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Updated: Mar 27, 2022

I would like to introduce to you a floating piece of history in the shape of a fire boat. The boat is called “Massey Shaw” and over the years has had the hardest of times. Now I am no professional blogger or writer or professional historian but I felt compelled to share with you what I know (or have been told over the years) about the Massey Shaw; even if it makes one more person want to know the details and life and times of this special fireboat then that makes me happy.

Massey Shaw at South Dock Boatyard
Massey Shaw at South Dock Boatyard

I first heard about the Massy Shaw in 2011 when the much respected Mr Barry Mason former Manager of Surrey Docks Farm mentioned to me that a fire boat was needing a home after being restored which would have been some years later once the restoration had been completed and in true Barry Mason style was hoping to have it docked in Rotherhithe. Some of the places that was mentioned was Greenland Dock or at Surrey Docks Farm, to name but a few, because he was the Farm Manager I knew where he would of preferred if given the opportunity.

It got me thinking, I realised he was talking about the same fire boat which I watched on television some years before being refurbished by a programme called “Salvage Squad” with Claire Barrett, Axel Cleghorn, Suggs and Jerry Thurston. I was shocked - me being me thought it had been refurbished by the Salvage Squad so why is it needing to be refurbished again. I later found out that after the TV show had been and gone, the fire boat had sadly been left for whatever reason in Deptford Creek by the owner and it had fallen back into a bad state of disrepair.

I found out that the fire boat was being refurbished at South Dock Marina Boat Yard with the help of Heritage Lottery funding so off I trotted down to the yard to see the boat for myself. When I arrived I could see the boat was underneath a makeshift shelter at a secluded part of the yard. I could just see the name “Massey Shaw”.

After hearing this sad tale of a heroic little fire boat I started following them on their Facebook page and Twitter. I had grown fond of the little fire boat, determined with the help of a Preservation Society, to live on.

The history of the Massey Shaw as you can imagine is a long one. It was based on the River Thames; it helped put fires out during the Second World War at St Pauls Cathedral, South Dock, to name a couple and of course many more, one its most dangerous tasks, along with a volunteer crew of firemen, formed part of the flotilla of small vessels which were sent to Dunkirk to help evacuate British troops from the beaches. The Massey Shaw made three trips to the beaches and rescued over 500 troops.

The historic vessel was saved from dereliction by The Massey Shaw and Marine Vessels Preservation Society. The vessel has now been completely restored by a professional team of boat builders.

The History of Massey Shaw

The Massey Shaw was built in 1935 by the J. Samuel White Company at Cowes, Isle of Wight. She cost around £18,000 to build. The vessel was named after Eyre Massey Shaw, a former Superintendent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade which was later to be renamed London Fire Brigade The Fire Boat served throughout the remainder of the War on the Thames. During the Blitz, the vessel pumped vast quantities of water from the Thames to fight fires all along the Thames waterfront.

She can be seen in the 1958 film 'Dunkirk' starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough. The Massey Shaw remained in service as a Thames fire boat until 1971.

The Boat is now moored in West India Quay, what a delightful outcome to an amazing boat!

For more information, please visit the Massey Shaw website Massey Shaw is currently moored at: West India Dock Poplar E14 3NU

I hope if anything, this piece gives you an insight of what is a floating piece of History we all should be proud of, Respect, Look after for the future

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