/82 Shaw was requested to conduct an inspection of theatres and make recommendations for their protection.

"Just after finishing his report, the Alhambra Theatre burnt down and as one of the walls collapsed it killed two of Shaw’s men and nearly killed the Prince of Wales.

"Shaw’s article Fires in Theatres recommended that all walls in theatres should be of strong construction, that there should be enough exits for people to escape and that theatres should have a good water supply.

"He also devised the theatre fire curtain (still in use today) which would be made of metal and if a fire started it could divide the theatre from the auditorium."

The incident at the Alhambra tested London's fire service.

In a dispatch dated Dec. 7, 1882, The New York Times reported: "At 7 o'clock this morning 25 steam fire-engines were playing on the ruins of the Royal Alhambra Theatre. Owing to the great height of the minarets it was impossible for the water to reach time."