Eyre Massey Shaw

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Eyre Massey Shaw
Colourised photograph of Captain Shaw
Colourised photograph of Captain Shaw
Born (1830-01-17)17 January 1830
Ballymore, County Cork, Ireland
Died 25 August 1908(1908-08-25) (aged 78)
Folkestone, England
Resting place Highgate Cemetery, London
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Title Superintendent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade
Term 1861–1891
Predecessor James Braidwood
Successor James Sexton Simmonds
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Military career
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1854–1860
Rank Captain
Unit North Cork Rifles

Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw KCB (17 January 1828 – 25 August 1908[1]) was the Superintendent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (now renamed the London Fire Brigade), and its predecessor, the London Fire Engine Establishment, from 1861 to 1891. He introduced modern firefighting methods to the Brigade, and increased the number of stations.[2]


Shaw was born in Ballymore, County Cork, Ireland and was educated first at a school in Queenstown and then at Trinity College, Dublin.[3] Shaw considered joining the Church but decided on a career in the Army and gained a commission in the North Cork Rifles, a militia regiment of the British Army (later the 9th Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps) from 1854 to 1860, reaching the rank of captain.[3] He resigned from the Army on being appointed Chief Constable of Belfast in charge of both the police and the fire brigade.[3] In 1861, following the death of the then-head, James Braidwood, in the line of duty while fighting a massive fire in Tooley Street, Shaw was engaged as head of the London Fire Engine Establishment.[3] In 1865, Parliament passed the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act, placing responsibility for fire protection in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, to be supervised by the Metropolitan Board of Works. Shaw headed the new brigade.[4][5]

Shaw was an influential thinker on firefighting, publishing at least one book on the subject. He is noted for his adoption of the famous brass helmets. Among his other accomplishments, Shaw expanded the use of steam fire engines. He introduced the use of telegraph for communication between stations. He greatly expanded the number of fire stations.

Shaw was a well-known socialite (which led to his immortalisation in operetta, see below) and a personal friend of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). A firefighting outfit was always kept ready at Charing Cross Fire Station in case the Royal heir chose to firefight.[6]

When the Fire Brigade was taken over by the London County Council in 1889, he disagreed with the administration and resigned in 1891. He was knighted by Queen Victoria on his last day of service. Shaw died at Folkestone on 25 August 1908.[3]

Cultural influence and legacy[edit]

Shaw issues a report into the fire-readiness of the London music halls and theatres.
In Punch

Shaw is best remembered today as the "Captain Shaw" to whom the Fairy Queen in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe addresses herself, wondering if his "brigade with cold cascade" could quench her great love. Shaw was present in the stalls at the first night of Iolanthe in 1882, and Alice Barnett, playing the Fairy Queen, addressed herself directly to him. One can only guess at his reaction, but legend has it that he stood up and took a bow.

In 1886, Shaw was later named in an adultery lawsuit involving Lady Colin Campbell.

In addition, a historic fireboat, named the Massey Shaw, still exists, and was recently renovated. Built in 1935, it made several trips to Dunkirk during the evacuation of British troops from France in 1940.[7] His former home, Winchester House in Southwark, is part of the London Fire Brigade Museum, an English Heritage Blue plaque adorns the building and states that Shaw lived there.[8]


  1. ^ Newmann, Kate (2012). "Eyre Massey Shaw". The Dictionary of Ulster Biography. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  2. ^ http://www.angliacampus.com/education/fire/london/history/victoria.htm Archived 25 April 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Sir Eyre Massey Shaw" (Obituaries). The Times (London). Wednesday, 26 August 1908. (38735), col B, p. 11.
  4. ^ Fire Brigade history at www.firebrigadehistory.netfirms.com[dead link]
  5. ^ History at www.aovq74.dsl.pipex.com[dead link]
  6. ^ "Chief Officer Captain Shaw". London Fire Brigade. 2012. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "Massey Shaw". Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. 2012. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "Shaw, Sir Eyre Massey (1830–1908)". English Heritage. 2012. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 

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