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The Tooley Street fire of 1861
Tooley Street on 23 June 1861

The 1861 Tooley Street fire, also called the Great Fire of Tooley Street, started in Cotton's Wharf on Tooley Street, London, England, on 22 June 1861. The fire caused £2 million worth of damage, and during the fire, James Braidwood, superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment, was killed.


The fire started at Cotton's Wharf on Tooley Street, near to St Olave's Church, Southwark, London. The wharf was around 100 by 50 feet (30 m × 15 m), and contained around 5,000 tons of rice, 10,000 barrels of tallow, 1,000 tons of hemp, 1,100 tons of jute, 3,000 tons of sugar and 18,000 bales of cotton at the time of the fire.[1][2] The cause of the fire is believed to have been spontaneous combustion.[3][4] The fire was first noticed around 4 p.m., and by 6 p.m., 14 fire engines, including one steam engine, from the London Fire Engine Establishment were at the scene.[1][5] Over 30,000 people watched the fire burn, and the fire took two weeks to put out, during which time around 20 police officers remained present at the scene. In total, the damages from the fire were around £2 million.[1][2][3][4] The fire caused damage to buildings up to 0.25 miles (0.40 km) away from Cotton's Wharf, and destroyed 11 acres (45,000 m2) of land.[6][7] The London Bridge railway station also caught fire in the blaze. At the time, the fire was described as the worst London fire since the Great Fire of London.[8] In his diary, Arthur Munby described the scene as:

"For near a quarter of a mile, the south bank of the Thames was on fire: a long line of what had been warehouses, their roofs and fronts all gone; and the tall ghastly sidewalls, white with heat, standing, or rather tottering, side by side in the midst of a mountainous desert of red & black ruin, which smouldered & steamed here, & there, sent up sheets of savage intolerable flame a hundred feet high."[9]

During the fire, a section of a warehouse collapsed on top of James Braidwood, the superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment (later the London Fire Brigade), killing him.[1][3][4][10]


Following the Tooley Street fire, insurance companies raised their premiums, and demanded that warehouse storage be safer.[1][3] It is believed that one of the owners of Cotton's Wharf was insured for £400,000.[11] An 1862 House of Commons report into the fire noted the lack of availability of water when the fire started, as the area did not have a hydraulic pump as other areas such as West India Dock did, and the water company only supplied water to houses in Tooley Street for 90 minutes a day. The report also noted that insurance companies lost over £1 million from the fire.[7][12] The fire and insurance premium rises led to the 1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act, which established the London Fire Brigade.[1][3]

Other fires on Tooley StreetEdit

An 1836 fire destroyed Topping's Wharf on Tooley Street,[4] and an 1843 fire on Tooley Street destroyed St. Olave's Church.[4][13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Appleby, Rita. "Tooley Street Fire". Historic UK. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b "The Great Fire". The Times. 25 June 1861. Retrieved 17 January 2017 – via
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Tooley Street fire". London Fire Brigade. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Old and New London". 6. Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. 1878: 100–117. Retrieved 17 January 2017 – via British History Online. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Henderson, Ronald (March 2016). British Steam Fire Engines. Amberley Publishing. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Nostalgic photos show 150 years of London Fire Brigade". BBC News. 8 April 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  7. ^ a b Broich, John (May 2013). London. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 25. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  8. ^ "Dreadful Conflaguration and Loss of Life in London". Caledonian Mercury. 25 June 1861. p. 4. Retrieved 17 January 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  9. ^ Dirty Old London. Yale University Press. 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  10. ^ "London's Other Great Fires". Londonist. 8 August 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  11. ^ "-". The Times. 9 December 1882. p. 9. Retrieved 17 January 2017 – via
  12. ^ "Reports from Committees". House of Commons of the United Kingdom. 1862: 112, 258. Retrieved 17 January 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ "Old and New London". 6. Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. 1878: 89–100. Retrieved 17 January 2017 – via British History Online. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Coordinates: 51°30′22″N 0°05′06″W / 51.506°N 0.085°W / 51.506; -0.085