Originally, William Cubitt offered to build a fire station on the Island in the 1850s, but it was not until 1872 that action was undertaken, significantly influenced by local concerns that – if a bridge was up – there was no way that an engine from the fire station at West India Dock Rd would be able to attend to an Island fire on time.
The Isle of Dogs Fire Engine Station, was opened in 1877 on undeveloped land owned by Lady Margaret Charteris, a major Island landowner and wife of Lord Strafford. It housed six firemen, a coachman, three horses, a steam fire-engine, a manual engine, a curricle and a fire-escape.
Survey of London (Athlone Press):
In the mid-1890s it was realized that the building was too small. Because of an increase in the number of staff, some of the men had to be lodged in houses in the neighbourhood, and a pair of horses was kept in rented stables. Additional ground to the rear of the station was acquired, together with the freehold of the original premises, and plans were prepared for the alteration and enlargement of the building. These plans were not executed and revised ones were produced in 1903, but the estimated cost of carrying them out was such that it was decided that it was preferable to erect a new building.
Designed by the Fire Brigade Section of the LCC Architect’s Department, at an estimated cost of £11,300, and erected by the Council’s Works Department, the new station was completed by May 1905. The main building is of four storeys, in the Queen Anne style characteristic of the LCC fire stations of the period. It is of red brick, with Doric pilasters picked out in a darker brick, the ground-floor level is in stone, now rendered. A triangular steel hose-hoist tower was erected in the yard. The adoption of motorized appliances rendered the stables obsolete and in 1925 they were converted into a mess room and offices.
Externally, at least, the building hardly changed at all in the coming decades. During World War II, it naturally became the headquarters of the civilian and Auxiliary Fire Service firefighting effort on the Island, and many of its personnel were killed and injured during the course of the war.
In this photo, taken well after the war, a small hatchdoor is visible at chest height, just to the left of the leftmost door. This was the emergency telephone; opening this door would set off the fire alarm bell, causing the firemen to drop what they were doing, get their gear on, and slide down the pole to the fire engines (not necessarily in that order). Great fun for kids who were walking home from Harbinger School to Cubitt Town, opening the door and legging it as hard as they could before an angry firemen caught them. Not that I would ever have done something like that…..
On 17th July 1969, tragedy struck during demolition at Dudgeon’s Wharf, less than a mile away from the station, off Manchester Rd.:
The demolition was rife with danger and difficulties and firefighters had frequently attended the site after sparks from cutting gear ignited small fires.
Less than two weeks before the fatal explosion, 40 men with eight pumps had tackled a fire on waste oil in a derelict tank and now another call arrived at Millwall Fire Station at 11.21am alerting the emergency services to another fire.
Two appliances were sent from Millwall in F Division and another from Brunswick Road. A foam tender from East Ham was sent later along with a fireboat from Greenwich.
Station Officer Innard, believing the fire to be out when he arrived, decided to put a curtain of water into the open top manhole of Tank 97.
Four other officers joined him on top of the tank to feed in the water. Later reports concluded that this pull of water drew air into the tank, mixing with the flammable vapours.
S.O. Innard then decided to ensure there was no further fire by opening the bottom manhole. Unable to find a spanner to undo the nuts, it was suggested they should be burned off.
As soon as a workman applied the cutting flame of his torch to the first nut, the vapours inside the tank ignited immediately, blowing the roof off the tank, together with the five firefighters and a worker.
The explosion happened at 11.52. Three appliances were sent from Bethnal Green and Bow. Their role was to collect the bodies.
– Giles Broadbent, http://www.wharf.co.uk
The victims were named as:
- Michael Gamble, London Fire Brigade, Millwall Fire Station
- Alfred Smee, London Fire Brigade, Millwall Fire Station
- John Appleby, London Fire Brigade, Brunswick Road Fire Station
- Terrance Breen, London Fire Brigade, Brunswick Road Fire Station
- Paul Carvosso, London Fire Brigade, Cannon Street Fire Station
- Richard Adams, A&R Metal Company
This was the largest single loss of life in the London Fire Brigade since the Second World War. The victims are commemorated by a memorial on the riverfront, close to the scene of the incident.
In 1973, the station took possession of new fire engines (I bet somebody with more understanding of these things will tell me that they’re much older). Here’s one, parked up in Ferry St for a photo shoot:
Not sure if these photos are earlier or later; the fire engines are a different make.
In 1977, firefighters went on strike over a 30% pay demand. Negotiations were difficult, to say the least, and troops and their green goddesses were brought in to try and cover. The firefighters eventually settled for a 10% increase, taking an average salary to just over £4,000, with the promise of more to come.
In about 2006 a new fire station was opened in the north of Westferry Rd, close to the corner with Byng St, and the old station closed down.
In 2008 the former Millwall Fire Station converted in to apartment block named for Violet Pengelly and Joan Bartlett, members of the London Auxiliary Fire Service killed during bombing of their depot at Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Rd during World War II, along with more than 20 colleagues.
I hope you don’t see this as a bit of advertising, angling to get myself a complementary drink or meal or anything like that……….