Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include Edward VII, who maintained a kit at a London fire station.

"THE RESCUE" - 1855

"THE RESCUE" - 1855

October 18, 2012


Clekenwell Fire Station A-27
London Fire Brigade is considering the closure of the Clerkenwell station - the brigade's oldest - and 16 others historic firehouses to save money, the BBC reports.
Job cuts and/or early retirement are also on the table.

A union official calls the plan the biggest threat to the brigade since World War II.

That's not an exaggeration in Clerkenwell's case.

German bombs narrowly missed the 19th Century-era fire station during the blitz.

On Aug. 17, the BBC released the following "leaked" list of  stations:
  • Acton
  • Belsize
  • Bow
  • Clapham
  • Clerkenwell
  • Downham
  • Islington
  • Kensington
  • Kingsland
  • Knightsbridge
  • New Cross
  • Peckham
  • Silvertown
  • Southwark
  • Westminster
  • Whitechapel
  • Woolwich
The argument for closing the stations seems to be that the "antiquated" structures are too costly to maintain.

They properties would probably fetch considerable sums if put up for sale.

The Evening Standard said some engines would be re-assigned to Chiswick, East Greenwich, Euston, Hendon, Orpington, Purley, Southgate, Stanmore and Twickenham.

The bottom line: Fewer fire engines and fewer firefighters on London's streets.

October 08, 2012


At 8:19 a.m. on Oct. 8, 1952, disaster struck at the Harrow and Wealdstone rail station in northwest London.

An express train crashed into the rear of a local making a scheduled stop.

Seconds later, a third train traveling in the opposite direction plowed into the wreckage.

Rescuers used acetylene torches to reach people entwined in the wreckage.

The accident claimed 112 lives.

The Ministry of Transport concluded the express train passed a caution and two danger signals heading into the station.

"Some of the victims were on the platform as carriages full of commuters were hurled onto them," the BBC reported that day.

"Others were killed on a footbridge over the track that was punctured by a pile of coaches."

September 10, 2012



Tooley Street Fire - 1861

By Vinny Del Giudice
Editor, London Fire Journal

On July 9, 1861, the steamship Arago arrived in New York from England with a newspaper correspondent’s report on a conflagration at Tooley Street, London.

The blaze, which broke out June 22 and burned for days, claimed the life of James Braidwood, superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment.

Braidwood, admired far and wide for his skill and bravery, pioneered the modern fire service.

The former fire master of Edinburgh shaped London’s disorganized and undisciplined insurance company-sponsored brigades into an effective force.

In his 28 years at the helm in London, Braidwood accomplished more in the field of firefighting and fire prevention than anyone before him - even kings and parliament.
Braidwood was a Scot.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1800, attended the Royal High School, joined his father's building firm as an apprentice, became a surveyor and gained "exceptional knowledge of the behavior of building materials and housing conditions in the Old Town of Edinburgh," according to Wikipedia.

Following the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824, Braidwood pressed for the formation of a trained fire service to replace the usual collection of mobs and bucket brigades.

In the early 19th C., people were leaving Edinburgh’s Old Town for the more comfortable surroundings of the New Town. [Gazetteer of Scotland]

The old buildings became slums and fire-traps.

The city had very limited fire services and, following a series of deadly fires, which culminated in the Great Fire of Edinburgh of 1824, Braidwood persuaded the authorities and insurance company brigades to work together.

He formed the world's first municipal fire brigade, organizing men and machines.

In organizing Edinburgh’s fire force:

Braidwood recruited to the service expert tradesmen - slaters, carpenters, masons and plumbers - who could apply their various fields of expertise to firefighting. [Wikipedia]

He also recruited experienced mariners for an occupation that required heavy manual work in hauling engines and trundling wheeled escape ladders up and down Edinburgh's steep streets, as well as nimble footwork when negotiating rooftops and moving through partially destroyed buildings.

His 1830 text "On the Construction of Fire Engines and Apparatus" preached such things as getting a hose line close to the seat of the fire to extinguish it rather than pouring on water from a distance.

The book was considered ground-breaking and led to Braidwood's appointment as superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment in 1833.

His new brigade was funded by London’s insurance companies and staffed by 80 full-time fire-fighters at 13 stations who wore a functional grey uniform -- designed by Braidwood -- with knee-high boots and black leather helmets.

His crews were nicknamed ``Jimmy Braiders."

Men who had served in the Royal Navy received preference in hiring for their discipline, strength and training.

Burning of Pariament - 1834

The new brigade faced a major challenge when the Houses of Parliament burned on Oct. 16, 1834.

The blaze started in a basement furnace and spread rapidly.

Seeing the fire was well-advanced, Braidwood directed his force to concentrate on saving Westminster Hall and checking the spread of the flame to other structures.

In that, they succeeded.

Even so, the fire was considered a national tragedy. 

In the aftermath of blaze, Braidwood pursued an aggressive effort to reduce the numbers through safer building construction.

In a letter to the Times of London newspaper, [] Braidwood wrote:

The causes of the fire proceeding so rapidly in the work of destruction I believe to be as follows:

1 The total want of party walls.

2 The passages which intersected the building in every direction and acted as funnels to convey the fire.

3 The repeated alterations in the buildings which had been made with more regard to expedient then to security.

4 The immense quantity of timber used in the exterior.

5 The great depth and extent of the buildings.

6 A smart breeze of wind.

7 An indifferent supply of water which, though amply sufficient for any ordinary occasion, was inadequate for such an immense conflagration.

8 My own and the firemen's total ignorance of the localities of the place. In fires in private dwellings, warehouses, or manufactories, some idea may generally be formed on the division of the inside of the premises from observing the appearances of the outside, but in the present case that rule was useless.

Escape Ladders

The primary role of the London Fire Engine Establishment was the protection and salvage of property as it was funded by the insurance industry.

Life safety was of secondary concern.

In 1836, the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire was organized separate of Braidwood's brigade to place wheeled ladders throughout London.

The wooden "escapes" could reach as high as 60 feet.

The cumbersome but effective apparatus were operated by "conductors" who were employed by the society and underwent months of training.

(The use of wooden escape ladders continued into the 1970s and 1980s on motorized vehicles).

The firemen of London Fire Engine Establishment and the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire worked closely throughout the Braidwood era.

In 1854, for example, they conducted a number of rescues in a blaze at Raggett's hotel in central London while Braidwood directed the fire-fighting.

Tooley Street - Braidwood's Final Fire

Braidwood's Funeral Procession - 1861

Braidwood's final fire at Tooley Street broke out at Cotton's Wharf, a six-story warehouse storing hemp, jute, cotton and other commodities.

According to a sketch of Braidwood:

Although discovered in broad daylight, and before the flames had made any considerable headway, the want of a ready supply of water, and the fact that the iron doors in the division walls between the several warehouses had been left open, taken in connexion with the extremely combustible nature of the materials, soon rendered hopeless all chance of saving the buildings and property.
(Braidwood) appears to have at once foreseen that the fire would be one of no ordinary magnitude, and that the utmost that could be done would be to prevent its extending widely over adjoining property.
The floating fire-engines had been got to bear upon the flames, and the men in charge of the branch pipes were, after two hours' work, already suffering greatly from the intense heat, when their chief went to them to give them a word of encouragement.
Several minor explosions, as of casks of tallow or of oil, had been heard, but as it was understood that the saltpetre stored at the wharf was in buildings not yet alight, no alarm was then felt as to the walls falling in
At the moment, however, while Mr. Braidwood was discharging this his last act of kindness to his men, a loud report was heard, and the lofty wall behind him toppled and fell, burying him in the ruins.
It was a tremendous loss, with Queen Victoria sending her condolences.

Braidwood's funeral procession stretched for a mile and a half through London with thousands in attendance.

Church bells tolled and public houses remained open through the night.

On the 150th anniversary of the Tooley Street Fire, the London Fire Brigade published the following account on its website:

By 6 p.m., 14 fire engines, including a steam fire engine and the floating engine, were all at the fire. The fire spread quickly throughout the workhouses as the iron fire doors, that separated many of the storage rooms, had been left open.

It is believed that if they had been closed, as recommended by James Braidwood the Superintendent of the LFEE, the fire may have burnt out, avoiding disaster.

It has been suggested that the fire was so fierce because the firefighters couldn’t get a supply of water for nearly an hour.

This was made even more difficult as the Thames was at low tide.

Whilst the firefighters were tackling the blaze Braidwood noticed how tired they were getting and ordered that every firefighter receive a ‘nip’ of brandy.

While he was assisting one of his firefighters the front section of a warehouse collapsed on top of him, killing him instantly.

September 04, 2012


During World War II, Hull was the most severely bombed British city apart from London, according to official estimates.
  • 86,715 buildings damaged
  • 95 percent of houses damaged or destroyed
  • 152,000 residents made homeless

August 31, 2012


On Oct. 10, 1957, fire struck Pile 1 at the Windscale nuclear power station in West Cumbria.

"There was no smoke and no flames and most local people were oblivious to what is generally seen as the world's first nuclear accident," the BBC said.

It took several tries for nuclear station personnel  to suppress the flames. 

August 26, 2012



On March 18, 1941, German bombs crashed onto the dance floor at the Soho club Cafe de Paris and killed at least 34 people, including orchestra leader Ken "Snakehips" Johnson.
The story goes his band was playing "O Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!" when the bombs landed in the basement venue considered as safe as a bomb shelter.

One account said rescuers found Johnson found horribly mangled in the runs; another account said he was hardly scathed and still had a flower in his lapel.

According to a Daily Mail story commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Blitz:

"The floor was heaving with couples. Suddenly, there was an immense blue flash. Two bombs had hit the building, hurtled down a ventilation shaft from the roof and exploded right in front of the band.  The dead and dying were heaped everywhere. Champagne was cracked open to clean wounds."

Among those fatally injured was Meg Hargrove, a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service, whose name appears on the U.K. Firefighters National Memorial.

The club re-opened after the war and remains in business today.

According to its website:

"In 1939 the Café was allowed to stay open even though theatres and cinemas were closed by order. People gossiped their way through the blackout and the Café was advertised as a safe haven by Martin Poulson, the maitre d', who argued that the four solid storeys of masonry above were ample protection."

August 24, 2012



During the 2012 Olympics, a smoke column from a 40-pump fire at a recycling plant in London's Dagenham district was visible several miles away - at the Olympic Park.

“We’ve not seen a fire of this size in London for several years," London Fire Commissioner Roy Dobson told the BBC.

"It’s certainly a dramatic end to the Olympics for the London Fire Brigade," Dobson said.

The blaze broke out on Aug. 12, 2012 and fire crews remained on the scene for an extended period.

Fire cover at the Olympic wasn't affected, the Evening Standard reported.

That wasn't the only notable fire related to the Olympics.

On Aug. 8, an outdoor barbecue fueled by gas cylinders exploded into flames at a venue for New Zealand fans.

Three hundred people were evacuated from Kiwi House in central London, according to the fire brigade.

Richard Welch, station manager at the Poplar fire station, told the Press Association: "People in the vicinity reported hearing an explosion."

May 27, 2012


Gravett, Houghton and Rey

"Fires Were Started"

A tip of the helmet to Canadian firefighter Huw Jones for alerting us to the movie "I Was a Fireman" - about the 1940-41 blitz.

This realistic 1942 film - originally titled "Fires Were Started" - focuses on a day in the life of Fire Station 14-Y of the London Auxiliary Fire Service.

The cast is composed of blitz firemen and firewomen, though none received credits.

On the hose line in photo are "Jacko" (left) and "The Colonel" (right). Supervising is Sub-Officer Dyke. (These are the character names.)

The film was directed by Humphrey Jennings for the Crown Film Unit, a propaganda office in the Ministry of Information.

After the war, Jennings was described as "the only real poet that British cinema has yet produced."

He died in 1950 while scouting locations  for a documentary.

Here is a list of cast :

Chief Fire Officer Frank Jackson (Himself)

Commanding Officer George Gravett (Sub-Officer Dykes)

Leading Fireman Philip Wilson-Dickson (Section Officer Walters)

Leading Fireman Fred Griffiths (Johnny Daniels)

Leading Fireman Loris Rey ('Colonel' J. Rumbold)

Fireman Johnny Houghton (S.H. 'Jacko' Jackson)

Fireman T.P. Smith (B.A. Brown)

Fireman John Barker (Joe Vallance)

Fireman and later novelist William Sansom (Mike Barrett)

Assistant Group Officer Green (Mrs. Townsend)

Firewoman Betty Martin (Betty)

Firewoman Eileen White (Eileen)


My uncle Edward Carrick was an art director and production designer in films from the 20s to the 60s, and during the Second World War he worked for the Crown Film Unit, the Ministry of Information's wartime documentary (ie propaganda) film arm. He was art director on Target for Tonight (1941) about the RAF's bombing missions; Close Quarters (1943) for which he filmed on a working submarine as well as built a full-size model of it; Western Approaches (1944) about the Merchant Navy; and Fires Were Started (1943) Humphrey Jennings' masterpiece of dramatised documentary (also known as I Was A Fireman).

Fires Were Started is a record of a day and night in the Fire Service during the Blitz. It is set in Trinidad Street and Alderman's Wharf in Limehouse — then a working East End community of wharves and warehouses, not the miles of characterless 1980s flats it is today. Carrick recounted working all day during the Blitz, and going out with a cameraman at night to film anything that could be useful. The East End was an important target for the Luftwaffe, and one night he chanced to see the old Tate and Lyle factory at Silvertown explode into flames. They had an old hand-crank camera with them, and the cameraman got so excited that he inadvertently sped up the winding. The Tate and Lyle explosion is the same big conflagration seen in Fires Were Started. The damage at Silvertown that night was extensive, destroying other factories and wharves as well, which were still on fire the next morning.

Carrick needed to stage a fire at night for the action of the film, but it had to be carefully controlled — the authorities were none too thrilled about the film unit starting another fire when there already so many! A lot of effort went into the filming of the burning building (an already-bombed warehouse). At one point in the middle of it all, Carrick flicked off his protective leather jacket what he thought was ash, only to realise it was molten lead dripping onto him from the roof. He survived, the film was a dramatic and moving success, and his daughter-in-law wore the jacket into the 1960s.

March 22, 2012


"The loan performer of a perilous duty ... " - Illustrated London News during The Blitz, 1940

February 14, 2012


Photo: Churchill College
Churchill inspects bomb damage in London on Sept. 10, 1940; firemen seem to pay no mind. The Blitz enhanced the public standing of the fire service, and Churchill dubbed its members "Heroes with grimy faces."

February 11, 2012


March 5, 1856 - Fire destroyed the Covent Garden Theatre in London. A bystander reported: "The flames had burst through the roof, throwing high up into the air columns of fire, which threw into bright reflection every tower and spire within the circuit of the metropolis, illuminating St. Paul’s as if gilded with burnished gold."


Photo: Nat Bocking
July 21, 2004 - Decontamination after chemical spill at Archway roundabout


Photo: Stephen McKay
March 11, 2010 - View from City Road of fire on Worship Street.

February 10, 2012


Photo: Green County, Missouri, jail
A former London firefighter wanted in a 1993 bank heist in Suffolk was arrested Feb. 9, 2012, in the U.S. state of Missouri on firearms charges. Edward "Fast Eddie" John Maher, 56, had been living under his brother's name since the $1.5 million robbery from a bank van. Maher was a member of the London Fire Brigade for 12 years and served as sub-officer at the Euston station in central London. He resigned in 1991, according to Fire Engineering magazine's website.

January 17, 2012


Only in the Fire Journal!

A reader is Canada recently asked the London Fire Journal for assistance in locating information on London firefighter George Frederick Garley, pictured above, who served at the Cannon Street station in 1924.

Many thanks to a reader in the U.K. who provided this information:

G F Garley was awarded his LFB LSGC medal in April 1936, this means he would have joined the brigade in about 1921.In 1931 he was serving at Holloway, moving at some point to Stoke Newington where he received his medal in 1936. He was still there in Sept 1940 so he is certainly a "blitz" fireman."

UPDATED: Feb. 11, 2012