The Former Fire Station on Bishopgate
Look up above the Tescos outside Liverpool Street Statuion and – as ever – there’s history above your eye line!
The wide doorways might be the first giveaway, but the elaborately decorated facade tells us this was once Bishopsgate Fire Station.
It was built in 1884 for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and is thought to have been designed by George Vulliamy, who is behind the extravagant ‘dolphin’ lamps along the Embankment.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade was formed in 1866 following an Act of Parliament in 1865.
The Act was a result of the disastrous Tooley Street Fire in 1861 which lasted around 2 weeks, causing £2million worth of damage (around £166million today).
James Braidwood, then Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment died heroically in the fire and his plaque can be found on Tooley Street.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade were under the responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works, hence the letters MBW emblazoned on the side of the building (circled in red).
Prior to this city-wide service there was a plethora of private insurance companies that competed for business and organised their own fire fighters. The lead plaques of these companies, showing their logos and the policy numbers can still be seen dotted around London and beyond. I made a little video about them here.
Back to Bishopsgate Fire Station, it fell under the management of the London County Council in 1899 and by the early 1900s was at the forefront of fire-fighting technology, pictured here in 1935 with the most fabulous-looking fleet and firemen!
By 1963 there were plans for it to be replaced by the new Barbican Fire Station (1965-1999). But mere months before it was closedm Bishopsgate Fire Station witnessed one of the worst fires since the Second World War with the Bishopsgate Goods Depot Blaze on 5 December 1964.
Back to the present day, when you’re next by Liverpool Street do look out for some of the lovely historic details – especially in the spandrels above the Tudor arches.
These include the coat of arms of East Anglia (3 crowns) and Essex (3 swords),
Kent (white horse) and Norwich (Castle),
City of London (St George’s cross with sword of St Paul) and Westminster (Portcullis)*.
Another sneaky symbol you can spot is the plaque of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths who presumably must own the freehold of the building.
(For more about these sneaky symbols and the history of livery companies you can read this blog post.)
Lastly, from a distance you can admire the Victorian watch tower – literally for keeping a look out for fires from the top of the building! I wonder how much (or little) you can see from that vantage point now given the whopping great skyscrapers around Bishopsgate.
In 1988 the Grade II listed site became a Tesco. I wonder how many shoppers today look up to admire the history above them?!
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