London Fire Brigade

150th anniversary of the fire which changed the fire service forever

22 June 2011

The Great Fire at London Bridge imageToday marks the 150th anniversary of the major fire at Tooley Street and the death of the capital’s first fire Superintendant James Braidwood, events which led to the founding of the fire service as we know it today.

Commemorating the significant landmark, London Fire Deputy Commissioner Rita Dexter, Chairman of LFEPA Community Safety Committee Councillor Susan Hall and the Retired Members Association, will be hosting a small memorial service to remember James Braidwood and the Tooley Street fire on Wednesday 22 June 2011.

James Braidwood lost his life while tackling the fire at Cottons Wharf on Tooley Street on 22 June 1861. His death was a catalyst for change, leading to the development of the modern day fire brigade. Previously, firefighters would usually only attend fires at buildings with insurance.  However, Braidwood’s death and the cost of the Tooley Street fire led to the founding of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, under which firefighters would attend blazes at every building, regardless of whether they had fire insurance.

It took two weeks to put the fire out and cost an estimated £2 million in 1861 which is would be around £145million at today’s prices. The cost for the pumpers helping to pump water from the manual fire engines was £1,100.

Rita Dexter said: “James Braidwood is a central figure in the history of London Fire Brigade as we know it today. His dedication to protecting the capital and his fascination with preventing fires gave the Brigade a strong foundation and helped to shape it into what it is now - the world’s third largest fire and rescue service.”

Queen Victoria was particularly concerned about the event and the fate of James Braidwood and in her diary she wrote ‘poor Mr Braidwood … had been killed … and the fire was still raging. It made one very sad.’

Some of Braidwood’s key achievements include introducing a standard uniform for the capital’s firefighters and being one of the first officers to raise awareness of the importance of fire safety in preventing fires from happening in the first place. He was consulted on fire prevention by industries and large businesses and wrote extensively about the need for better construction, storage and fire doors in warehouses.

The London Fire Brigade museum is holding a special open day to mark the 150th anniversary on Friday 5 August. Usually, visits to the museum are by appointment only but the open day will see doors opened to all from 10am till 3pm. Visitors will travel through time and discover why the Great Fire of London in 1666 was so influential to the history of firefighting and why water squirts and leather buckets weren’t enough to stop the fire and gunpowder had to be used instead. They then finish their adventure with a talk on what the fire service is like today and how firefighters focus on preventing fires from happening in the first place. 

Notes to editors

To find out more about the Tooley Street fire go to For more on our museum and the excellent exhibition about the bravery of James Braidwood visit the London Fire Brigade Museum.

Today’s cost of the damage caused was calculated by using