Sir Eyre Massey Shaw - Massey Shaw Education Trust
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Sir Eyre Massey Shaw

Quick facts

Quick facts

Name: Eyre Massey Shaw
Born: 17 January 1830
Died: 25 August 1908
Education: Trinity College, Dublin
Rank: Captain


Our names sake, Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw was born on 17 January 1830 (some records have his DOB 22 Feb 1828!) and died on 25 August 1908.

Together with James Braidwood, he is regarded as a Founding Father of the British Fire Service and many of the basic principles and techniques of firefighting, still valid today, were set out by him.

Family life and education

Eyre was born at Glenmore Cottage near Ballymore , Cobh where his early childhood was spent sailing boats and learning about the sea.

In 1843, he was Registered at Trinity College, Dublin and studied for a Bachelor of Arts Degree which he received in 1847. He was destined to take holy orders but decided to leave and sail to America. He spent four to five years in the States and witnessed a number of large fires and how they were fought.

In 1854 he was commission into the North Cork Rifles, and within a year was married. A year later, Anna had given birth to their first child, called Eyre Massey with a further son born in October 1857 called Bernard Vidal in Torquay. Two further children were born by 1860, and Massey’s commission with the Rifles ended.

Working life

Shaw sent a CV to the Belfast City Council who were looking for a Superintendent of police and fire, following a serious fire. He did not have the knowledge and qualifications for the job, but was still given the position. He commenced in June 1860 aged 32 , and moved himself and family to Belfast.

The Belfast Brigade had just four fire engines , but Shaw enjoyed the role and started to make improvements.


The Tooley Street fire at Cotton Wharf commenced (22nd June 1861) which resulted in the death of James Braidwood who was the Superintendent of the LFEE when a wall fell on him.

A new Superintendent was required and Massey Shaw applied via an advert in the Times taking up his appointment on 15th September 1861.

The Insurance Companies that financed the LFEE soon found that they were struggling to finance the Brigade as the number of fires increased. They petitioned the government and Captain Shaw was asked to put forward ideas for a new organisation.

When Shaw took over the LFEE in 1861, it comprised 17 land and 2 river stations and 129 men. When he retired 1891 the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) comprised 55 land and 4 river stations, 127 street escape and hose-cart stations, 675 personnel and 131 horses. Over 30 years he oversaw the massive expansion of the MFB to keep pace with Victorian London’s rapid expansion.


In 1865 An act for the establishment of a Fire Brigade in the Metropolis was made law and the new Brigade commenced in 1866.

Captain Shaw was appointed the new Chief, and he came under the control of the Metropolitan Board of works.


One of his first duties was to order new steam fire engines to replace the horse drawn engines. He contacted the main manufacturers, Merryweathers and Shand Mason and asked them to provide demonstrations of their equipment. Working with them he developed an engine which could be pulled by two horses and produce several jets at high pressure (on average, 300 gallons of water per minute). Sloping floors in fire stations allowed engines to move out more easily – this was called ‘on the run’, a term still used today.

Capt Shaw was concerned that his work force wasn’t up to the demands of his new service, so he introduced the recruitment of sailors, who had to demonstrate their fitness and general intelligence.

A new uniform consisting of a navy blue tunic with brass buttons, cloth trousers, leather boots, belt and pouch and an axe. The tunic was made of thick wooden serge which gave some protection from ingress of water.

He established a new rank system; introduced a new uniform that consisted of a brass or silver helmet and woollen tunic; built new fire stations and introduced advanced technology to help improve the service.

In 1878, Capt Shaw moved from his City Station to a new Headquarters built in Southwark Bridge Road. The new Headquarter provided a new fire station and house for the Chief and his large family. A fitting place for Royal visitors to attend and review London’s firemen in training.


Massey Shaw enjoyed attending the theatre, and in November 1882 he attended the first night of Gilbert and a Sullivan comic opera “Iothanthe”. When Gilbert saw Shaw amongst the audience he changed the words to the Fairy Queens song to include a tribute to him.

Making theatres safe became one of Massey Shaw’s main roles. He inspected many establishments and gave advice to a number of committees.


Capt Shaw continued expanding the work of the fire service in the capital, fighting his political masters for more money and better conditions for his men, until after thirty years Service he resigned.

On retirement, Massey Shaw continued supporting various fire brigade organisations and was  called upon to give evidence to various government committees on matters connected with fire Prevention up until his death in August 1908, aged 80.

Royal Connections

During his duties, Capt Shaw made friends with the Prince of Wales. The Prince and his friends, the Duke of Sutherland and Earl of Caithness were keen firefighters and attended a number of incidents with Shaw. A uniform was kept available for the Prince at city fire station.

The Prince of Wales had a set of fire gear kept at Chandos Street Fire Station, just off The Strand, from where he attended fires, and he was nearly killed when a wall collapsed at The Alhambra Theatre fire in Leicester Square in 1882 killing two firemen, much to the understandable concern of Queen Victoria.

On the 30th October 1891, his last day of service he was knighted by Queen Victoria.