A Restaurant called Brigade

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Above: View of the old fire station in Tooley Street.

“James Braidwood Fireman Extraordinary”

About half-way along Tooley Street, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge stands an old fire station which has been converted into a restaurant. Its a restaurant ‘with a difference’ and is also a reminder of a man who, in the fire service, is still a legend to this day. James Braidwood (1800-61), was born in Edinburgh, in Scotland. He learned about the construction of buildings after joining his father’s building firm as an apprentice, knowledge he was later to put to good use.

Appointed Master of Fire Engines at the age of twenty-four, just two months prior to the Great Fire of Edinburgh, Braidwood established principles of fire-fighting that are still applied today. He founded the world’s first municipal fire service in Edinburgh in 1824.

He had great ambitions for fighting fires and he realised that the largest fires were likely to be where the greatest number of buildings were – which, of course, was in London. Braidwood was invited to London in 1833 to become the first Superintendent of what was then called the ‘London Fire Engine Establishment’ (LFEE). He continued studying fire fighting and using science to find new solutions to tackling blazes. He is credited with the development of the modern municipal fire service.

On 22 June 1861 the pioneer firefighter died whilst attending the fire which started in Cotton’s Wharf – standing between Tooley Street and the Thames. The wall of one of the warehouses fell onto him and he was killed immediately. The fire continued to burn for two weeks and became known as the Great Fire of Tooley Street.


Above: Statuette (left) now on display inside the Brigade Bar and the stone memorial (right) on an office building in Tooley Street.

After recovering his body, when it was safe to do so, Braidwood’s funeral was held and he was buried in Abney Park Cemetery, in Stoke Newington. The funeral procession was one of the largest that London has ever seen for a member of the public and brought parts of London’s traffic to a stand-still as it passed by. There is a large monument in the cemetery. A stone memorial to James Braidwood can also still be seen high on the wall of offices near the site of the wharf where he lost his life.

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Above: New lettering set on top of the original lettering on the old building.

London’s first publicly funded fire brigade was established in 1865. A new fire station was built in Tooley Street in 1879 and remained in service until 1928. Quite what it was used for after that date is not clear. The old building stood empty and derelict from the 1970s onwards. It was later renovated and opened in April 2014 under the unusual name of ‘Brigade’. Its name only makes sense if you know the background. Some of Braidwood’s descendants were invited to the opening. Near the entrance doorway of the premises is a glass case in which are proudly displayed a small size statue of Braidwood along with other memorabilia.

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Above: The logo on the back of T-shirts worn by the waiters.

The original building in Tooley Street was developed by Price-Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) into a social enterprise hub with the Brigade Bar and Bistro at its core. It was opened on 11 April 2014. It is situated at 139 Tooley Street which is on the north side, about mid-way between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

Several items relating to Braidwood are on display. The bronze statuette of Braidwood has been loaned to PwC by his great-great-great granddaughter Diana Hamilton-Jones. It was sculpted by Kenny McKay as a replica of a statue in Parliament Square, in Edinburgh, the city where Braidwood was born. As well as being a restaurant, you can pop in for a coffee and, of course, take a look at the interesting items on display.


This entry was posted in /Bermondsey, Tooley Street. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Restaurant called Brigade

  1. clavdivs26 says:

    What a fabulous place to eat; such ambiance and with your history, makes it a full-meal deal. http://www.thebrigade.co.uk/


  2. Yes, the Brigade is indeed a most unusual venue. There are few restaurants with such interesting connections.


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