Sunday, September 25, 2022

Great Fire of Tooley Street

London The Unfinished City

On Saturday June 22, 1861, at about 16:00, a fire was spotted in Cotton's Wharf, on Tooley Street. It is believed to have been started when a worker in the wharf dropped a cigarette, but this is not confirmed. 

Despite Cotton's Wharf having sturdy fire protection, the surrounding buildings were less protected and the fire spread quickly, especially with the goods held in Cotton's Wharf. These included rice, tallow, hemp, jute and sugar. 

At around 17:00 the London Fire Engine Establishment were informed and joined the two private fire engines, from a local distiller, that were already on the scene.

By 18:00 there were 14 fire engines trying to extinguish the blaze. The River Thames was at low tide, so the river fire engine could not be used as it was unable to draw water from the shallow water.

Soon, though, the blaze became so great that the fire engines were forced to retreat as spice warehouses caught light, distributing spices into the air.

At around 19:30 a portion of a warehouse collapsed, killing two firefighters, one of which was James Braidwood, who had been giving the firefighters their brandy rations at the time.

London The Unfinished City
Memorial plaque to James Braidwood.
The inscription reads;

To the memory of 
James Braidwood, 
superintendent of the 
London Fire Brigade, 
who was killed near this 
in the execution of his 
at the great fire 
on 22nd June 1861

A just man and one that feared god, of good report among all the nation.
Erected by the M. or Southwark Division of the Metropolitan Police

S. H. Gardiner, New Kent Road

The fire was contained to a single area, by about 02:00 on June 23, but would continue to burn for two more weeks, with the blaze being so bright that it could be seen some 15 miles away.

The damage from the fire was considerable with buildings within 1/4 mile being damaged and 11 acres of land being destroyed. Boats and barges were also destroyed, as oil and tallow spilled into the River Thames.

London Bridge station, which was nearby, also caught fire, but this was put out by the station's private fire engines.

This was London's worst fire since the Great Fire of 1666.

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