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home » our museum » the way we were » key dates

Key dates

Below are some important dates in the history of London fire brigade.

63AD Vigiles appointed to look out for fires at night by Roman Emperor, Augustus.

440 After the Romans’ departure, no organised fire service for over 120 years.

1212 London Bridge burnt down. This was known as Great Fire of London until 1666. Allegedly 12,000 people died, although this figure could have been exaggerated.

1556 Act of Parliament laid down that ‘Bellmen’ should be appointed to walk the streets at night to raise alarm if fire spotted.

1666 Great Fire of London. 13,200 homes, 87 churches, 423 acres and four fifths of London destroyed.

1667 First fire insurance company established by Nicholas Barbon.

1668 Common Council decides that the City and Liveries (the inner suburbs) will be divided into four areas, each having 800 leather buckets, 50 ladders, 24 pick-axe hatchets and 40 shovels.

1680 First fire brigade formed by Barbon’s Fire Office.

1708 Parish Pumpers Act passed by Parliament, the first piece of fire prevention legislation, thus changing building regulations and establishing parish fire brigades.

1774 Act of Parliament passed resulting in the City of London having 218 engines with 80 in the rest of London.

1833 Formation of the London Fire Engine Establishment on 1st January by an amalgamation of 10 insurance company fire brigades under the leadership of James Braidwood. 19 fire stations and 80 firemen.

1834 Fire at Westminster Palace burns down the majority of the original Houses of Parliament. 64 men and 12 engines attended.

1836 Formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire created to provide fire escape ladders throughout London.

1838 Fire at the Royal Exchange.

1841 Fire at the Tower of London.

1848 The first ball hydrants installed.

1860 London buys its first land steam fire engine.

1861 Fire at Tooley Street. James Braidwood killed. Fire costs insurance companies over £2 million, leading them to threaten to disband the London Fire Engine Establishment. Captain E.M Shaw takes over L.F.E.E.

1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act passed, setting up the Metropolitan Fire Brigade under the authority of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Parish fire brigades in London disbanded, insurance companies relieved of their firefighting ‘duties.’

1866 Metropolitan Fire Brigade forms on 1st January under Captain Shaw. London has 17 land and 2 floating stations. New uniform introduced including brass helmet and navy blue tunic.

1867 MFB take over the fire escape ladders of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire. The Siemen Halske’s telegraph system is introduced to enable easy communication between stations.

1870s Firemen’s pay ranges between £1 4s 6d and £1 15s 0d.

1871 Death of Fireman Ford at Gray’s Inn Road. A public outcry forces the Metropolitan Board of Works to award a pension to his widow, which was subsequently taken away after a public fund for her raised ‘too much’ money.

1875 The London Auxiliary Fire Brigade is formed by Shaw to help solve chronic manpower problems.

1880 Shaw starts his massive survey of London theatres in an attempt to curtail the number of fatal theatre fires. The first system of street alarm posts is introduced. Telephones also introduced around this time.

1882 Alhambra Theatre Fire, Leicester Square. Prince of Wales (amateur fireman) nearly killed by falling wall.

1889 London County Council formed and takes over the MFB. London has 55 land and 4 floating stations.

1891 Captain Shaw retires from post of Chief Officer, his place taken over by James Sexton Simmonds.

1892 The Brigade numbers 825 men and costs £128,783 per year to run.

1894 London has 57 land and 4 floating stations.

1896 Simmonds forced to resign as CFO because of financial impropriety. Captain Wells takes over as CFO.

1897 Wheeled escape ladders begin to be mounted on horsed carriers for the first time. November, the Cripplegate fire in the City destroys 100 buildings at a cost of £1 million.

1898 The Brigade is now answering an average of 10 calls per day.

1899 Firemen no longer recruited exclusively from the Royal and Merchant Navies but ex-sailors continue to be preferred until the Second World War.

1900 Launch of ‘Alpha II’ - London’s first self-powered fire boat.

1902 Queen Victoria Street fire in the City, 9 are killed. The ladders were too short to reach the top floors, leading to much criticism of the Brigade. Hook ladders and longer escape ladders are introduced as a result.

1903 Captain Wells retires, Rear Admiral Hamilton takes over as CFO.

1904 Metropolitan Fire Brigade is renamed London Fire Brigade. London introduces its first motorised vehicles.

1905 First turntable ladder introduced, reaching to 82 feet.

1906 First motor escape vans introduced.

1909 Rear Admiral Hamilton retires and is succeeded by Lieutenant Commander Sladen. First pumping appliance entirely driven by motor engine introduced.

1913 London has 85 land and 3 river stations. First use of self-contained oxygen breathing apparatus.

1914 Outbreak of the First World War, one fifth of the LFB are in the navy reserve and are recalled for service, causing a manpower crisis.

1918 Fire and collapse at Albert Embankment results in the death of seven firemen. One other also killed in an accident made this the greatest loss of life on one day outside the war. Sladen retires as CFO and is replaced by Arthur Dyer.

1920 Two watch system introduced, reducing the working week to 72 hours; firemen are no longer required to live in the stations.

1921 Motorisation of the LFB completed, the last two horses are retired from Kensington Fire Station.

1933 Dyer retires as CFO and is replaced by Major Cyril Morris.

1934 Introduction of the ‘Dual Purpose’ appliance, which combines pumping with escape carrying machines.

1937 The Civil Defence Act is passed that enables local authorities to raise an Auxiliary Fire Service. Initial plans in London call for a force of 28,000 Auxiliary Firemen and Firewomen. London has 59 land and 3 river stations.

1938 The Fire Brigades Act is passed which formally requires all local authorities (except London) to have fire brigades. There are over 1,600 fire Brigades in the UK. CFO Morris retires and is aptly replaced by Commander Firebrace.

1939 Recruitment, training and equipping of AFS begins to advance rapidly. AFS mobilised on 1st September, London compiles a force of 23,000 Auxiliaries. There are over 300 AFS sub-stations. War declared on 3rd September. Commander Firebrace is seconded to the Home Officer, leaving DCO Jackson in command of the LFB.

1940 June: fireboat Massey Shaw is used in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk. August: Battle of Britain. 7th September: the Blitz hits begin; London is hit on 57 consecutive nights. 17th September: Harry Errington saves several colleagues from a burning shelter and thereby earns the George Cross. 29th December: firebomb attack on the City creates the “Second Great Fire of London.”

1941 10/11th May: massive attack on London, 17 firemen killed at St George’s Circus. 15th May: Blitz finishes. 18th August: nationalisation of the British Fire Service forming the National Fire Service (NFS); for the first time there is standardisation of organisation, ranks, equipment, drills, etc.

1944 June: V1 (flying bomb) attacks begin with London receiving 99 flying bombs on August 3rd. The fire service becomes fully committed to rescue and firefighting duties. September: V2 (missile) attacks commence.

1945 May: the Second World War ends and the fire service begins to downsize. August: Fireman Frederick Davies wins the George Cross for attempting the rescue of two girls in Harlesden, after which he died.

1948 The fire service is de-nationalised; control of the London Fire Brigade passes back to the LCC. Frederick Delve becomes Chief Officer. London has 58 land and 2 river stations.

1949 The Auxiliary Fire Service is re-established.

1951 November: first ever refusal of labour by London’s firefighters: only emergency calls answered in a dispute that called for parity with police pay. December: Broad Street fire, 3 firemen are killed and the DCO seriously injured.

1957 Lewisham train crash: 85 people killed.

1958 January: fire in Smithfield Market; StnO Fourt-Wells and Ff Stocking get lost in the cellars and die - the BA control system is brought in as a result. The last street alarm post is removed from London.

1962 CFO Delve retires and is replaced by Leslie Leete.

1965 The Greater London Council is created; the LFB expands to meet the borders of the GLC, and, in doing so, takes over the Middlesex, Croydon, West and East Ham Brigades plus large areas of Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire. London now has 115 land and 2 river stations.

1966 The Brigade celebrates its centenary with a Queen’s review at Lambeth.

1967 Hither Green rail crash.

1968 The Auxiliary Fire Service is disbanded.

1969 July: explosion at Dudgeons Wharf kills five firemen - the greatest loss of London firefighters in a single incident since the war.

1970s The HAZCHEM system is designed and implemented.

1970 CFO Leete retires and is replaced by Joseph. 

1974-75 Compressed air breathing apparatus is introduced.

1974 A massive recruitment campaign takes place and training centres are set up around London.

1975 The Moorgate Tube disaster presents the Brigade with one of its most complex challenges.

1976 CFO Milner retires and is replaced by Peter Darby.

1977 Fireman’s strike.

1979 The Green Watch is created, thus lowering the working week from 48 to 42 hours.

1980 CFO Darby retires and is replaced by Ronald Bullers.

1982 Sue Batten becomes London’s, and Britain’s, first female firefighter.

1986 The GLC is abolished - control of the LFB passes to the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA).

1987 CFO Bullers retires and is replaced by Gerald Clarkson. November: fire at King’s Cross Underground Station, StnO Townsley is among those that died.

1988 Clapham rail disaster.

1989 Introduction of Nomex firecoat finally replaces the blue wool fire tunic. This is shortly followed by Nomex leggings and Kevlar helmet, all introduced after shortcomings discovered at King’s Cross.

1991 Clarkson retires and is replaced by Brian Robinson. Automatic Distress Signal Units introduced for breathing apparatus.

1992 A mobile data system introduced enabling some officers to send information from appliances.

1995 London has 113 land and 1 river station.

1997 Draeger PA94 Plus model breathing apparatus introduced.

1998 London has 111 land and 1 river station.

1999 Introduction of the ‘Inferno’ fire uniform. LFB first brigade to use this. October: Paddington rail disaster.

2000 The change of local authority means LFCDA becomes The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). The Talisman Thermal imaging Camera was introduced and the Akron Turbojet 1720 branch. “Odin” becomes the first fire investigation dog in the Brigade.

2002 The authority buys high specification chemical protection suits. The brigade's first community safety centre opens in Enfield. Brigade Museum achieves registered status. Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) announces strike, which takes place in November with a 48 hour and an eight day stoppage.TV’s salvage squad take on restoration of Massey Shaw.

2003 Opening of new Hammersmith fire station. Sixteen per cent pay increase, spread over two years agreed.
Commissioner Brian Robinson retires after 36 years service. Deputy Commissioner Roy Bishop becomes Acting Commissioner. New fire safety centres open in Hammersmith and Bromley.

Ken Knight becomes new London Fire Commissioner.

2004 The new mobilising system (ProCAD) comes online and Brigade Control moves to the Docklands. Richmond Fire Station becomes solar powered.

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last updated: 2006-12-13
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