Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

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.

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

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 Embankment | Look Up London

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.

Braidwood Memorial, 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).

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

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.

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

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),

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

Kent (white horse) and Norwich (Castle),

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

City of London (St George’s cross with sword of St Paul) and Westminster (Portcullis)*.

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

Another sneaky symbol you can spot is the plaque of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths who presumably must own the freehold of the building.

Goldsmiths Mark | Former Bishopsgate Fire Station

(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.

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

In 1988 the Grade II listed site became a Tesco. I wonder how many shoppers today look up to admire the history above them?! 

Former Bishopsgate Fire Station | Look Up London

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3 Comments

  • Ian Johnson

    Reply

    Thanks Katie. Another great post. I used to work in Aldgate and walked by it countless times but I never knew or noticed the watchtower. I’d love to know if it’s used for anything these days. I’ll keep a look out for it when I’m next in the area. Regards. Ian.

    June 21, 2023 at 7:55 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    Thanks Katie
    A lovely find, I’ll aim to look up when i’m next at Liv ‘pool sration!

    June 21, 2023 at 9:40 am
  • Jane Burnett

    Reply

    As with Ian Johnson, I, too, have been in the area (searching for ancestors again) but did not notice how fabulous this building is. Perhaps it is time for businesses in these buildings to post signs at street level that say “Look up, London!”.😊

    June 21, 2023 at 1:00 pm

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