The main effort of London's fire service was to tackle fires on land. Unfortunately, land-based fire engines could not easily get access to many fires in the port.
|The fire at St Saviour's Dock, 1864. © NMM|
One of the innovations brought in by Massey Shaw was the floating fire engine, also known as a fireboat or fire float. These allowed easy access to fires on the riverside or the dock quayside.
|New floating fire engine in the Upper Pool, 1866. © NMM|
In 1866 the Brigade had two floating stations, and more were added later. The fire floats were frequently busy in the port.
|The Metropolitan Fire Brigade going to a riverside fire, 1890. © NMM|
The fireboats in action
In 1901, the writer Ernest A Carr observed the fire floats in action from a police launch. His account of the action appeared in Living London, edited by George R Sims.
|A floating fire engine, c. 1901. © NMM|
The Massey Shaw
Perhaps the most famous of all the London Fire Brigade fire floats is the Massey Shaw (1935). She was named after Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, who succeeded Braidwood in 1861 and became the first head of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1865.
|The London Fire Brigade fire float Massey Shaw (1935). © NMM|
Her first major incident was a huge fire at the Colonial Wharf in Wapping, in September 1935. However, she became most famous for her role at Dunkirk.
In May 1940 she left her moorings at Blackfriars to join a fleet of small boats heading for the Dunkirk beaches. Over a period of three days, she ferried more than 500 soldiers from the beaches to larger vessels, and took two parties of solders back to Ramsgate.
She returned to service on the Thames, where she distinguished herself fighting countless fires. Among her last fires were a blaze at the Tate & Lyle works at Silvertown and a fire on the Jumna, in the Royal Albert Dock. She was retired from the force in 1971 and has been preserved.
|The Tate & Lyle works in 1967. © NMM|