“The 1861 Tooley Street fire, also called the Great Fire of Tooley Street, started in Cotton’s Wharf on Tooley Street, London, England, on 22 June 1861. The fire lasted for two weeks, and caused £2 million worth of damage. During the fire, James Braidwood, superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment, was killed. House of Commons reports cited multiple failures in fire prevention, and the fire led to the 1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act, which established the London Fire Brigade…
The Fire Establishment’s river fire engine was unable to draw water from the River Thames as it was low tide and so the river was too shallow. The fire was so great that the river fire engine was forced to retreat. The firefighters were also inhibited when the spice warehouses caught fire, and distributed spices into the air. The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire (which was later merged into the London Fire Brigade) also assisted with controlling the fire…
Around 7 30 p.m., a section of a warehouse collapsed on top of James Braidwood, the superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment, killing him. Another firefighter was killed in the same incident. Braidwood had been giving his firefighters their brandy rations at the time of the collapse…
In September 1861, following the death of James Braidwood, Eyre Massey Shaw was engaged as head of the London Fire Engine Establishment.
Shaw was born in Ballymore, County Cork, Ireland (Glenmore Cottage near Ballymore, Cobh) and was educated first at a school in Queenstown and then at Trinity College, Dublin. Shaw considered joining the Church but decided on a career in the Army and gained a commission in the North Cork Rifles, a militia regiment of the British Army (later the 9th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps) from 1854 to 1860, reaching the rank of captain. He resigned from the Army on being appointed Chief Constable of Belfast Borough Police in June 1860, in charge of both the police and the fire brigade.
In 1865, Parliament passed the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act, placing responsibility for fire protection in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (combining the former London Fire Engine Establishment and the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire), to be supervised by the Metropolitan Board of Works. Shaw headed the new brigade.
Shaw was an influential thinker on firefighting, publishing at least one book on the subject…Sloping floors in fire stations allowed engines to move out more easily (‘on the run’, a term still used today)…
Shaw was a well-known socialite (which led to his immortalisation in operetta, see below) and a personal friend of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). A firefighting outfit was always kept ready at Charing Cross Fire Station in case the Royal heir chose to firefight.
Shaw is best remembered today as the “Captain Shaw” to whom the Fairy Queen in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe addresses herself, wondering if his “brigade with cold cascade” could quench her great love. Shaw was present in the stalls at the first night of Iolanthe in 1882, and Alice Barnett, playing the Fairy Queen, addressed herself directly to him. Legend has it that he stood up and took a bow.
In 1886, Shaw was later named in an adultery lawsuit involving Lady Colin Campbell who was sitting next to Shaw at the Iolanthe premiere (source Anne Jordan biographer LCC).
When the Fire Brigade was taken over by the London County Council in 1889, he disagreed with the administration and resigned in 1891. He was knighted by Queen Victoria on his last day of service. Shaw died at Folkestone on 25 August 1908.
A historic fireboat, named the Massey Shaw, still exists, and was recently renovated. Built in 1935, it made several trips to Dunkirk during the evacuation of British troops from France in 1940.”
“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.
“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.” “.